The Tulalip Tribes are caring for huckleberry fields in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest to ensure the resource remains available for future generations.
Earlier this year, as part of a 2007 government-to-government agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, Tulalip signed a 10-year co-stewardship plan for a 1,280-acre parcel known as swədaʔx̌ali, or “Place of Mountain Huckleberries,” in the upper Skykomish watershed.
“Huckleberry is a food and medicine to our people,” said Inez Bill, who coordinates the tribes’ Rediscovery Program. “Our ancestors visited certain areas for gathering these berries. They knew where the berries were growing, and what companion plants were growing there too and how to use them.”
Historically, fire was a forest management tool that prevented trees from shading out huckleberries. The past several decades of fire suppression have allowed conifers to flourish, but diminished opportunities to gather the traditional food.
As part of the co-stewardship, Tulalip natural resources staff removed small conifers from swədaʔx̌ali. At 5,000 feet elevation, the area is home to several species of huckleberry, including big huckleberry, and Cascade or mountain blueberry. For the past two summers, Tulalip held a Mountain Camp there, where youth lived as their ancestors did. They learned about and participated in huckleberry stewardship, made berry baskets from cedar bark, went on a several night backpacking journey and gathered huckleberries.
The Forest Service had planned to decommission all of the roads leading to the area, but was persuaded to keep one open so that tribal members could continue to access it for treaty and cultural uses, said Libby Halpin Nelson, Tulalip environmental policy analyst.
“Treaty rights encompass more than an opportunity to pick berries, hunt game or harvest fish,” she said. “Having a meaningful role on the ground, in the stewardship of these resources, helps reconnect tribal peoples to these lands and the teachings of their ancestors.”
Watch a video from the first year of Mountain Camp: