Reimagining Wellness

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Meet artist and wellness alchemista Mariah Makalapua who focuses on the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of getting well. Words by Mariah Makalapua. Photos by Kari Rowe.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, on the ancestral lands of the Molala and Kalapuya tribes. One of the homes of my early childhood was an open air structure beneath an enormous Twin Cedar tree. Life inspires differently when the world around you is a part of your home—like one magic extended outdoor patio, perfectly landscaped by Creation itself…

Foraging for plants.

I leaned into the forest as a source of joy and clarified myself through the rivers and waterfalls. Watching the cycles of life through the seasons confirmed my place as a part of nature—never separate. Some of the moments that formed me were singing and learning stories from my grandparents. They reminded me where our people came from and what worked to keep up being well. Tending horses and gardens made me appreciate what it takes to care for life. It is an art form, sacred, ancient, Indigenous. One learns to be both warrior and healer for self and surroundings because it’s impossible to miss how deeply and intrinsically we are connected.

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Mariah wears the Flatform Universal Up Leather in White Swan.

Seasons Of Transformational Travel

The people and pathways with whom I spent years of my life while traveling completely cracked my sky open. My first solo trip as a young mama was around 2005. I landed in Guatemala to visit family and had loose plans to continue throughout South America. I was most certainly led and held by forces beyond me, pushing me to seek understanding about my own roots and how other Indigenous people healed. My mom is Cherokee and my father is Native Hawaiian. Although I wasn’t able to fully access many examples of our healing traditions until later in life, I did learn traditional wisdom from my parents, which became the fertile soil where many things have been able to grow. I was brought onto the path of healing work, ceremony, and had to choose to walk the road I do now—that commitment is an expression of gratitude for the blessings I’ve experienced.

Mariah Makalapua picks fresh plants to make healing tinctures.

Traveling alone with my first daughter felt natural because I really had nothing else to compare it to. It was a beautiful experience full of joys and challenges and I know that it changed the course of our lives for the better. It reconnected us to our own spirit, our medicine, and to the greater mystery that loves and weaves all things. It was an initiation and it was a sabbatical. There was a lot of letting go, and a lot of remembering. Most importantly, in terms of travel, a deep development of gratitude and respect to be a visitor in someone else’s home.

Mariah Makalapua in her garden.

I wanted to amplify what I had learned traveling by going back to school, with hopes of changing extractive systems that I saw taking away from our Earth, and from our Indigenous communities around the world. Because my work focuses mainly on interconnected healing, I began calling this process Decolonized Wellness, which means carrying forward modalities that both understand the history of oppressive colonial structures and actively work to protect and uplift regenerative earth-based practices of our ancestors. The colonization that happened to our land happened to our medicine ways, and that disconnected me, my family, and continues to disconnect many of us from Mother Earth and thus ourselves. I strive to reconnect these relationships in an intersectional and honoring way.

Flatform Universal Up Leather sandals in White Swan

Seeing how people handled sickness in my own Native traditions and in all other Indigenous cultures where I visited made more sense to me than the Western medical model. The massive subtle vibratory worlds that create our lives are often burdened by the more narrow perception of reality we are pressed to subscribe to. I believe our wellness can be nourished by a multitude of modalities and should be regenerative, not only sustainable and respectful. With my current practice, I try to remember that we are made up of so much more than what is on the surface. There is a whole team on the other side of the veil, allies, and ancestors, cheering for our best presence in this lifetime.

Creating Medicine Collective

I currently reside on Chinook and Multnomah lands, aka Portland, Oregon. I tend to work with the native plants of this area. I mostly work with plants, animals, and fungi that help the ailments that many people around here may be especially susceptible to. A few examples are immune support for our rainy months (especially with COVID), respiratory support, and various uplifting remedies.

Making healing tinctures.

Mainly, I like to focus on the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of getting well. Everything in nature is interrelated and because of this I most enjoy co-creating remedies, tinctures, and essences—that are multifaceted and guided by the seasons or nudged by intuition—to help with empowering the recovery to our true self. I make an herbal smoking blend to help people heal their relationship with tobacco, a very sacred medicine. I use a mixture of traditional plant kin such as mullein, rose, kinnikinnick, mugwort, red root, and many others all grown in my gardens or gathered with care around this area.

All the medicines I make, aside from a few, are wildcrafted or tended here. Honey is a base for several of the medicines I offer. I strive to increase awareness of how important the health of our pollinators are to all living things. I know water to be a living and conscious part of Mother Earth so in all ways, we must honor the sacredness of it. All of our medicines carry fresh spring water from local places that are wild and pure. It is one of the highlights of my personal practice to gather water with my daughters and give gratitude for the abundance of clean water available to us here. We always pray that all people will come to understand how we must care for it and show love for all it gives us. We would not have the plants, and we would not be here without it.

Lounging in the Flatform Universal Up Leather sandals.
Wellness alchemista Mariah Makalapua.

Medicine Collective is a sanctuary for healing by way of regenerative Indigenous medicine practices. We center Black, Brown, and Indigenous folks in our community, encourage creative expression, and support the reconnection to our own hearts and spirit.

All of my work here is really the fruit of my own remembering and blossoming. I seek to provide everything I wished I had access to as a young mixed Indigenous kid. We have a plethora of offerings from different practitioners that bring their authenticity and expertise to the table of healing. We offer a range of wellness techniques including: acupuncture, energy work, massage, craniosacral, gua sha facials, self-care rituals, ceremony and integration work, sound healing, moon gatherings, all things mushrooms, and community gatherings that center around the wellness we all need and deserve.

Medicine Collective began 10 years ago as the work I was doing as a seer/tarot reader and artist/maker. It was developing into my own unique practice of expressive art therapy, and more so as the name implies, that my clients and I were doing that work together in an empowering way. Now we have expanded into a physical space, a community hub for healing support centering Indigenous and POC practitioners and people to mend and reconnect to our essence.

Mariah Makalapua
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Reimagining Wellness And Healing

I think it’s important to know the difference between wellness and healing. Wellness to me is something that is so simple: it is our inherent wholeness. It’s a noun. Healing is a verb: finding and integrating all the parts of yourself while radically walking through the fire. Getting burned, turning to ashes, transforming to soil, growing into something new and doing that over and over again as needed. I believe it happens on a cosmic spectrum of appropriateness ranging from tender to terrifying. It is the phoenix archetypal process and we all have tasted it, hopefully, at least a little—because it nurtures self love. That is how we arrive at real well-rounded wellness.

It’s big work, so that’s why it’s good to have many options and modalities for mending ourselves up. There are certain ways that work for some and not others, and there are different times in our life that will require different support. For example, a new mother may need different support than someone healing childhood trauma, but in so many ways, our lessons are knitted together.

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In My Element

There are many places that make me feel like I am home. At the root of feeling most in my element, I realize that home lives inside of me, and when I’m aligned in here, all places feel like I am in belonging. Even in grief. My element is an internal state, often reflected onto my surroundings, sometimes nurtured by my surroundings. Carving a canoe on the farm and feeling my ancestors smile, carving through the city on skateboard laughing with friends, cuddling up with my daughters on the trampoline under a blooming magnolia tree and sleeping summers outside, cherishing and cheering my clients along as they uncover their power and return to the seat of their hearts. Always coming back to what’s most important again and again ’til there’s no distance.

Nature always recharges me. I acknowledge and appreciate the alchemy of my experiences into the medicine that I offer. My relationship with Spirit is my favorite unfolding story. Feeling like Creation fills my cup ’til it’s overflowing: this is where I feel most in my element.

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Mariah wears the waterproof Grandview hiking boots in Sand Dune.

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