All information from Nancy J Turners Sannich Ethnobotany
Perennial herbs, Wild Strawberry Fragaria chiloensis grow in loose patches, spreading by long thin runners.The coarse green leaves are 3 parted and have jagged edges. Wild Strawberries bloom in April and May, bearing white five petaled flowers. Mature berries are bright red and delicious. Wild Strawberries are found throughout WSANEC territory. Any open habitat (except for bogs) can support wild strawberries. They flourish in areas that are burned intermittently.
Traditional uses: Unsurprisingly wild strawberries were a favorite fruit of the WSANEC people, they would regularly burn and clear brush from patches to increase yield. These berries were rarely ever dried because they are too juicy so are eaten fresh, making it a yearly treat. Christopher Paul said there is an excellent tea made out of the dried leaves.
There is a mountain on the Malahat Ridge named ‘like a strawberry face’ and according to Tim Montler, if you point at the mountain, showing it disrespect. the weather will change to rain. Manson Pelkey said that if you want to signal to that mountain you nod your head towards the mountain if you don’t want it to rain. Violet Williams, Elsie Claxton and their families used to go over to Orcas Island and the Mount Vernon area in Washington to pick cultivated strawberries.
A deciduous shrub with large maple-like leaves that cluster in dense patches. Thimble berries are closely related to raspberries and blackberries but have no thorns. The bark of the older stems is light brown and shredded and young shoots are fuzzy. The leaves are soft and a little fuzzy with long stalks and blades usually 15 – 20 cm across. The white flowers flowers bloom in late spring. The short thimble-shaped berries ripen throughout July and August depending on elevation.
Thimbleberry is widespread and common, growing in sites, often at the edge of woods, roadsides and shorelines. It can be found moist to dry sites from sea level to higher elevations.
Traditional use: Christopher Paul said that the sweet juicy edible stalks were harvested, peeled and eaten raw in the spring. They must be harvested before they turn woody, if you could snap the stalk off with your fingers it is just right. Violet Williams remembers eating these sprouts when she was a girl. The berries were picked wherever they were found, eaten fresh or boiled and pressed into cakes for winter. An effective medicine for diarrhoea and stomach aches, the brown leaves could be chewed or a tea made of the leaves, according to Violet Williams, Dave Elliot and Chris Paul.
A herbaceous perennial, Stinging Nettle grows stalks up to 2 meters from branching rhizomes. Covered in fine stinging hairs, the nettle can often take over expansive areas. The leaves grow in opposite pairs along the stiff stem and are a triangular heart shape. The edges of the leaves are coarsely saw-toothed. The small greenish flowers grow in clusters that droop from the upper leaf nodes. The seeds ripen in midsummer. Stinging Nettle grows in wet meadows and open forests, along stream banks, avalanche track and roadsides from sub-alpine to sea level. The lagoon as Tsawout means “bite of Stinging Nettle” because of the stinging nettle patches around its edges.
Traditional use: The most important use for this plant was the use of fibrous stems for making twine, fishing line, fish nets, duck nets and deer nets. In October the stems were cut lengthwise with a bone knife and dried for five or six days outside, then dried further over a fire. Once they were dry the stems were peeled and the fibers combed out. The fibers were then spun on a bare thigh or with a spindle from Bigleaf Maple wood. The threads were then twisted into two and four ply twine which was used for tying and net construction. Christopher Paul said that fish nets were often dyed using Red Alder to make them invisible to fish.
Dave Elliot points out that the leaves were rubbed on the skin as a counter irritant for aches, rheumatism and bruises. While painful, this treatment eventually relieves aches.
According to Violet the roots were used as an ingedient in a medicine for sore throats. They were also used with Scouring Rush and Maple leaves to make a tea; the leaves would have had to have fallen on the bushes and not touched the ground.
The WSANEC people boiled and ate the young stems and leaves like many people do spinach but this may be a recent use learned from colonizers.
In my last post I wrote about the Native Plant Workshop I attended last week put on by the Campus Community Garden. Elder Earl Claxton Jr and Education Coordinator PEPAḴIYE Ashley Cooper came from PEPAKEN HAUTW (Native Plant Nursery and Garden) and brought with them 4 potted plants as well as Thimbleberry clippings and Stinging Nettle seeds. In this post I will dive a little deeper into each of the 6 plants, detailing their properties, traditional uses and where they can be found. Saanich Ethnobotany includes the SENĆOŦEN names for each plant but I will not be adding them as I don’t have access to correct letters with their accents. Check out the book if your interested in seeing each plants SENĆOŦEN names.
Devil’s Club is an erect to sprawling spiny shrub that can grow up to three meters tall, with thick often tangled light-grey stems. The wood has a sweet odour. The large leaves are shaped like maple leaves; they alternate along the stem on long stalks. Each leaf has seven to nine pointed, toothed lobes and the undersides are spiny long veins. The small whitish flowers grow in a dense pyramid shaped cluster at the top of the shrub. They ripen into bright red, strong smelling berries.
Where they are found: Not known to occur on the Saanich Peninsula, but is found in the mountains of the Malahat and Sooke Hills. It is very common on the wetter parts of Vancouver Island and the mainland. It grows in moist, shaded woods, in wet seepage areas, along streams and in avalanche tracks at low to mid elevations.
Traditional Uses: Elsie Claxton said that Devil’s Club spines are poisonous, and that you should not touch them. She said she would never drink or eat something containing it because she believed tat the entire plant was poisonous. Violet Williams thought that Devil’s Club was used to make a medicinal tea for diabetes. Dave Elliot said that “The roots were pounded, boiled and used as a poultice for rheumatism and other aches. The prickly stems were beaten against the skin for sore limbs.” Elsie, Violet and Dave all recalled that the charcoal from this plant was used as a (ceremonial) face paint for dancers. It was powdered and mixed with grease. It was also used for a bluish tattoo. (Saanich Ethnobotany pg. 92-93)
Nodding Onion is easily recognized by its onion-like odour if if you crush the leaves or stems, and by its grassy leaves and pink, nodding flower heads. The bulbs are long and narrow with a flat plate at the base from where the true toots grow. The bulbs divide readily, so that often you will see a cluster of plants growing together. The leaves are somewhat succulent and grass-like, growing up to about 20 cm in length. The flower stalks are often taller than the leaves, some reaching up to 40 or 50 cm. The stalks bend over at the top so that the flower heads no. The flowers are pink in round topped clusters of 10 or more on one head. Flowering occurs from May to August depending on the elevation. The mature papery seed capsules release hard black seeds when ripe.
Where they are found: Nodding Onion thrives in open sites (such as coastal bluffs), in dry open woodlands and on gravelly beaches above the tideline. It is often associated with Douglas-fir and Garry Oak. Its distribution is somewhat patchy, but it can be found in many locations in W̱SÁNEĆ territory.
Traditional Use: Christopher Paul said that the W̱SÁNEĆ people used to paddle or row across Saanich Inlet to harvest Nodding Onion from the Bamberton area before the cement factory was built. The bulbs could be washed and eaten raw. But more often they were cooked and eaten with other foods due to their strong flavour. (Saanich Ethnobotany pg.117 – 118)
Blue Camas is in the lily family, and have edible bulbs located deep in the soil. Bright green leaves grow from the base of the plant and appear grass-like. The flowers are usually deep blue but sometime pale blue or even white. Plants usually bear many flowers, all six-petalled and arranged in an elongated spike at the top of the flowering stalks. The seed capsules are elongated and split onto three sections to release black, glossy seeds. After the seeds have germinated,it takes several years for the plants to grow old enough to flower.
Where they can be found: The blue camas species can be found on grassy slopes and moist meadows, at low to mid elevations.
Traditional Uses: Blue Camas was the most important root vegetable for the W̱SÁNEĆ people. It was the only widely available source of carbohydrate in a diet that consisted of mainly meat and fish. The W̱SÁNEĆ used to dig up many of their bulbs on the smaller Gulf Islands. Areas over rock such as along rocky cliffs by the sea were preferred harvesting sites because the bulbs were not too deep. Bulb beds were usually dug between June and August. The entire family including men, would be involved. The harvest usually lasted for several days. Sometimes harvesting was done in connection with fishing trips to the islands or to Boundary Bay. The bulbs were dug up with a pointed stick of Yew or Oceanspray and placed in baskets carried on the back with a tumpline over the forehead. The soil was lifted out in small sections, and only the largest bulbs, at least 5 cm across were removed. Bulbs were collected when seed pods were dry. This is when the bulbs are the largest and most nutritious. Bulb beds were usually burned after harvest to increase yield in the following years. The bulbs were usually cooked in enormous circular steaming pits on the beach. (Saanich Ethnobotany pg. 118-123)
One of the other future teachers in our cohort Shaylin sent me a link to a Native Plant workshop put on by the Campus Community Garden here at Uvic. The event featured elder Earl Claxton Jr. and PEPAḴIYE Ashley Cooper from PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ Native Plants & Garden Program located at the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School in Brentwood Bay. ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ has 279 registered students from the 4 W̱SÁNEĆ communities, TSARTLIP. PAUQUACHIN, TSEYCUM and TSAWOUT. The garden program teaches W̱SÁNEĆ kids and youth about traditional food skills which includes traditional food ecosystems as well as vegetable gardening.
It was Earl Claxton Jr’s father Earl Claxton that wrote The Saanich Year (the book used I in my post on The 13 Moons of the Saanich Year ) and grandmother Elsie Claxton who collaborated with Nancy Turner on the book Saanich Ethnobotany which has been my guide for my inquiry into the native plants of the Saanich Peninsula.
Education Coordinator PEPAḴIYE Ashley Cooper (TSARTLIP First Nation) is a graduate of the W̱,SENĆOŦEN,IST and Indigenous Language Revitalization Program (UVic). Ashley has worked to infuse SENĆOŦEN into the Native Plants and Garden program, she has also developed curriculum for the program. Her online educational resources foster the interconnections between language and land and can be found here or you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info on resources for your classroom.
Earl and PEPAḴIYE brought four plants with them from the greenhouses at PEPAKEN HAUTW . Ashley told us a bit about the plants, using their SENĆOŦEN names and Earl told W̱SÁNEĆ legends and stories about his life on the Peninsula.
Below is a picture of each plant along with its common name. In my next post I will dive a little deeper into the traditional knowledge around each plant with the help of my Saanich Ethnobotany book.
Ashley also brought some Stinging Nettle seeds and Thimble berry cuttings. After the talk we were all invited to plant the cuttings and seeds with pots and dirt provided by the Campus Community Garden.
A set of Plant Knowledge Cards have recently been published through Strong Nations. The 72 card set highlights 65 edible and medicinal plants that can be found on southern Vancouver Island. The cards describe the traditional uses and harvesting details of each plant and features 3 Indigenous languages. These cards would make a great classroom resource and can be purchased at strongnations.com .
The Uvic Campus Community Garden (CCG) provides services like the Giving Garden program that delivers fresh vegetables to Uvic students at no cost, they also put on regular free skill building workshops, like the Native Plant workshop I attended throughout the year. Some of you may have heard about the UVSS referendum coming up on March 6th to 8th. CCG needs you to vote in the upcoming referendum to increase the amount of funding they receive so they can continue to provide services to the the Uvic community.
Seasonal rounds refers to the the WSANEC peoples movement from one resource gathering area to another, this movement is cyclical following the cycles of the moon. In the spring, summer and fall the people would be moving throughout their territory collecting and processing different resources while in the winter they would gather in their winter villages. The seasonal harvesting activities depended on abundance, if there was a great abundance of a resource they would stay longer and if there was insufficient resources they would move on to the next area.
Here is a link to a unit on The Saanich Year put together by SD 63
SSIS,ET – The Elder Moon (December)
The winter moon, with short days and stormy weather, the people spent most of their time indoors. Travel on the ocean was unpredictable and potentially dangerous.Dried fish and berries stored from the previous year sustained the people during this time.” People ventured out to gather fuel and to hunt the overwintering ducks and geese, to fish for code and grilse (young salmon), and to collect clams and other shellfish”. (pg.25) Time indoors was spent making netting (from nettle stems), carving canoes as well as making baskets for the upcoming harvesting seasons. Children spent the short days listening to stories told to them by the elders about the right way to live. During this time spiritual and cultural activities took place in the longhouses.
NINENE – Moon of the Child ( January)
The days are getting longer and the world starts its rebirth, this is the beginning of the Saanich year. The days are still cold and stormy but there are a few sunny days. Families begin to assemble their reef nets for the coming fishing season. They still relied mostly on their stored food but would begin to venture out, fishing for spring (chinook) salmon, halibut and seals. This is the season when fawns were born, so the people stopped hunting doe’s at this time. Story-telling and ceremonial dances continued long into the night.
WEXES – Moon of the Frog (February)
It is during this moon that the frogs wake up and start to sing at night, announcing the coming of spring. The earth is beginning to warm up, people are putting their canoes back into the water and travelling longer distances. They fish for cod, gilse, Spring Salmon, halibut and especially herring. They harvested herring roe by placing cedar boughs in the water where the herring spawned, the earliest runs of spawning herring were in Fulford Harbour off of Saltspring Island. While collecting herring row the people would also catch ducks, putting duck nets in the narrow passages between islands. Potential reef net sights were surveyed as the nets were beign repaired and assembled. The winter ceremonials dances were coming to an end as people began to spend more time outside.
PEXSISEN – Moon of Opening Hands, Blossoming Out Moon (March – April)
Blossoms and leaves begin to open. The days are getting longer, there is more sun which is necessary to dry the food being harvested. People used floating nets to hunt and preserve the Brant Geese (XELXELJ) in their feeding grounds. Mussels, clams and oysters were also harvested. Cedar trees were felled and the women stripped the bark for weaving clothing and mats. A long time ago people had small, wooly dogs and this was the time of the year when they began to shed. The women would collect and spin their fur for blankets.
SXANEL – Bullhead Moon (April)
During this moon big bullheads (large-headed bottom fish) appear on the shore and a big wind arrives. People spent most of their time on the water. The older women would spear the bullheads (SKA) from under the rocks. This was also the time to harvest seaweed. People stopped fishing for halibut because they spawned during this moon but they could snare almost full grown grouse in the woods. Around this time young shoots of horsetail, cow-parsnip, salmonberry, and thimbleberry were harvested and eaten. They provided the people with vitamin C and were welcomed as fresh greens.
PENAWEN – Moon of the Camas Harvest (May)
People traveled all over their territory to dig camas bulbs or “wild carrots” and other root vegetables. Seagulls nested in the camas grounds on many of the islands so the people would gather fresh egg at this time as well. Purple and green sea urchins were also gathered to eat. During this moon people would fish for cod, Spring Salmon, grilse and deep water halibut.
CENTEKI – Sockeye Moon (May -June)
The sockeye salmon returned during this moon. The reef nets that the people had been working on were put into place and a ceremony was held when the first salmon was caught. This is also when you will hear the Sawnson Thrushes singing. Strawberries, salmonberries and other berries are beginning to ripen. It is said that it is the song of the Thrush that puts the color into the salmonberries. The WSANEC people were able to catch sockeye about a month before other First Nations because they had access to the straits, during this month the WSANEC people traded salmon with other nations.
CENHENEN – Humpback Salmon Return to the Earth (June -July)
During this time the grass and forests are dry and fire is a danger. People travelled far, both around their own and others territory to fish for humpback salmon. Great feasts where the WSANEC people shared their harvest with neighbours and relatives from other villages were held where ‘people traded, courted and exchanged ideas and informaiton” (27). Men hunted elk and deer while women collected blackberries, strawberries, red huckleberries and wild gooseberries.
CENTAWEN – Coho Salmon Return to the Earth (August)
The Coho return to their streams as the rains help to fill the creeks and rivers. People fished for lingcod and tomcod. The weather is beginning to cool and deer hunting season begins. Indian Celery seed is harvested and stored, it has medicinal and ceremonial uses as well as for flavoring fish and meat. This is prime time for Salal berries, saskatoon berries, thimbleberries, blackcaps, stink currants and other fruits. These berries would dried in cakes for winter use and eaten fresh.
CENQOLEW – Dog Salmon Return to the Earth (September)
Dog (chum) salmon return to the rivers to spawn as the windy, rainy weather begins. Seals and Sea Lions are hunted on the sea and deer and grouse are hunted on land. Cod fishing is at its peak. The people smoke the fish they have caught to preserve them for winter. Wild crabapples and hazelnuts would have been picked at this time. Root vegetable like silverweed and springbank clover were dug. Women gathered clams, made blankets and rush mats from tule and cattail. They began to stockpile wood for the winter months.
PEKELANEW – Moon that Turns the Leaves White/Faded (October)
This moon represents the end of the harvest season. The leaves are beginning to fall to the ground as the nights become longer and cooler. People split logs for fuel, canoes and building materials. They hunted seals and sea lions in the San Juan Islands and prepared for elk hunting season. The very last of the berries and fruits are harvested.
WESELANEW – Moon of the Shaker Leaves (October – November)
People keep close to their winter villages during this month as the winter weather begins. Most of the harvested food had been preserved and stored away. People only fished close to home. After the first snowfall the people would hunt elk in the mountains as they were easier to track. Winter gatherings began at this time.
SJELCASEN – Moon of Putting your Paddle Away in the Bush (November – December)
The winter months, people stayed home sheltered form the winter storms. Sometimes they would venture out at low tide to dig clams. All the materials that had been stored during the months of harvest are brought out and worked. The women wove mat, capes and baskets while the men made their fishing nets, boxes, tools and fishing gear. The people began to eat the food they had stored during the harvest season. Winter ceremonies began and the children once again got to listen to stories from their elders.
WSÁNEĆ territory is diverse, you can find sandy beaches, rocky shoreline and hilltops, coastal bluffs, estuary flatland and the odd open meadowland. The WSÁNEĆ people travelled in small groups between their winter villages on the coast and across parts of their territory on southeastern Vancouver Island, San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands to gather resources in the hunting and harvesting season.
Plants have always played an important role in the lives of the WSÁNEĆ (wh-say-nuch ) or SENĆOŦEN speaking people. Not only are plants (including seaweed, trees and shrubs) a major source of food they are also used for medicine, materials (plant technology) and the setting for cultural activities. “Plant names and terms related to plant harvesting and processing are a significant component of the [SENĆOŦEN] language” (Saanich Ethnobotany pg. 11), a langauage that is connected to the natural world, its animals, plants and the timing of natural events.
The seasonal harvesting activities are explained in detail in Earl Claxton’s book called The Saanich Year, “each family had it’s own special places and their own favorite resources and activities, but in general the pattern of seasonal rounds were on a 13 moon schedule.” (pg. 25)
You can find a detailed moon schedule in my next post…
While researching how to properly pronounce WSÁNEĆ I came across a website called First Voices an online bilingual dictionary and phrase collection with over 1800 words and phrases in the SENĆOŦEN language that allows anyone with internet to access. There is also a link to download the SENĆOŦEN app from iTunes.
Ethnobotany: the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medical, religious, and other uses.
When researching local plants and their uses I came across Nancy J. Turner an ethnobotanist and emeritus professor (retired professor) at Uvic who has worked with First Nations elders for over 40 years to help retain, document and promote their traditional knowledge of plants and habitats. Nancy has authored, co-authored or co-edited over 20 books about Indigenous foods, material, medicines as well as language and vocabulary relating to plants and their environments.
I have decided to use one of her books Saanich Ethnobotany: Culturally Important Plants of the W̱SÁNEĆ People as a handbook for my inquiry journey.
It took many years to write this book which is a collaboration with W̱SÁNEĆ elders Elsie Claxton (Tsawout), Dave Elliott Sr. (Tsartlip), Christopher Paul (Tsartlip), and Violet Williams (Pauquachin) who share their knowledge of habitats, characteristics, qualities and names of over 150 plants found on the Saanich Peninsula. The book has color photos for each plant making it easy to identify them. This book will help me gain insight into an ancient worldview of the plants that sustained the W̱SÁNEĆ people in the place that I now gratefully call home.
I thought I would start my open inquiry by looking back through my notes from the Indigenous Studies course I took at Camosun in the fall of 2017 as my Canadian studies pre-requisite to the Teacher Education Program at Uvic. I also found a great e-book called Pulling Together: A Guide for Front Line Staff, Student Services and Advisors that has a section on Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being.
According to a 2016 stats Canada report there are an estimated 1,673,785 million Indigenous people speaking 70 different languages in what is now known as Canada. While all Nations are culturally unique, they share a common wholistic worldview that sees a whole person (mind, body, spirit) as interconnected to both the land and the other beings that share the land. A worldview is how you construct and make sense of the world around you. As a teacher it is important to understand that each student comes to the school with their own unique worldview. When supporting Indigenous students in the classroom Kirkness and Barnhardt (1991) suggest using the 4Rs to support Indigenous students: respecting Indigenous knowledge, responsible relationships, reciprocity, and relevance. This framework is aimed at post-secondary institutions but I think that it is a useful visual when thinking about how to support not only Indigenous learners but all learners.
• Holistic―It engages and develops all aspects of the individual (emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual) and the community, and stresses the interconnectedness of all life under the Creator.
• Lifelong―It begins before birth and continues through old age and involves the intergenerational transfer of knowledge.
• Experiential―It is connected to lived experience and reinforced by traditional ceremonies, meditation, storytelling, observation and imitation.
• Rooted in Aboriginal languages and cultures—It is bound to language, which conveys a community’s unique values and worldview while ensuring cultural continuity.
• Spiritually oriented—It possesses a spiritual element which is fundamental to the learner’s path to knowledge. This is manifested in spiritual experiences such as ceremonies, vision quests and dreams.
• Communal activity―It is a communal process in which parents, family, Elders and community have a role and responsibility.
• Integrates Aboriginal and Western knowledge―It is an adaptive process that draws from the best of traditional and contemporary knowledge.
I love spending time outside, in the spring and summer you will find me in my garden, planting seeds, weeding or watering, watching something the size of a grain of sand turn into sustaining nourishment.
Every year I attempt to grow something new, last year it was broccoli and cauliflower. At the moment my garden is restricted to a city lot, the boundaries seemingly smaller each year with the additions of new raised beds as I experiment with new plants. When I am in my garden working I feel a sense of connection to not only myself but the soil beneath me, it is both meditative and a time to disconnect from technology and follow my thoughts. I often think about what it would take to live off of the land, to be totally self sufficient. I know that I could not survive off of my summer crop and this train of thought always leads me to the Indigenous people of Vancouver Island who survived and thrived without agriculture for millennia.
I had the opportunity in 2018 as part of an Indigenous Studies and Marine Biology course to take part in a native species walk with a Traditional Ecologcial Knowledge (TEK) keeper from the Tsawout first nation on the peninsula.
Read more about the Traditional Territories of the W̱SÁNEĆ people here
I was fascinated by the number of usable, edible and medicinal plants all around us. From natural sunscreen to herring roe collection, the native plants of coastal British Columbia have assisted and sustained Indigenous ways of knowing and being since time immemorial. I now pay closer attention when I am on a hike to the plant life around me, I repeat the names of each one that I remember (which are few). It has been a personal goal of mine to gain a deeper understanding of the native plants of coastal British Columbia and their uses so it was an obvious topic for my open inquiry. I plan to not only learn about the plants but to go out and find examples around the Greater Victoria area, an opportunity to connect with nature and myself in the ‘off-season’.