Reconnecting land and culture
Part 1: Native American community, Metro work together to provide culturally appropriate access to public land
Part 2: The roots of Portland's Native American community
Part 3: Integrating traditional practices into Metro land management
For most of my career as a Metro restoration scientist, I have been aware of the important role this region’s indigenous people played in land management.
Many of the acres I restore contain prairies and oak woodlands that act like small refuges of habitat for scores of rare native plants and animals. Some of the best ways to care for these places include using management approaches that Native Americans practiced for generations.
For example, I’ve led controlled fires at places like Cooper Mountain Nature Park and Quamash Prairie to enhance the prairies and woodlands there. A controlled burn can be very effective in suppressing grasses, shrubs and small conifers. If left unchecked, these plants invade prairies and woodlands and displace the oak trees and wildflowers that attract a variety of animals. Burning is also a fantastic way to prepare open, fertile ground before spreading native seeds or planting native bulbs.
Of course, people indigenous to this area have known these things for centuries, and as I burn and plant the prairies and woodlands that I manage, I reflect on the important work done by tribal people to shape and maintain these diverse habitats since time immemorial.
Along with colleagues like Marsha Holt-Kingsley, Metro’s native plant materials scientist, I’ve spent the last five years seeking a more tangible relationship with the local Native American community, mostly by reaching out with invitations to many of the lands I manage. We’ve simply offered a welcome to these places, with no expectation of anything in return.
I’ve been honored and humbled by the friendship that is developing. Two years ago, Metro created an intertribal cultural liaison position and hired Maiya Osife to guide this developing partnership. We’ve spent a lot of time together, especially at Quamash Prairie, discussing Metro’s restoration and some of the plants and animals at the site. A lot of the focus has been on camas lily, which is an uncommon native plant in the region and an important food to the Native community.
Currently, we are coming together on plans for a prescribed burn to enhance Quamash Prairie in 2018. This would be the first cooperative burn I’ve done with the Native community, and I feel very honored to work beside them.