Camas Prairie Cultural Ecosystems Incubator

Mission & Goals

Camas in bloom at Glacial Heritage Natural Area Preserve (photo by Sara Breslow)

Camas in bloom at Glacial Heritage Natural Area Preserve (photo by Sara Breslow)

Humans have inhabited the Pacific Northwest Coast for more than 10,000 years. This profound deep time inhabitation suggests a co-evolution of people and place, creating landscapes in which humans are integral to the natural functioning of the system. These “cultural ecosystems” can be found in the camas prairies of western Washington, Oregon and Vancouver Island. These landscapes were managed by Native Peoples for millennia for food and other resources.

Aleta Poste (Squaxin Tribe) discussing camas harvest and processing at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. Elise Krohn (Garden Raised Urban Bounty) in background (photo by Joyce LeCompte).

Aleta Poste (Squaxin Tribe) discussing camas harvest and processing at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. Elise Krohn (Garden Raised Urban Bounty) in background (photo by Joyce LeCompte).

Common camas (Camassia quamash) was one of the most important cultural foods in Coast Salish territory and it continues to play a key ecological role, providing early season nectar for two federally endangered butterflies and countless other pollinators. Over the past 200 years these ecosystems and the cultural practices that maintained them have been severely disrupted, due to initial Euro American colonization and the resulting proliferation of invasive species, agriculture and urban development. There is an opportunity to revitalize cultural practices by educating younger generations and engaging both tribal and non-tribal members in conservation and restoration of these critical habitats. Our transdisciplinary group of ecologists, educators, anthropologists, ethnobotanists, and conservationists from academic, Tribal, non-profit, industry and government agencies will work together to identify the most productive approach to implementing cultural and ecological conservation across camas prairies. Through a series of facilitated workshops, we will develop an innovative Cultural Conservation Education and Research Program, create two comprehensive teaching modules about cultural ecosystems, and draft a project design for a camas harvesting study. Throughout this collaborative effort, we will uphold three core principles: 1) reciprocal benefits for all participants, 2) shared importance of social, cultural and biophysical values, and 3) transformative learning expressed into clear outcomes. We expect the educational opportunities that result from these meetings will be linked to restoration efforts, providing active learning in a conservation context.

Current Activities

Articulating a Vision for the Cultural Conservation Education and Research Program

Patrick Dunn (armed outstretched) describing history and resource management strategies at Glacial Heritage Natural Area Preserve (photo by Sara Breslow)

Patrick Dunn (armed outstretched) describing history and resource management strategies at Glacial Heritage Natural Area Preserve (photo by Sara Breslow)

Our camas prairies incubator project includes both short term and long-term goals that inform one another in ways that we hope will be useful to others embarking on broadly transdisciplinary projects. Our short term goals include: 1) the development of two teaching modules focused on camas prairie cultural ecosystems for use by K-12 and post-secondary educators, and 2) the design of a camas harvesting study to better understand the effects of harvest on camas production, native plant diversity and resistance to invasion. Our long-term goal is to develop a transdisciplinary Cultural Conservation Education and Research Program with a clear vision, list of partners, goals and actions. While there are a number of prairie conservation and management groups focused on the care of these increasingly rare ecosystems, to our knowledge, we are the only group that explicitly focuses on Pacific Northwest prairies as cultural ecosystems.The recognition of camas prairies as cultural ecosystems informs our goals and shapes our broader commitments to prioritize tribal needs and interests in the development of the research and teaching program.

 

During our first two-day meeting, our group affirmed our collective identity as a “community of practice” that learns from the plants, prairies, and one another.” To this end, we crafted the following vision statement, intended to articulate our larger-scale goal of developing a Cultural Conservation Education and Research Program:

“Drawing on western and Indigenous ways of knowing, this project will foster the health of Salish  Sea prairies and the well-being of people connected to them, through collaborative partnerships based in trust, reciprocity and respect.”

Tribal members and members of the Camas Prairie Incubator team gather at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve to discuss harvesting techniques (photo by Sarah Hamman)

Tribal members and members of the Camas Prairie Incubator team gather at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve to discuss harvesting techniques (photo by Sarah Hamman)

Many of us also had opportunities to “learn from the plants and one another” in the field during two trips to the South Sound Prairies during their peak bloom in May. At Glacial Heritage Preserve, Patrick Dunn, the South Sound Prairies Program Director shared the history and strategies of collaborative management of the Preserve by Thurston County and the Center for Natural Lands Management. We were also lucky to have Gary Nabhan, distinguished ethnobiologist, join us in the field to share his insights and observations from experiences with projects focused on collaborative conservation of biocultural diversity in the U.S. Southwest and Mexico.

Camas harvesting at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve (photo by Sarah Hamman)

Camas harvesting at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve (photo by Sarah Hamman)

A week later, we met at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve, where about 60 tribal members from nine different tribes participated in a camas harvest and cultural sharing. Both of these events provided our Incubator team and the communities we hope will benefit from our work an opportunity to further develop our teaching modules and camas harvest research project. The field trips also helped us overcome and address some of the larger challenges we face as we learn how to learn from and share with one another. During our first meeting, some of the challenges we discussed as a group included privileging certain standards of proof and ways of knowing non-human nature, implicit (and explicit) ideologies that see humans as separate from non-human nature, and building trust between tribal communities, scientists, land managers and agencies. Through these small, informal events, and starting with our short-term projects, we hope that our community of practice will learn how to overcome these larger challenges to transdisciplinary teaching and research. – Joyce LeCompte & Sarah Hamman, Co-PI’s (June 8th, 2017)