My fourth grade teacher called me by the wrong name for an entire year. No matter the countless corrections, she insisted on "Shannon."
Names hold stories of parental expectations and ancestral mythologies. They link us to our origin waters. When we choose to change our names, as I have done, we don’t forget these stories; we simply choose a different direction for them to flow. However, when someone else, without permission, renames us it is a type of violence – an erasure of who we are and where we come from.
This is true for the names of all living things. Before 1792, the volcanic mountain that rises out of the horizon to the east of Portland, Oregon had a different name. He was the great warrior Wy’East – son of Sahalie. Before he was a mountain, he was a young man who loved a young woman named Loowit. The problem was, so did his brother Klickitat. For moons and moons, the two brothers quarreled over Loowit until Sahalie thrust his powerful hand through the sky and changed all three into majestic mountains, forever admiring each other’s beauty.
For thousands of years, young children were told this story by firelight and during long walks through the valley harvesting wapato and camas root.
Then, a British man, wearing a woolen jacket with the insignia of the Captain George Vancouver Expedition voyage saw Wy’East in the distance. As he was taught to believe in his white power, he announced to the crew with great claim in his voice: “This mountain we have discovered will be named Mount Hood in honor of our Lord Samuel Hood.” Hood, a British admiral, would never set eyes on the mountain.
I cannot help but to feel the violence in my mouth when I deny the name of Wy’East. I feel it as a bulldozer plowing over food sources, burial sites, and the sacred land of my indigenous ancestors. When I enunciate the imported English names of "echinacea," "yarrow," "cottonwood," "rose," etc. I feel how this civilization was literally built right over the bodies of a people who never gave permission to be renamed, colonized, and erased.
When I am making medicines for you on the land native to my blood, it is hard for me to pronounce the names of things. They are utterances that get stuck in my throat – an unbearable loss due to hundreds of years of genocide. I wait for the ghost winds of my grandmothers to push the sounds out: ȟaópi pȟežúta, ičháȟpe hú. As I write this, I resist the parentheses in which I translate the names of these plants for you. I won’t, because that was never their names, and my name was never "Shannon."
It is in this spirit that I have decided to reclaim the indigenous names of the plants I use in my flower essence formulas. In the coming months you will see this reflected in new branding and labels. I am so excited to share these changes with you! Stay tuned for release dates. And, while challenging, I urge you to try to research and speak the indigenous names of the mountains, rivers, and plants where you live. Speaking these names is a prayer of honoring.