Plant use practices of a historic st’at’imc household, bridge river, British Columbia

Natasha Lyons, Anna Marie Prentiss, Naoko Endo, Kristen D. Barnett

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Plant Use Practices of a Historic St’át’imc Household, Bridge River, British Columbia Natasha Lyons, Anna Marie Prentiss, Naoko Endo, and Kristen D. Barnett This chapter focuses on the paleoethnobotanical macroremains from the historic occupation of Housepit 54 at the Bridge River site in the Middle Fraser (Mid-Fraser) region of British Columbia. This mediumsized housepit, measuring 13 m across, was repeatedly occupied over a millennium, with the final occupation occurring during the mid to late portion of the Fur Trade period (ca. AD 1830s to 1850s). St’át’imc people were drawn into the fur trade in the early to midnineteenth century and actively engaged in the emergent social and political economies that grew from these intercultural transactions. As seen in this chapter and throughout the volume, these new opportunities for networking and cultural transmission were tempered by a firm adhesion to local traditions and by the constraints and logistics of local resource availability and ecological settings. In this chapter we ask what the plant remains can tell us about the harvesting, subsistence, consumption, and cooking practices of the residents of Housepit 54 during its final occupation. A great deal of variability has been documented about the experiences and interactions of local indigenous communities with European newcomers across space and time (e.g., Ferris 2009; Graesch et al. 2010; Lightfoot 2005; Ruber tone 2000). Many researchers have discovered the persistence of indigenous foodways in the face of intensive periods of cultural interaction, a situation seen to reflect “the symbolic importance of historically situated practices embodied in all facets of daily food production and consumption” (Graesch et al. 2010:212; also see Hastorf 2012; Hastorf and Atalay 2006). In the Pacific Northwest, evidence of this persistence is borne out at Fort Kamloops, where Carlson’s research into early to midnineteenth century Secwepemc occupations suggests that certain aspects of household organization and foodways —  including continuities in architectural features, storage, portable technologies, and faunal use— were substantially unchanged in this period despite regular direct contact with European newcomers (Carlson 2000:287, 2006). At the midto late-nineteenth century village site of Welqamex, near Fort Hope, particular elements of “traditional” Stó:lō society were amplified by contact, such as the intensification of salmon processing for trade and competitive potlatching, whereas others, including domestic cooking techniques, endured despite the easy availability of new technologies (Graesch et al. 2010:218; see also Lepofsky et al. 2009). Forming the backdrop to midnineteenth century history in British Columbia were the colonial processes of power, extraction, and commodification. From the midto late nineteenth century, the lifeways of indigenous peoples shifted dramatically, albeit at different paces according to local histories of interaction: Canada confederated, immigrants came to out number indigenous residents in many parts of the Plant Use Practices of a Historic St’át’imc Household, Bridge River, British Columbia 151 country, and colonial governments nation wide initiated widespread changes in land use and production. In British Columbia, the “Indian land question” was fervently debated (officially among colonial administrators, and unofficially among First Nations communities), resulting in the implementation of the reserve system through the midto late nineteenth century. Governor James Douglas’s original intent was to lay reserves out prior to the arrival of “white settlers” and to “allocate sufficient land to each local Indian community for village sites, for agri cultural purposes, and for protection of specific sites such as burial grounds,” paying specific attention to the requests of the communities in question (Tennant 1989:31). This protocol was swiftly undermined and undone by successive and increasingly racist administrations, and reserve allotments were drastically reduced, particularly of arable land (Harris 1997; Tennant 1989). A major impetus of colonial governments was to allow incoming immigrant families to preempt arable parcels of land for homesteading and smallscale farming. Cole Harris (1997:219) has called the new agricultural landscapes “expressions of introduced cultural and ecological arrangements [which] were drastic departures from indigenous pasts.” Despite these radical colonial impositions on the lifeways of indigenous peoples in the Pacific Northwest, many communities responded by becoming capable gardeners— ​ in the European sense1 of this term— ​and by actively taking up the new technologies, domesticates, and approaches to gardening. Notable examples include the rapid adoption of the potato and other root vegetables by Coast Salish, Tlingit, Nlaka’pamux, and other First Nations communities, who cultivated them in rows in enclosed garden spaces (Harris 1997; Moss 2005; Suttles 1951, 2005).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Last House at Bridge River
Subtitle of host publicationThe Archaeology of an Aboriginal Household in British Columbia during the Fur Trade
PublisherUniversity of Utah
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781607815440
ISBN (Print)9781607815433
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


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