Wilaat Hooxhl Nisga’ahl (Galdoo’o) (Ýans): Gik’uuhl-gi, Guuń-sa ganhl Angoogaḿ = Using plants the Nisga'a way : past, present and future use




Burton, Carla M.

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This dissertation was undertaken in collaboration with the Nisga’a First Nation of northwestern British Columbia to document their traditional plant knowledge. This information was gathered through collaborative audio recorded open-ended discussion with 21 Nisga’a elders, supplemented with material from the published literature and archival sources. Background information with respect to the Nisga’a culture, language, geography, plant classification and resource management is documented in the past and as exercised today. Nisga’a names or uses of 110 plant species are described. Of these, 72 species were documented as having been used for food, 52 for medicinal purposes; 12 for spiritual purposes and 70 for technological purposes. The role of plants in traditional Nisga’a culture is further explored through comparisons of plant distribution, plant names and pre-contact trade between the Nisga’a and their immediate neighbours, the Gitxsan, Tsimshian, Haida, Tahltan and Tlingit First Nations. Maps are presented which highlight the distribution of seven plant species traditionally important in these cultures: Shepherdia canadensis (soapberry), Vaccinium membranaceum (black huckleberry), Oplopanax horridus (devil’s club), Corylus cornuta (beaked hazelnut), Malus fusca (Pacific crabapple), Veratrum viride (false hellebore), and Taxus brevifolia (western yew). Currently, one of the plants most important to the Nisga’a is wa’ums or devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus). Devil’s club stems were measured in clearcuts of different ages to examine how quickly this important spiritual and medicinal species recovers after logging. Results suggest that although devil’s club does persist after clearcut logging, stems of a suitable size are rarely found in cutblocks less than 10 years old and that time since logging only partially accounts for the persistence or recovery of this species. The dissertation concludes with a discussion of historical Nisga’a plant knowledge. The gender of those who have held and transmitted traditional knowledge and the gender of present knowledge holders is tabulated and discussed. Results suggest that although both men and women hold and pass on traditional knowledge, women were and still are more commonly involved in its transmission to the next generation. Current plant uses are highlighted and prospects for the sustainable use of plants for personal and commercial purposes are discussed.



Ethnobotany, First Nations, Nisga'a, Northwestern British Columbia, Nass River, devil's club, Oplopanax horridus, trading patterns, Tsimshian, Haida, Gitxsan, Tahltan, Tlingit, Traditional plant knowledge, Non-timber Forest Products