Our ancestors developed
a variety of ways to capture and harvest our foods and non-food resources and to ensure sufficient harvests for the future. We developed this knowledge over generations of watching the world around us and learning from our mistakes and successes.
"We do have stories of famine. And when the salmon first came to the coast, they observed its preference. Where it came first and what environment it preferred. This was hands-on observation of the resources, to learn how to enhance it in their own way. And it was working. It worked."
- Cyril Carpenter
Some of this knowledge is manifest in tangible ways in Húy̓at and elsewhere and can be studied by western scientists. For instance, terraced intertidal gardens throughout our territory bear witness to the cultivation of root foods and clams. Our tending of trees and berries is also evident today in the red- and yellow cedar trees that retain the mark of many bark-stripping and plank-removal events. These “culturally modified trees” (CMTs), as they are known to archaeologists, reflect our tradition to space out the timing of stripping events so that each tree could regrow and heal.
Húy̓at redcedar tree with multiple long planks removed.
(Photo credit: Julia Jackley)
We also tended fruit trees and bushes, including the native crabapple and a myriad of berries, and more recently, domesticated fruits and berries. In Húy̓at, the high abundance and diversity of culturally valued plants found in association with our past settlements bear witness to these ancient cultivation practices.
Many of our traditional management practices do not leave tangible evidence that can be easily studied by western scientists. For instance, our choices about when fish are harvested, mesh size of fishnets, which fish are returned to the ocean, and even who gets to fish in someone’s territory might be invisible to someone studying our traditional practices. Similarly, evidence of our cleaning of river debris, or the creation of river pools to facilitate salmon’s upstream migration, could easily be erased with each spring freshet. For the Heiltsuk, our prayers, songs, and the respect we bring to non-human beings are all enduring manifestations of our traditional management systems.