For many years we have partnered with the Switzmalph Cultural Society and the Salmon Arm Neskonlith Community in the conservation of the fragile eco-systems of the Shuswap Delta and the Salmon River. Through cultural educational programs and the application of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) based on the teachings of revered Secwepemc Elder Dr. Mary Thomas, we are planning to introduce some of the culturally important native plants into a restored wetland environment alongside common sedges, mosses and hebaceous plants.
Black Cottonwood – Secwepemc Name: mulc
An important wildlife/habitat tree
Cottonwood logs were used to make dugout canoes. The resinous, sweet-smelling buds, called melcqín’, or stet’qe7, were used to make a medicinal salve. Mary Thomas recalled a number of different medicinal uses for cottonwood. The inner bark, leaves, and buds were used for treating coughs, colds, lung problems, and kidney and urinary disorders. The leaves were also used to stop bleeding on fresh cuts. A mixture of the buds and inner bark was used to prevent scurvy, and a tea of the buds was used as a gargle.
Ecological Requirements: Requires moist soils and can withstand some flooding. Can grow in nutrient rich soil or in sandy soils (most often in soils deposited by water), will not tolerate shade.
Green Willow – Secwepemc name: q’wlsállp
Willow was widely used as a technology material; the inner bark was used as twine; the sticks were used as reinforcement for baskets, fish weirs and traps and many other implements, and the roots were used as a lashing material. Mary Thomas used to use the bark to make little dolls, like the ones her grandmother once made for her.
Ecological requirements: There are several species of native willow that grow in the area. They range in height from 0.5 – 5 meters. Generally willows prefer low to mid elevations; they can tolerate a wide range of soils from the sand and gravel of lakeshore and riverbanks to the drier soils inland.
Western Red Cedar – Secwepemc name: estqwllp OR astqw
Very culturally-important tree. The wood was used to carve paddles, tools, and a variety of implements. Cedar bark was used to make roofing for homes, and a variety of smaller objects such as bowls, mats, trays, rope, etc. The roots were extremely important as a basket-making material, and were also valued as a trade good for that purpose.
Cedar bark sheets were sometimes tied at the ends to make an elongated dish for broth and other foods. The inner bark is then divided into strips and woven into mats, or trays for enclosing food to be pit-cooked. Whole slabs of cedar bark were used for roofing, both for old-style pit-houses and for temporary shelters and cabins. Cedar root baskets were used for various purposes, such as storing clothing.
Mary Thomas also recalled that her mother used to keep a big pot of cedar or Rocky Mountain juniper tea boiling on the stove all through the winter. This acted as a vaporizer and air freshener, but it was also drunk: “That is drinkable too, lots of vitamins [including vitamin C].” The wood is a good fuel, especially for kindling. Some people say it is good for smoking hides because of its low pitch content. Other traditional uses included construction (where it was available), and raw material for spoons, paddles, river poles, fish spearing poles, and drying racks for meat and fish. Mary Thomas and others used to make cedar shakes from the wood, and these were sold as a source of income. The wood is easily split and rot-resistant, making it ideal for such uses.
Ecological requirements: Moist, wet soils at lower elevations. Prefers rich soil but tolerates shade. Low resistance to drought and frost.