Gardens for the Living and the Dead: Coast Salish Funerals and the Production of Blue Camas (Camassia quamash)

MATHEWS, Darcy L.—University of Victoria

A millennia ago, the Coast Salish peoples of southern Vancouver Island were actively engaged in the making of landscapes that were a mosaic of blue camas (Camassia quamash) punctuated with burial cairns—arrangements of stones and soil built over the dead. Camas was an economically vital root food that was managed, owned, and inherited through time. Recent research suggests a relationship between the production of camas and the production of the ancestral dead. Tacking between archaeological, ethnographic, and ethnobotanical evidence, I conclude that beginning around 1500 years ago, the Coast Salish dead became increasingly implicated in the affairs of the living, such that the moving of stones in the context of both gardening and funerals recursively defined and legitimated claims to ancestral places and histories. These were landscapes inhabited by the living and their dead, evocatively and poignantly relating to one another though the media of camas, stone and soil.