Okanagan Nation Alliance handing out free Juniper bundles to ease risks of wildfire smoke

With wildfire smoke still lingering throughout the region, the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) is handing out free mrimstn (medicine) bundles full of punłp (Juniper) to syilx Nation members to help keep the air in their homes clean from toxic smoke chemicals.

More than 40 bundles were prepared by the First Nations Health Authority, which are available for pickup at ONA’s office in Westbank in syilx homelands. Priority has been given to Elders and families with young children.

punłp is just one of the many natural mrimstn found across syilx territory, with one of its many uses being an air purifier. ONA began handing out the bundles shortly after parts of Westbank First Nation and the City of West Kelowna each declared a local state of emergency due to the McDougall Creek wildfire burning nearby, with its thick smoke clouding the air for several days.

cewel’na Leon Louis, a syilx Elder and knowledge keeper from the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, said that when boiled, punłp can clean the air and kill harmful germs.

“It was back in 1912 when the Spanish Flu epidemic went through – the hospitals, they ran out of disinfectant. Our people shared this medicine with them,” Louis explained in a video from 2020, where he discussed the different types of natural mrimstn that can be used to eliminate the threat of COVID-19 and other harmful airborne particles.

“The hospital made this medicine, and that’s what they used to clean the air in the hospital during the Spanish Flu epidemic.”

Per Louis’s instructions, you only need to place a small piece or two of punłp branch in a heating pot of water for the medicine to do the trick. When the water starts to boil, you turn the heat down and let the punłp simmer all day, where it acts as a natural air purifier for your home.

“Every once in a while, go and breathe it – put your nose right over it and breathe it in,” he said.

“This is what our people have out here: all natural medicines. It’s important for us to learn how to use them and gather them.”

For weeks, communities throughout the Okanagan have had to weather the threat of wildfires and the dangers of accompanying smoke. While wildfire smoke levels may have lessened, they still pose a health risk, especially for Elders, Youth, pregnant people and those with lung or heart disease.

Aaron Hemens, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, IndigiNews