By Kerry Newberry
Rose High Bear’s silver-streaked braid swings from side-to-side as she glides beneath a canopy of cathedral-like red cedar trees. Leafy huckleberry and high bush cranberry sprout to her right. She points to elderberry and salmon berry, then pauses near a circle of freshly cut cedar rounds arranged as stools.
“The talking circle is the most recent addition to the Wisdom Gardens,” she says. High Bear calls this garden, tucked into outer southeast Portland, “horticultural therapy.”
“My community needs this,” High Bear adds. “When you look at the social determinants of health in Portland — everything from poverty and education to healthcare and the environment — [Native Americans] are at the bottom of the list.”
In 1993, High Bear, who is Deg Hit’an Dine (Alaskan Athabascan), and her late husband, Lakota medicine man Martin High Bear, founded the nonprofit organization Wisdom of the Elders. Today, she acts as executive director, overseeing cultural outreach, community and healing through storytelling programs, radio broadcasts and, most recently, the Wisdom Gardens.