Braids: Kohkum’s Medicine

This poem narrates aspects of teachings I received from my Kohkum Virginia when I was young. She smudged the house when necessary and taught me how to do it. It took years for me to understand and appreciate what her teachings offered.

When I had to leave home at age twelve I took a greyhound across Canada. I then stayed with my moms family for a few short, but very long, months. After getting beat up by two family members, yet again, I retreated to Kohkum’s house. She walked and smudged the house. I followed her. I watched her. She tried to get me to smudge but the sweetgrass braid ember died. She indicated that in time I will be able to smudge and I should not force the embers to burn if they do not want to burn.

Kohkum then lit the braid and finished the ceremony.

Years later I after stopping drugs, alcohol, and violence my life got harder and more difficult. I fell apart. I shattered in tears for several years. Everything was a fight. No matter how hard I tried to make things work I couldn’t. Then something interesting happened.

I was getting off the LRT (subway) train in Edmonton. I found a cigar tin. It was filled with weed and cash. I took the cash. I did not know what to do with the tin. I reached out for help and called my friend Dave. I was worried I would get high. He muttered some zen sentiments and I eventually tossed the container that day.

Later as I walked home I found half of a sweet grass braid that was burnt down to short length. I tried lighting the braid. I remembered Kohkum telling me not to force the braid and if it did not want to burn let it be. Never force a braid. In frustration I explained to one of my teachers, Gary Moostoos, that I found this braid but it would not light. He explained that I should not force the braid, just as Kohkum explained decades before.

I wanted to smudge. I was gifted with sage and grand dad fungus. Gary suggested I get rid of the left over braid. I learned to smudge. I attended pipe ceremonies when invited; Lakota, Dakota, Cree, and Mowhawk. I learned a better way to connect. I began to attend sun dance sweats. I was encouraged to consider dancing. I chose not to dance. I did not feel right.

I was then introduced to prayer sweat ceremonies and doctoring lodges. Eventually I started to receive gifts. Teepees, smudges, medicines, feathers, dream catchers, choker, medicine bags, smudge dishes, and then eventually a braid of sweetgrass.

I no longer feared that braid. I understood the braid. I took the braid home. I prayed and thanked Kohkum in prayer and told myself I would follow her lessons on how to smudge my home. I lit a match after I cleared my mind and heart. I lit the braid and held the match for an extended time. Then I nursed the ember with some flicks of the wrist. Once it went out I left it. It took me months to build a relationship with the braid. Finally the braid called me and invited me to pray. I lit a match and smudged my home the way Kohkum taught me.

Once I built a relationship with myself, those around me, and my healing path I was then able to light a prayer braid. I was able to pray with the braid. Now I use the braid for the intended prayers in order to cleanse and clear just as Kohkum showed me.

Sometimes, not often, I meet a braid that does not want to be lit. I then take that braid and build a relationship with her. I then take my time and pray with her. Eventually I come back and invite the prayer braid to clear my home. I have prayed with sweetgrass braids for years now. I am sometimes invited and requested to smudge at particular ceremonies. I sometimes fear the braid will decline me, as she did for many years. This is a gift. The fear keeps me in check. I must inquire if I am living right when a braid does not glow for me. I know if a braid does not want to be lit that I should not force it by setting a blaze. I do not want to force a braid. I want to invite the prayer braid to support me and the space I am occupying in this life.

Tonight, before I clear my home I humbly remember that I should not force the braid just as I should not force a relationship with a person. People come around when they need to. This includes relationships of every kind. I sometimes forget, then I need to step back and smudge.

My Kohkum taught me well. I have not seen her for a few short years now. However her lessons are with me. This is one lesson she offered me that has effectively changed my life through healing medicine.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About Daniel Gallant

Daniel is a social worker (MSW,RSW) and is a current student of law, who is also an emerging writer and has been published internationally in literary journals. Poetry is his primary creative processing tool, and also has published creative non-fiction (auto-biographic). He has a B.A. in First Nations Studies. I am a consultant for media, scholars, and government bodies about violent right wing extremism in Canada and a trained counsellor; Daniel offers services to individuals seeking to leave violent extremist lifestyles, and facilitates public speaking on matters of resiliency. Daniel presents Scholars from the Underground Blog in order to promote transformation and to contribute to create safe spaces in society for true cultural transformation. Canada has to move from a racist nation to an inclusionary society. We are blessed to live in a space and time where we can now talk openly about these social issues. Daniel welcomes you to is Blogosphere.

One response to “Braids: Kohkum’s Medicine”

  1. L says :


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: