Discovery Island

In July 2000 the first harvest in more than a century of Blue camas (Camassia quamash) bulbs took place on Discovery Island (near Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) by a team of ethnobotanists and Lekwungen indigenous peoples. Camas bulbs are a rich source of carbohydrates that were used historically as a major food source and trade good by the Coast Salish-speaking indigenous peoples in the region around the Strait of Juan de Fuca, southern Vancouver Island, and the archipelago of islands between the very southwestern part of Canada and the northwest of the United States, as well as farther afield in the interior plateau of what is now the province of British Columbia (Canada) and the state of Washington (U.S.A.). Camas grows in meadows and savannas (associated locally with the regionally threatened Garry oak [Quercus garryana] ecosystem), both ecosystem types that have undergone extensive alteration and loss in this region over the past century. m

The camas harvest of 2000 was culturally and ecologically signifi- c cant. The Lekwungen people (or Songhees First Nation) occupied for (5' roughly 4,000 years lands in what is now the City of Victoria. With British »

2 colonization of southern Vancouver Island in the 1840s, a series of purchases and agreements resulted in the loss of use of almost all traditional £ lands. Two forced relocations away from what would now be considered | prime real estate in Victoria have provided a smaller urban reservation jP of less than 100 ha. Disease, especially smallpox in the late nineteenth ■g century, reduced the community from several thousand to a low point ^ around 1900 of just 100 individuals. Despite deprivations, the community rebounded to over 400 by the year 2000. It is difficult to imagine the scale of cultural loss and dislocation experienced by the Lekwungen people.

Cheryl Bryce, a member of the Lekwungen Nation, approached ethno-botanists Nancy Turner and Brenda Beckwith (School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Canada) to advise on the traditional harvest and cooking of camas. A site on Discovery Island, a small island less than 2 km off the coast of Victoria, with extant camas meadow was selected for the initial harvest (part of Discovery Island is owned by the Lekwun-gen). In traditional times successful harvesting of camas depended on elaborate management, including selective harvesting of camas bulbs, weeding (especially Death camas [Zigadenus venenosus]), and annual prescribed burning. After a century of inattention, bulb production was low, weedy native and exotic plants had invaded the meadow, and the absence of fire had allowed a thick thatch to form on the meadow. Despite this, sufficient bulbs were harvested on this initial occasion to create a ceremonial harvest and pit cook (a traditional cooking method in which foods are placed in a small pit and heated using hot rocks).

This marked the beginning of revitalization through a cultural keystone species (Garibaldi and Turner 2004): camas. Seeds were harvested and replanted on nearby sites, weeding programs instituted, and prescribed fire re-introduced. Whether or not camas becomes a dietary mainstay for the Lekwungen in the future is less significant than the symbolic importance of the harvest. Keeping camas populations healthy depends on ecological restoration, which combines common contemporary techniques for maintaining a specific community of native plants with recognition of cultural objectives. It is a vital part of the project that camas harvesting respects the ecological fragility and significance of ecosystems. The historical continuity with the harvesting sites is what anchors the restoration project; it would be an utterly different prospect to contemplate a commercial, technological harvest of camas, although this, too, might become part of a Lekwungen cultural and economic revitalization.

Indigenous peoples worldwide are searching for ways of respecting tradition and living with modernity, and adaptations are required that may seem strange to those of us who live already within modern industrial economies. Inuit hunters in Nunavut (Canada), for example, use snowmobiles and geographic position systems in their hunts and at the same time maintain significant features of traditional hunting culture; the balance is sometimes difficult and always changing (Aporla 2003). Simplified monolithic models of indigenous engagement with ecosystems - original ecologists or despoilers - are incapable of capturing either contemporary realities faced by devastated peoples or the diversity of cultural practices and viewpoints. Ecological restoration in the case of the Lekwungen is also - and equally - cultural restoration. A crucial factor in the success of this project was that ethnobotanists trained to straddle botany and anthropology were principal advisors. This serves as an exemplar for the argument that successful restoration depends on ecological insights as well as cultural knowledge and support.

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