West Coast Wild Harvest Issue 1 Spring/Summer 2016 - Page 25

RARE SIGHTINGS Garry oak system remains along the southeast coast of Vancouver Island (a region once known as Camosun or “place to gather camas”). Although rare, blue camas continues to have a significant role in BC’s aboriginal culture and efforts are being made to preserve what’s left of the island’s Garry oak habitat. When the ecosystem was declared endangered in 1999, First Nations and volunteers banded together to form the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team (GOERT); they have since been working to restore and conserve these unique environments and the rare species that live within them. Close-up of blue camas flowers EDNA WINTI pit oven for 24–36 hours allows ample time for the release of natural sugars; the result is a sticky, caramelized bulb similar in flavour to a sweet potato. Camas, derived from the Nootka Indian wood chamas (“sweet”), was often used as a natural sweetener, but the bulbs have also been found to contain high amounts of protein and fibre. Cooked bulbs were regularly dried and stored for later use, making them a popular article of trade among aboriginal groups and settlers in the early 19th century. Found exclusively within Garry oak ecosystems, blue camas fields were harvested and maintained by the Coast Salish, Cree, Nez Perce and other native peoples in Canada and the United States. Characterized by wet meadows, shallow soils, and shady woodlands, Garry oak ecosystems were once scattered from southern British Columbia to the northern tip of California, but have since degraded as a result of urban and agricultural development. Today, only five percent of Canada’s PETER SPRING/SUMMER 2016 25