Nancy Turner speaking at the Eating The Okanagan: Exploring Change in our Local Food Systems research forum held in Kelowna on Monday at Summerhill Winery. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press

Nancy Turner speaking at the Eating The Okanagan: Exploring Change in our Local Food Systems research forum held in Kelowna on Monday at Summerhill Winery. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press

Seeking to preserve B.C. First Nations’ plant and habitat knowledge

Traditional Indigenous diet diversified beyond just meat and fish

Nancy Turner has spent much of her adulthood trying to preserve traditional knowledge of B.C. plants and habitats passed on for generations by Indigenous elders.

Turner remembers talking to elders back in the 1960s and ’70s who voiced their frustrations to her about how the Indigenous younger generation wasn’t interested in what they had to say.

“The connection I had with the elders was a mutual love of plants. It is a huge honour and a privilege for them to have shared their knowledge with me and it is a responsibility I take seriously to pass that knowledge whenever I can,” Turner said.

“It never seems to be enough but you do what you can to preserve that knowledge.”

She talked about her experience as an ethnobotonist and emeritus professor at the University of Victoria as the keynote speaker at a research forum held at the Summerhill Winery in Kelowna on Monday called Eating The Okanagan: Exploring Change in our Local Food Systems.

“We need to think about how we can restore the land, to learn from people who have lived on one place for a long period of time. It is important to learn that knowledge to have the wisdom to continue to live a sustainable lifestyle in our modern world,” Turner said.

“We are suffering cumulative losses and we need cumulative solutions,” she added, citing such land use benefits as prescribed burning, plant breeding programs, combating invasive weeds on the landscape and the impact of climate change.

Turner talked about how Indigenous people learned to live off the land, to observe and respect how wildlife looked after their food supply.

They survived on a variety of plant root vegetation such as as the chocolate lilly, balsamroot, soapberry shrub and yellow glacier lilly to the inner bark of pine trees and a variety of different fruit from strawberries to Saskatoon berries.

“They learned how to prune the berry bushes from observing how the bears. The figured out that if you cut back a bush it will grow back again and produce more berries,” she said.

“There were all kinds of different ways that Indigenous people used to enhance and preserve the productivity and quality of plants they relied on as food sources. It is a knowledge that has not been appreciated as much as it should have.”

She said Indigenous food staples have been replaced by the food processing volume of society today has created nutrition and health issues such as cancer and diabetes that were not prevalent prior to the arrival of Europe settlers in North America.

“We need to rebuild the food system knowledge of the past and combine it with the better elements of the foods we eat today,” Turner said.

Turner said Indigenous people sustained themselves over 12,000 years and longer by living off and sustaining what the landscape had to offer, harvesting the plants and berries available to them beyond fish and mammal meat to thrive, celebrating those foods in their culture and language.

She cited a past study that concluded 50 per cent of the calories in the diet of B.C. Interior Indigenous communities were generated by root plant vegetables, and 70 per cent of their food was derived from plants.

“That is often not well recognized or appreciated. There is much we can learn from people who have sustained themselves over a long period of time living in the same place,” she said.

She said not only were fruits and plant roots replanted and harvested seasonally, but some plants that were inedible or indigestible could be prepared in different ways to become staple diet items and even sweet treats by being cooked on open pit fires, dried out and stored as food sources during the winter.

“If you know what you are looking for, you can still find these pits on the landscape, and if you dig them up you will find fire-cracked rock,” she said.



barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Interior Health hospitals not strained by rising COVID case counts

While provincial hospitalizations rise, health care systems in the B.C. Interior remain robust, say officials

The Urgent and Primary Care Centre on Martin Street has officially opened today, March 31, 2021. (Brennan Phillips - File)
Funding denied for Penticton primary care facility

Urgent and Primary Care Centre designated a hospital, but request for $1M in funding denied

On National Takeout Day, April 15, 2021 Penticton announced a new “Picnic Penticton” program beginning in May that will see 36 additional picnic tables added to local parks in an effort to support local restaurants.(Pexels.com/Maksim Goncharenok)
Penticton wants picnics to be all the rage this spring and summer

Who could say no to pizza and beer in the park?

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The organizer of a Kelowna protest against COVID-19 restrictions was fined by the RCMP for the third time Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (File photo)
Kelowna RCMP investigating hit and run involving 11-year-old

Police said the boy suffered minor injuries

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

The contract has been awarded for an upgrade at the Okanagan Falls Wastewater Treamtent Plant. (Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen image)
Funding awarded for Okanagan Falls wastewater plant

Upgrade work will improve management of sluge

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen and the city of Penticton will revisit an agreement about septic wastes. (Contributed)
South Okanagan septic waste agreement modified

Agreement between Penticton and Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen dates to 2006

Multiple employees at Vernon’s Real Canadian Superstore on Anderson way have tested positive for COVID-19, parent company Lablaw Companies Ltd. confirmed on its website Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (Google Maps)
Multiple positive COVID-19 tests among Vernon Superstore employees

An undisclosed number of employees at the grocery store have contracted the virus

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 91, is disappointed the Legion does not qualify for COVID financial assistance from the provincial government. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C.’s pandemic aid package passing Legion branches by

Federal non-profit status stymies provincial assistance eligibility

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

Thomas Kruger-Allen
Penticton beach attacker heading back to court for further assaults

Thomas Kruger-Allen is charged with three counts of assault causing bodily harm

Most Read