Native American Stewardship Series

kanaka Bay canoes
Coast Salish and Nootka canoes and “Columbia River” boats dock below the old Kanaka village (see page 19) on its namesake bay, c. 1897. The Coast Salish called it ayalyex, “good place” or “good spring water.” Coast Salish from across the region reef netted or trolled for salmon here for generations. The Hudson’s Bay Company by 1851 paid one blanket for 60 fish, salting 2,000 to 3,000 barrels a season.

San Juan Historical Museum

root digger
A Northwest Coast woman digs for root bulbs on Vancouver Island using much the same methods employed on San Juan Island and throughout the Pacific Northwest and Canada.

Library of Congress

Learn how American Indians and First Nations peoples shaped the region's environment before the arrival of Euro-Americans and continue to practice conservation today through a series of lectures entitled Native Americans & Stewardship scheduled July to September at Skagit Valley College's Friday Harbor Campus.

The six free programs are sponsored by San Juan Island National Historical Park and the Madrona Institute. Five are scheduled at 7 p.m. Sundays July 20 and 22, August 26, September 9 and 23 in the upstairs classroom of the college, located at 221 Weber Way (above the airport). A demonstration of Indian and frontier European weaving practices is scheduled all day, Saturday and Sunday, August 4-5 on the English Camp parade ground. Call the park at 360-378-2240, ext. 2227 or 2233 for accessibility information.

When the Hudson's Bay Company arrived on San Juan Island to establish a sheep farm, they encountered an island ecosystem that had already been shaped by human hands for thousands of years. This included periodic burning to enhance the semi- cultivation of camas and other edible plants and a unique system of entrapping sockeye salmon called reef netting. The Euro-Americans laid a heavy hand on the island ecology as annual burning halted and non-native seeds were introduced by domesticated grazing animals and non-native plants.

"Native peoples have had, and currently have, important impacts on natural resource management," said park Superintendent Lee Taylor. "The lecture series explores some of the activities and accomplishments of Native Americans/First Nations regarding stewardship of the land and sea, as well as their interactions with European Americans locally and regionally."

The park has been engaged in the last several years in reconnecting a multifaceted public, including youth, to the island environment, especially the prairie at the park's American Camp unit. The prairie ecosystem is rarity within the Puget trough with less than 3 percent remaining and that number continues to drop. Many rare and endangered species call the prairie home, making it even more important to maintain and restore what is left. Although the actual prairie restoration will take years to complete, the restoration efforts of the park remain high priority.

The Stewardship programs essentially explore the traditional ways in which American Indians and First Nations peoples approached stewardship, a address how tribes today deal with terrestrial and marine resource conservation issues through public policy and education. Speakers include Lissa Wadewitz, author and assistant professor of history at Linfield College in McMinnville OR on July 20; Jonathan Greenberg, an attorney and international mediator on July 22; Cowlitz weaver Judy Bridges and Storyteller Karen Haas, August 4-5 on the English Camp parade ground; Washington State conservationist Roylene Rides at the Door,; Craig Bill of the Washington State Governor's Office of Indian Affairs; and Dave Oreiro, vice president for Campus Development, Northwest Indian College, Lummi Nation. Stay posted to the park's web and Facebook sites for more information.

The park is working with state, federal, local and tribal governments, community organizations and the public to determine what factors are affecting restoration of the native prairie at the American Camp unit of the park and at English Camp's Young Hill. The park interpretation division-in partnership with the University of Washington's Burke Museum-already addresses this theme through a series of guided walks and an interpretive display in the American Camp Visitor Center.

The goal now is to expand these themes through programs that will dynamically reveal that native peoples inhabited these islands for 9,000 years or more before the coming of Europeans, building a culture that utilized the abundant natural resources of the area.

"Not only is it the mission of the park to educate the park visitors about the joint occupation, but also relate to them the early habitation of the island and the culture that first shaped the archipelago, Taylor said. "We're hoping these talks will shed more light on the subject and build understanding among the park's various constituencies."

Judy Bridges is a Cowlitz weaver who for many years has been coming to the park to give demonstrations of American Indian weaving techniques. She will conduct a demonstration and workshop August 4-5 on the English Camp parade ground as part of the Native American Stewardship Series.

Mike Vouri

Last updated: October 26, 2017

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Friday Harbor, WA 98250


(360) 378-2240

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