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"The Queen Root of This Clime": Ethnoecological Investigations of Blue Camas (Camassia leichtlinii (Baker) Wats., C. quamash (Pursh) Greene; Liliaceae) and its Landscapes on Southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia

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"The Queen Root of This Clime": Ethnoecological Investigations of Blue Camas (Camassia leichtlinii (Baker) Wats., C. quamash (Pursh) Greene; Liliaceae) and its Landscapes on Southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Brenda Raye Beckwith

2004

Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8P 5C2, CANADA.

ABSTRACT

Bulbs of camas (Camassia leichtlinii and C. quamash; Liliacaeae) were an important native root vegetable in the economies of Straits Salish peoples. Intensive management not only maintained the ecological productivity of &us valued resource but shaped the oak-camas parklands of southern Vancouver Island. Based on these concepts, I tested two hypotheses: Straits Salish management activities maintained sustainable yields of camas bulbs, and their interactions with this root resource created an extensive cultural landscape.

I integrated contextual information on the social and environmental histories of the pre- and post-European contact landscape, qualitative records that reviewed Indigenous camas use and management, and quantitative data focused on applied ecological experiments. I described how the cultural landscape of southern Vancouver Island changed over time, especially since European colonization of southern Vancouver Island. Prior to European contact, extended families of local Straits Salish peoples had a complex system of root food production; inherited camas harvesting grounds were maintained within this region. Indigenous peoples adapted their economic decisions and traditional food needs to fit shifting social and environmental parameters. Through ecological experimentation I examined the growth and development of camas in nursery cold frames and in simulated Indigenous management techniques of naturally occurring camas populations. These two studies showed that camas demonstrated a variety of growth patterns and maintained a range of developmental phases, leading me to conclude that this genus is a good candidate for regular management. The field study also confirmed a high degree of habitat heterogeneity characteristic of this region.

I developed a multiscalar model of integrated Indigenous root management and reconstructed the ethnoecological dynamics of former camas landscapes. From this I derived management recommendations for future camas landscapes. I elucidated how camas harvest grounds were essentially agroecosystems, maintained by a range of anthropogenic disturbance patterns. The evolution of camas cultivation was a continuum of intensifying intervention between humans and a native root crop, a relationship of human-environment interaction that quickly ended, for the most part, soon after European contact. Successful restoration of today's degraded camas populations, and of the nationally endangered Garry oak ecosystems, in which Camassia is a major herbaceous component, is dependent on ethnoecologically integrated restoration initiatives based on multidisciplinary landscape reconstruction studies.