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Posted on October 10, 2023 at 6:10 AM by Laura Wagner
By Laura Wagner
We wish all Pierce County Residents a reflective Indigenous Peoples' Day. Today we honor the sovereignty, resilience, history, and culture of the federally recognized Puyallup, Nisqually, Muckleshoot, and Squaxin Island Tribes as well as non-federally recognized Tribes like the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, whose land the Pierce Conservation District office resides on.
Thanks to the advocacy of Indigenous Tribes nationwide, many organizations and states have accepted Christopher Columbus as a figure with an unsavory legacy, particularly due to his brutal visits to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Many in the state of Washington have now shifted from having a day of celebration for Columbus to instead considering today “Indigenous Peoples' Day”.
Indigenous Tribes often use some variant of the Seven Generations Principle; a named philosophy of Iroquois origin that states the decisions we make now should result in a sustainable life seven generations in the future. Social structures were built around caretaking, centering the land they live with and how they can give back. Camas is a commonly cultivated plant and is considered by many to be the most important vegetable in the traditional diet of Pacific Northwest Indigenous peoples.
Camas is a bulb root plant, with a long stem that in the flowering (harvest) period bears indigo flowers. Camas grows in seasonally moist meadows that dry out by late spring. They are tolerant of many soil types, but their bulbs need the ability to dry out after flowering. Camas grows along the West Coast of Northern America from British Columbia to California, including east inland to Western Montana and Wyoming.
In the Swinomish Tribe's 13 Moons First Foods and Resources Curriculum, the "Moon of the Digging Time" is the period from May to June best suited for the digging of many root plants. As the main hearty vegetable in the Northwest Coast, camas is a main staple of Northwest Coast Indigenous diets.
Camas is harvested shortly after the flowers have blossomed, traditionally using a pointed digging stick to get down to the plant's bulbous root. When harvesting, people only remove larger camas bulbs and leave the smaller bulbs behind to grow more. Prior to controlled burning bans, prescribed burning was traditionally used on camas for more fertile soil and therefore, better bulb yields in the following harvesting season.
Tribal member harvesting camas at Pacific Lutheran University event
After what can be many hours of harvesting bags of camas bulbs, they can’t be eaten raw and must be cooked to ensure they cook down into an edible form. They are often cooked in large quantities by prolonged steaming or roasting, such as in pit ovens. Camas can be eaten by themselves, dehydrated for rehydration and eating later, or after steaming or roasting, added to soups or stews. It is also used as a sweetening agent in other foods. It can even be added as a sweetening agent to a common Pacific Northwest Indigenous dish, whipped soapberries, also called "Native Ice Cream." Many describe the taste of camas as a mildly flavored sweetened potato, especially due to the similarities of the slow cooking process with caramelizing onions. You’ll have to try it and let us know!
If you ever have the opportunity to harvest camas and want to try preparing some for consumption, visit Abe Lloyd's blog post about camas for cooking instructions. Abe Lloyd is a ethnoecologist who apprenticed under Kwakwaka’wakw elder Kwaxsistalla (Adam Dick) and is guided by traditional stewardship practices, natural history, and environmental sustainability in the work he does as a Western Washington University professor, author, and volunteer at the Washington Native Plant Society.
At Pierce Conservation District, we are committed to sustainable agricultural practices on our farms and stewarding the lands of Pierce County. The Puyallup, Nisqually, Muckleshoot, Squaxin Island, and other Tribes of Pierce County have been caretakers & stewards of this land since time immemorial. Their extensive, invaluable knowledge and experience with this land informs our commitment to restore and protect our Earth.
This Indigenous Peoples' Day, we hope that you take a few moments to learn about the cultivation practices, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and history of the Indigenous peoples whose land you occupy. The best way to learn about the Indigenous peoples of this area is to hear from the Tribes themselves. Linked below are some websites and social media where you can get information directly from some Pierce County Tribes. Visit native-land.ca to see which Tribal lands you are on!
Tribal Elders at the treaty tree ceremony held in Pierce County
puyallup-tribe.comPuyallup Tribe Of Indians on Facebook Puyallup Tribe’s Culture Department IG: @puyalluptribeofindians
muckleshoot.nsn.us Muckleshoot Indian Tribe on Facebook
squaxinisland.org Squaxin Island Tribe on Facebook IG: @squaxintribe
nisqually-nsn.gov Nisqually Indian Tribe on Facebook
ctuir.orgFacebook: CTUIRIG: @ctuir_1855
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