Every Forest Once a Food Forest

Folks up in Seattle are developing a “food forest” on Beacon Hill. Right there, near the heart of the city, a place where anyone can come along and pick fruit, vegetables, herbs, berries and more. The first harvests from the forest are expected this fall.

It’s a great idea. Sharing food and community are two things that I care a lot about. Most of my life has been centered on food and the rights of tribes to be able to harvest their own food.

For us Indian people, all of western Washington was once a food forest.

The trouble is that it’s getting harder and harder for these forests, rivers and beaches to provide us with much food because they’ve been treated so poorly. For us, the U.S. v. Washington ruling that upheld our treaty fishing, hunting and gathering rights came too late.

Since almost the first day that Judge George Boldt’s decision became law, we’ve had to cut back on our fishing because of declining runs. This ongoing decline is being driven by habitat loss and damage, and it isn’t getting better.

Shellfish was always a dependable source of food for Indian people. But pollution from stormwater runoff, failing septic systems and agricultural impacts threaten that vital food source.

Wildlife habitat in our forests continues to shrink. More and more animals are being forced into smaller and smaller areas.

We’re losing our mountain huckleberries to busloads of commercial harvesters who come in with rakes and other tools to strip the bushes clean, often causing damage to the plants and reducing future yields.

Salmon, shellfish, wildlife and huckleberries are all important traditional and treaty-protected foods. Our ancestors knew their importance. That’s why they reserved the right to access and harvest them in treaties with the U.S. government.

Projects like the edible food forest in Seattle are important. I hope they make an effort to include native forest plants that were once up on Beacon Hill before the city came along.

We need to bring our rivers back to life, clean up and protect our beaches, and bring food back to the forests all around us.


Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, (360) 438-1181.