Nisga’a and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Yukon
Year(s) Funded: 2012-2013
Topic Area: Food Security
Contact: Dr. Nancy Mackin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Partners: Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a
Website: http://www.trondek.ca, http://wwni.bc.ca
Title: Berried Treasure: Nisga’a and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in berry harvests in the Northwest Canadian permafrost
Action: Permafrost landscapes of the circumpolar north have for millennia served Indigenous peoples with abundant harvests of delicious, healthy berries including Rubus chamaemorus, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, and Arctostaphylos rubra. These berries were traditionally harvested in summer and autumn, or in winter and spring from under the snow. The community wondered: How were berries traditionally harvested in permafrost regions of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Nisga’a homelands, including during the cold winter months when peoples’ health was particularly vulnerable? What nutrients in these berries kept people healthy? What is the potential influence of climate change on the availability and nutritional quality of berries that provided year-round nutrition?
This community-based research included several years of harvesting berries with local knowledge-holders, who explained how climate and landscape changes influenced berry harvests, health-giving and medicinal value of berries, and harvesting and management traditions. Oral histories describing berry harvests and long-term recollections of climate change were collected from the Elders and from written collections. To complement traditional knowledge, the Northern Climate Exchange at Yukon College provided information about climate change in both study regions. In summer and fall of 2012 and winter of 2013, berry samples were collected on the permafrost plateaus. Nutritional testing at a laboratory in Vancouver BC followed within 24 hours of collecting the samples. Nisga’a and Tr’ondek Hwech’in school and college students participated in berry harvesting and testing. In June 2012 Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a Institute hosted an ethnobotany course where Bachelor and Masters’ students participated in the research. In July 2012, a children’s ethnobotany camp focused on nutritious berries of the region.
Results: Nutritional analysis at a laboratory confirmed Indigenous peoples’ medicinal/ nutritional knowledge: the darker berries proved rich in anthocyanins and the lighter coloured berries had very high vitamin C content. Berries harvested from under the snow had antioxidant content equal to those freshly harvested.
Sharing knowledge about berries can contribute to the goal of helping people, and the ecosystems that sustain them, obtain berries and other healthy wild (country) foods in the face of escalating climate and cultural change. For the health of people and the ecosystems that sustain us, it is vital to bring together and share Indigenous peoples’ and Western science knowledge so together we can maintain the “berried treasures” of the circumpolar north.
Outputs: Harvesting, Elder interviews, student involvement, nutrition testing results, and conclusions were recorded in a book and DVD as well as an academic paper.