Newcomers to Vancouver Island will have a hard time remembering the unique oak ecosystem celebrated by South Islanders. The raw bark on the nubi stem creates sculptural scenes from the grassy hills.
But what makes Gary Oak so special besides its sheer beauty? Why is it so important and what makes the endangered ecosystem safe?
Robin Tinkliff, a farmer in Mt. “That’s why we’re all here.”
He pointed to the bright purple flowers under the shiny branches. They have a good, bulbous tuber for a root, which is a great source of food, something like parsnip. Nutritious and long lasting when stored properly.
According to Cheryl Bryce, a Songhis woman and traditional food expert, the Lekwang people have long cultivated these plants for food and trade. They set out for the hills, setting up control burns and clearing the undergrowth of bushes. The bark of the Scabby Gary Blue is naturally resilient to flame, so stay tuned while the meadows bloom – as Bacon Hill Park looks like today.
So when James Douglas climbed his scooter on the scouting sites for a new castle in 1842, Camas Meadows sang it. He saw open, “uncultivated” land that looked fertile with minimal trees. Great for a new castle.
Except that it was not cultivated.
Sunghi women were tending the fields, cultivating and harvesting the kahm. They managed the land and distributed the crop fairly. The starchy tuber was a valuable commodity for trade, as is the value of salmon. People used to come to the South Island for prizes. The land seemed very welcome to Douglas because it was a farm.
But the settlers quickly took over, allowed the cattle to take root, planted their own crops of potatoes and carrots, expelled not only the sniffing people, but also their food.
Bryce grew up helping his grandmother, Edna Quettle, harvest, unknowingly learning. He learned of Death Camus, a poisonous relative whom his ancestors used to move across the fields each spring to prevent raids.
He learned to sow the seeds when he dug for the tubers, changed the soil on top to minimize disturbance and how to cook it in a pit oven – a slow cooker of clay, he told him.
So far, development has destroyed almost all of the oak ecosystem on the South Island, the only place left. Bryce said less than five percent remains. Some of his people have never tasted Kot Lal.
She says Gary Oak is at risk, but there is little protection from overlapping laws at various levels of government. All that’s left is on reserve land, or sometimes in parks such as Oak Bay or Appland Park in Beacon Hill.
“It’s almost like we’re becoming a green belt for Canada. It really starts to ban what we can do with less land,” said Bryce. Provides limited protection, where most of the oak is destroyed, and some municipalities have additional security measures in place to prevent this.
But the Kotal Lal food system – aka the Gary Oak ecosystem – is about more protection for Bryce.
“The Kuwait Red Food System is truly a living antiquity, because of the family character and the traditional ways on earth that have kept it for generations. It’s because of my ancestors here.
Around 1995, Bryce helped with a small exhibition at the Royal BC Museum. The idea was to contradict the people of Songhes before contact and in modern times. It was at this point that Bryce realized how ignorant Victorians were about the history of their people and the land on which they all lived.
“Literally, people in Victoria said to me, ‘I thought you were extinct.’ ‘
In addition, people will intervene during the harvest of quail.
People felt I had the right to say that I had no right to do what I was doing. People confronted me and insisted that I stop, sometimes try to stop me physically, sometimes call the police. It doesn’t matter what I say, they don’t get it.
In some harvest areas, she brings a white man with her to harvest. If a passerby has a problem, they can talk to their white friend instead of yelling at Bryce.
That’s why he started speaking in public – going to meetings, talking to municipalities and community groups. “It wasn’t about teaching people to do it themselves, it was about teaching us to respect what we do, to respect the people of Lecon.”
The purpose of this awareness is slowly beginning to bear fruit: “Now sometimes people will ask if I am cutting kama. It never happened.”
Awareness is one thing, but she really wants to see the food system revived.
It would be a dream to see her trade again, but for the most part, she says, “I don’t want to be an old man telling people what it tasted like.”
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