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  • Writer's pictureRose BDW

Salish Women and Traditional Food Plants

Happy #internationalwomensday! For today I thought it would be important to illustrate the importance of native women as well as Salish women in traditional plant teachings.

(left Mary Ann Pierre Combs Salish elder, featured in the illustrated book The Gift of the Bitterroot which highlights the story of how the Bitterroot came to the Salish people)

As a Salish woman, I understand my role as a keeper of traditional knowledge, specifically of plants. But my work builds on the generations of work of women in Salish societies have cultivated through time. Not only are women primary caregivers for family and children they were also the primary foragers of our communities. Men were usually designated hunters and fishers as those tasks could take weeks out of the year at a time. Meanwhile, women took on the roles of observer, gatherer, processor, cook and life giver. The importance of women’s roles in traditional society cannot be stressed enough. They developed a complexity and sophistication of knowledge as food producers, healers, cooks and resource managers and much more in helping their communities thrive. Much of what we know about plants, the land, and our medicine comes from Salish women. In ensuring the well-being of families and communities, the activities of women were considered of vital and equal importance to men’s work. In the present this should be no different, as women’s roles, professions, and passions shift, adapt and change we know that any path we decide to take furthers the success of our community. The philosophy of the importance of women’s roles in tribal society should be a modern framework that we all operate in. Equality helps all.

In the future SPS will feature the Camas bake, which is a traditional method of cooking blue Camas (Camassia quamash). It features several plants and is an intensive, but reward process. In the Bitterroot Salish way, the Camas bake is taken on by only women. While men could help chop wood or provide foraging assistance, the processing and cooking processes were all undertaken by women. The eating is done by all! The many parts of the bake make it a highly educational and delicious experience to be shared and highlights the many ways that plants are used in food processes and how important women's knowledge is to feeding the tribe.

For now, I would just like to reiterate the invaluable work being done by many indigenous women across the nation in areas of food sovereignty, ethnobotany, policy, governance, education, home-making, crafting, dancing, and much much more. Our women are sacred and the knowledge and life they carry should always be appreciated and honored.

Here's some inspiring native women doing ethnobotany work:

Linda BlackElk (Korean, Mongolian, Catawba) teacher, activist and ethnobotanist extraordinaire!

Rosalyn LaPier (Blackfeet) professor, activist, writer and ethnobotanist

Robin Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomi) author, activist, ethnobotanist

Valerie Seagrest (Muckleshoot) author, activist, food sovereignty coordinator

Here's some cool native-woman led orgs:

Food sovereignty access in Montana

Indigenous Cooking

Buffalo Nations Food Systems Initiative

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