IV. The Voices of Food: The Language, Conversations and Stories of Indigenous Food Knowledge and Renewal in the Pacific Northwest

Session Date and Time: 
Thursday, 9 May 2019 - 9:15am to 11:45am
Geography 147
Session Organizer(s): 
Fiona Hamersley Chambers
- fionac@uvic.ca

There are many voices of food, and this is particularly true for traditional foods and the stories of their resurgence. This session will bring together researchers, activists, community partners and others from the Northwest Coast to demonstrate the diversity inherent in understanding and revitalizing traditional foods and associated practices.

Time Abstract
Hamersley Chambers
, Fiona - University of Victoria

Recent scientific research as well as archaeological and ethnographic evidence highlight how First Peoples enhanced productivity of key food plants, including root crops like springbank clover (Trifolium wormskioldii). Today, while vestiges of these once extensive cultivation systems remain, few traditional management practices are still followed, and culturally-important plants such as springbank clover are increasingly rare and even unrecognized. Beginning with a 4 cm root-cutting sourced near Victoria’s Clover Point, this research brings traditional knowledge into practice to tell the story of how springbank clover responds to human management. Lessons on cultivation practices are learned from controlled experimental plots, with the goal of repopularizing this traditionally important food. The story of this courageous plant, from its loss to its renewal, has much to teach us all and is an inspirational call to what is possible when a plant has many roots and enjoys a reciprocal relationship with humans.

, Darcy - University of Victoria
, Paige - University of Victoria

The anthrosols of indigenous gardens and villages are a highly productive living legacy of past human–soil relationships. We call on the voice of biodiverse, highly productive soils from cultural sites on the archipelago of Tl’ches, off southern Vancouver Island, which present us with an emerging story of these interactions. Archaeological sites in British Columbia contain significant stores of charcoal, and using Scanning Electron Microscopy and FTIR spectroscopy, we examine biologically active indigenous soils from traditional garden and village sites to consider charcoal as not only an abiotic soil amendment, but as matrices for supporting and concentrating beneficial microbial communities. We present initial results concerning the process and outcomes of charcoal and microbial contributions to soils through long-term anthropogenic soil creation. We conclude with ideas on how Tl’ches-like soils might be created—and degraded soils improved— by understanding indigenous soil formation processes and employing living anthrosols as microbial inoculants.

, Pamela - University of Victoria

Plant communities and habitats reflect Indigenous interests in traditional food systems. T'Sou-ke First Nation in southern BC are working to reclaim their food sovereignty and self-determination by re-examining their long history with plants. Plant abundance, proximity to village sites, and species presence in unlikely ecosystems, relay significant information about past anthropogenic landscapes. Plant communities become a strong voice through which to amplify Indigenous rights and responsibilities to plants and lands today. I will discuss two methods that I am developing to highlight past and present Indigenous plant interests. The first is to establish a baseline ethnobotany and historical sketch map that reveals the different patterns of use between Straits Salish people and plant communities at the time of contact. From this historic ethnobotany, I then show how a terrestrial ecosystem mapping system can be used to amplify Indigenous food sovereignty interests within BC’s environmental assessment processes and in shared decision-making.

, Leigh - Squamish Nation / University of Victoria

We are in a time of Indigenous Resurgence in Canada. Increasingly, Indigenous Peoples are finding renewed strength, pride and grounding through cultural practices. Included in this resurgence are the relationships between people and plants. This time of renewal comes on the back of generations of Indigenous Peoples who suffered unimaginable trauma and who fought to pass on parts of their culture to future generations. As an Indigenous person and scholar I find myself caught between the pain of my own experiences with intergenerational trauma and my drive to contribute my voice and perspectives to the field of ethnobotany. Plants connect Indigenous People to place in a very specific and meaningful way. A phrase commonly used within Indigenous communities “our food is our medicine” speaks to the intertwined nature of culturally important plants and health. Understanding the role of plants in cultural resurgence is foundational to the field of ethnobotany.

, Julia - Simon Fraser University
, Dana - Simon Fraser University
, Gavia - Simon Fraser University
, Nancy J. - University of Victoria
, Jennifer - Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department

The cultivation of springbank clover (Trifolium wormskioldii Lehm.), coast silverweed (Potentilla egediiWormsk.) and other root vegetables within estuarine root gardens is well documented within the ethnographic literature of the Pacific Northwest. However, because of the subtle imprint of these practices on the landscape, the remains of root gardens are often overlooked by ecologists and archaeologists. To understand the parameters of root vegetable cultivation, we conducted surveys at various spatial scales in Húy̓at, a cultural keystone place of the Heiltsuk Nation, on the Central Coast of BC. We focus on clover because it’s the most reliant on people to flourish. Our transects reveal that clover is located within a narrow elevational range in the upper intertidal zone, and that the density and distribution of clover corresponds with settlements. In identifying the legacy of intertidal cultivation, we support Heiltsuk’s ongoing efforts to document the history of ecosystem management within their territory.

, Isabelle - University of Victoria

Though there is much contemporary knowledge in Songhees about the traditional consumption and trade of root crops, there is no surviving traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) about specific cultivation areas and practices on their territories. On the islands of Tl’chés (Chatham and Discovery), the recent identification of an intertidal root gardens offers the opportunity to re-open dialogues about this ancient practice and examine ways of re-engaging Songhees youth and community members in the cultivation of these ancient food crops, while providing the first opportunity to study root garden cultivation on the south coast of British Columbia. In doing so, this work seeks to develop a method for the identification of intertidal root gardens in areas where, due to the ongoing violence of colonialism, they are no longer rooted in community knowledge and oral histories. How do we find the words? 

, Libby Jay - University of Victoria
, Kenthen - Neskonlith Band

There is a growing network of Indigenous-led projects working to revitalize Indigenous food systems; using Indigenous knowledge(s) to guide community-based eco-cultural restoration and land use management, and reviving seed saving practices with Indigenous plant foods. Following declines in qualities and quantities of several culturally important plant species in Secwepemculecw, community-led projects from Neskonlith’s Switzmalph community are prioritizing restoring knowledge of how to cultivate these plants, and learning from Stsepkewll (the legends that teach morals) and Slexe’yem (the stories that many families tell) about relational responsibilities between plants and people. This talk is a collaboration between Secwepemc storyteller and educator Kenthen Thomas and ethnobotany student Libby Chisholm, and will focus on how Stsepkewll teach important lessons about what it means to be suitable caretakers of the plants, and what decolonizing ethnobotanical work looks like in this time of resurgence, restoration, and renewing relationships with land.

, Tonya - University of British Columbia
, Kwikws - Lil̓wat Nation
, Koskas - Lil̓wat Nation

Ntákmen, in Ucwalmícwts (the language of the Líl̓wat First Nation) means ‘Our Way’. Nlep̓cálten means garden. Nlep̓cálten is a sharing space to restore Indigenous community food security using approaches based in respect and relationship. Centered in the spirit of profound care, Nlep̓cálten is a living laboratory for Indigenous resurgence and allyship.

Our work has documented over 100 species of plants used as Líl̓wat foods and medicines, to be featured in an upcoming cookbook. At Nlep̓cálten, traditional Líl̓wat medicinal and food plants are being cultivated to revitalize their role in community health. Through increasing the accessibility of these foods, the pressure on commercial harvesting may be decreased, allowing non-human animals the space they need to thrive. We share findings of our work that relate to Líl̓wat ways of being and knowing, climate change mitigation and adaptation, cross-cultural and intergenerational learning, Indigenous language revitalization and land stewardship.

, Ginevra - Tsleil-Waututh Nation
, Maya - Tsleil-Waututh Nation

Clams have been an important aspect of Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) culture since time out of mind. The abundance of clam shells and clam processing features in archaeological sites attests to the importance of clams to Tsleil-Waututh people over the past 2,500+ years. In recent years, TWN have maintained a close relationship with clams despite colonial prohibitions and industrial development that resulted in polluted waters, shellfish harvesting closures, decreased clam productivity, and limited access to clam resources. The recollection of the abundance of healthy clam resources remains strong within the living memory of TWN today, with stories of clam harvesting being passed down through generations, and few elders participating in clam harvests as children. Through ongoing TWN marine stewardship initiatives, sustainable TWN clam management persists today and has resulted in two recent clam harvests despite a 47-year contamination closure in Burrard Inlet.