By Brittany Tiplady
“Who we are because of who we came from.”
Steeped in the power of matriarchy, Indigenous plant knowledge, and the healing properties of the natural world, is local family business Raven Hummingbird Tea, helmed by mother-daughter team T’uy’t’tanat Cease Wyss and Senaqwila Wyss. Based in the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), Raven Hummingbird offers hand-made, small batch teas, alcohol-free tinctures and salves to Metro Vancouver’s residents and visitors.
I spoke with Cease and Senaqwila over the phone on a Saturday afternoon and I am instantly warmed by their kindness, generosity and articulate knowledge, as we speak about the craftsmanship behind their Raven Hummingbird Tea products and the ways in which their business is woven into their unique family dynamic.
Cease, Senaqwila’s mother, opens the conversation, diving into her 30 years of experience studying and working in ethnobotany, indigenous plant use and medicinal herbs.
“I got started blending teas when my daughter was a baby and I needed to find a way to support myself as a single parent. So, I actually started a company under my daughter’s name Senaqwila, and then when my daughter grew up, I decided that because she had learned so much and loved it just as passionately as me, that we would share the company,” Cease explains.
“We use strong symbolisms of animals that we feel are really important in Native culture and spirituality,” she says, “the Hummingbird is a pollinator. The trickster Raven brings food. And so, we really like having a name that represents the natural world because all of our work is based in the natural world and we wouldn’t have plants and medicines without the centuries of them all growing before us.”
Senaqwila’s daughter joined the Raven Hummingbird team three years ago, adding a special layer of multi-generational magic (and cuteness) to the Raven Hummingbird story. The Wyss women are dedicated to intergenerational healing, and working with the land–making medicine– is part of that process.
After teaching a workshop all morning, Senaqwila hops on the phone.
“When I was younger, I suppose I took it for granted that my mom would always use these different ways of teaching me about using plants. When I must have been about 12, I was visiting a friend and I was not feeling well and my friend’s mom was trying to offer me [over the counter medicine] to help me feel better,” Senaqwila explains.
“That was one of my first moments of realizing how my mom would always use different Indigenous plants as medicines instead of pharmaceuticals or anything like that. So, looking at how my mom raised, me using all these different teachings, and then now with my own daughter, I am following the same path. And she is learning the same teachings.”
The majority of the herbs and ingredients used in the Raven Hummingbird products are grown in their local community garden. According to their website, only 10 per cent of their stock comes from local herbal distributors who supply local businesses.
“We know all the ingredients in the products we’re making. I know that if my daughter was to lick our salve off of her arm, it’s safe for her to eat. We’re already teaching her about gardening and how important it is; she already loves playing in the garden,” Senaqwila says.
The structure of the Raven Hummingbird Tea company is built on a foundation of community support and community giving. Both Cease and Senaqwila offer workshops and plant walks for adults and children, and often, give their products back to their elders, reinforcing and generously contributing to indigenous health and the health of their community.
“Some days, we all work on the tea blending together. But my mom has done this for decades. She’s already done a lot of networking. She has a great reputation as an educator. Another part of our role is coming to classrooms and teaching children about plants. We also teach adults doing workshops within our community,” Senaqwila adds.
Raven Hummingbird teas are available for sale in Vancouver at Mintage Clothing Co., Appollo Medical Center, as well as through their online store, and of course, at various and seasonal craft fairs and Pow Wows.
Their Ginger Moon and Swamp Teas are a resounding hit, as well as their Harmony Garden Salve, and alcohol-free tinctures, Heal Me.
“We really try to look at how to keep every age group healthy. We have open minds and open hearts to what we teach. We want this indigenous knowledge to survive and thrive so that our next generations can continue doing what we’re doing,” Cease says.
I’m curious, as four-generations work together, what their work dynamic is like behind the scenes. Grandma, Cease’s mom, helps the team with business and financial advising, often helping blend teas as well, and ensuring that her family keeps a spiritual and harmonious connection to their food and ethos.
“We all have our own roles. But when we have a big order, we get together. We package and we talk we tell stories. We go through ups and downs, as with any small business, but the more that people learn about us, the busier we get and we do our best to keep up,” Cease adds.
“I think the most empowering thing for me is to being able to have a business based in Indigenous foods and medicines that I’m not capitalizing on, so I don’t feel like I’m selling out to my own beliefs. I see that it empowers everybody around me. My daughter is able to have a supportive income as a young mother with the young family.”
“Through our business we can support ourselves and others in our work, and it becomes really empowering.”
Learn more at ravenhummingbirdtea.com