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Indigenous ethnobotanist dedicated to preserving traditional plant knowledge in Greater Victoria

J.B. Williams shares his knowledge of native plants across Southern Vancouver Island
J.B. Williams is a Greater Victoria ethnobotanist who spreads his knowledge about native plants. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)

J.B. (John-Bradley) Williams is an ethnobotanist of Tsawout and Ahousat descent who dedicates himself to keeping traditional knowledge of native plants alive.

His interest in plants began among horticulturalists at Camosun College.

“One of my biology teachers was facilitating a place-based program where they take students to culturally relevant sites – teaching us the traditional names of these places and plants and why they were and are still important,” said Williams.

Since he already had an affinity for greenery, he began looking into native plants, and it was through that program that he shifted his focus from horticulture to botany with the intention to better understand native plants, their medicinal properties, and other capacities.

Botany is the scientific study and research of plants, whereas horticulture involves the art and science of gardening.

ALSO READ: Indigenous pit cook demonstration at Camosun College showcases traditional ways of cooking

“As I was going through that program I started realizing that greenery is not created equal and that I needed to focus on the study of native plants.”

Over time, Williams has adapted to a hybridized mindset in relation to the plants he studies.

“The world that I live in is the First Nations world, but also the colonialized world – teaching I got from one of my Elders is that because we live in this dual reality we need to take the best of both worlds and apply them to our lives to find enjoyment and peace.”

Williams’ botany is based on the plants in the Pacific Northwest, but he understands that visitors on this land bring plants that are healthy and edible, too.

“I try to encourage as many people as I can to not only think about these plants that came with visitors on this land, but also to include native plants in their gardening concepts,” he said. “Not only have these native plants evolved to live within our climate but they also lend themselves really well to being pampered the same way we pamper our conventional garden plants.”

Williams conducts storytelling and leads native plant tours, cedar-weaving workshops, traditional pit cooks, and salmon barbeques. He leads these educational opportunities for academia and the public.

“They just have to let me know who they’re representing and what they’re looking for – I can do them anywhere on the Southern Island.”

Contact Williams at

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