Native Americans and Huckleberries

Native Americans enjoy a long history of picking and maintaining many huckleberry stands throughout the northwest region.

The use and preservation of huckleberries is recorded as far back at 1615 when explorer Samuel de Champlain observed Native Americans collecting and drying huckleberries for winter use.  Even the first huckleberry rakes were developed by Native Americans!  (For more history about huckleberries in the Pacific Northwest, you might want to check out the USDA booklet: : A Social History of Wild Huckleberry Harvesting in the Pacific Northwest, also listed on our resource page.)

The tradition continues and is shared in the following article by Eilís O’Neill:

Tribe’s Huckleberry Harvest Brings Fire (or Something Like It) Back to the Forest

… Traditionally, the Tulalip (tribe) ate huckleberries — at home and in ceremonies — brewed tea from the leaves, and used the juice to dye their clothes. Huckleberries were abundant thanks to forest fires, which opened up wetlands and meadows and made space for short, shrubby plants that need the sun—plants like huckleberry bushes.

But, for decades the Forest Service has tried to put out fires as fast as possible, so there isn’t much huckleberry habitat left. That’s why the Tulalip Tribe is working with the Forest Service to recreate open patches in the forest…

Today’s brush-clearing is part of an agreement between the Forest Service and the Tulalip Tribe signed five years ago. The agreement is based on the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, which reserves the Tulalip’s right to hunt and gather in unclaimed lands.

“The tribes see their treaty right as more than just the ability to gather,” says Libby Nelson, who helped negotiate the agreement. The tribe’s members also, she says, “want to be part of the stewardship as they had been for thousands of years.”

The agreement allows the tribe to keep some clear-cut Forest Service land open for huckleberry habitat.

“Logging is kind of doing what prescribed burns and traditional burning used to do to keep certain areas open and from having the conifers overtake these earlier forest stages and meadows,” she explains.

Controlled burns are still on the table for the future — but for now, the tribe is focusing on clearing the land with chainsaws—and teenagers…

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

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