Salish Plant Society Aims To Help Indigenous People Learn About Traditional Food Sources


From the rolling plains of Montana to the high alpine region of the Bitterroot Mountains, there is a rich diet.

Ethnobotanist Rose Bear Don’t Walk has said she wants to reconnect Montana Salish Bitterroots with foods they have relied on for thousands of years, after being forcibly pushed aside on a more Western diet.

“I would like to think of the Salish people as one of the healthiest people in the world before colonization… because so much of our food culture revolved around foraging, harvesting, hunting and hunting. fishing, ”she said. “There was also a lot of movement going into it, but we were getting a plethora of nutrients from the plants, game and fish.”

Bear Don’t Walk is a longtime resident of the Flathead Reservation and is a descendant of the Bitterroot Salish and Crow tribes. After earning a political science degree from Yale University, she returned home to earn her Masters in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana. Ethnobotany is the study of how plants and culture connect, and Bear Don’t Walk’s work specifically focuses on how the Salish people viewed the plants they used for food and medicine. .

“A lot of Salish people knew about certain plants by the qualities they had, so things like rose hips have a lot of vitamin C. There are a lot of plants used for food that have also been used for medicine. So if you can imagine hundreds of food plants being used and each of them having their own complete nutritional profile, ”she said.

THE SALISH Plant Society will help increase access and knowledge of the Salish community about traditional food plants. This includes how to identify them, where they develop and the different stages of growth, all available on an online platform. Bear Don’t Walk said there will be other related resources as well, such as principles of how Salish people interact with food plants and how to eat sustainably.

She said this guide is important because it is a resource on Salish plants made by the Salish people. Her job is to put it all together and present it in an accessible way, but the knowledge comes from observing many women in her community and family over the years.

“There are things that I have done all my life that I did not realize were part of this continuing cycle of imparting traditional ecological knowledge and the role of Salish women in maintaining knowledge of plants. food in particular, ”said Bear Don’t Walk. .

EVERY YEAR the community comes together for the bitter root feast in late spring, where for generations a young Salish girl is chosen to dig up the first root of the season. The tradition is based on a story where the bitter root was given as a gift to an old Salish woman and her people during a time of famine. It is also traditional that women are the only people who can prepare the bitter root. Bear Don’t Walk remembers being chosen as a maiden for this honor.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God I’m so excited to dig the first bitter root, it’s so awesome’, but now that I’m older and looking back on that experience, that’s one way to the Salish people to spend that. knowing the community and the kind of responsibility that Salish women are very important to our food systems and tribal way of life, ”she said.

THIS EXPERIENCE This is what prompted her to learn about traditional Salish food systems. The bitter root is only one of many plants important to its community; camas is another important plant for the Salish people and was also mainly cultivated and processed by the women of the tribe. Virginia cherries, blueberries, and serviceberries were also huge staples due to the ability to pick them in large quantities. Although many members of the tribe still hunt and fish, most no longer have any connection to these plants in their daily lives.

“A lot of my work and research has been, ‘How do we go back to our traditional food systems? “And it’s really important for me to be a young salish woman, to be able to be a part of that larger bond of knowledge,” she said.

The Salish Plant Society is funded by 500 Women Scientists, a national organization dedicated to building an inclusive science community and nurturing a more diverse group of future leaders in the field. Bear Don’t Walk said the website is slated to launch early next year and is primarily aimed at Salish people, but is open to anyone interested in learning more about ecological knowledge. traditions and cultivate positive relationships with the land and the plants that surround it.

Anyone interested in getting involved or supporting the project can contact Bear Don’t Walk at [email protected]

Journalist Taylor Inman can be reached at [email protected]


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