Verbing Science! with Rose Bear Don't Walk
2. Rose Bear Don’t Walk, “Patterns, Plants, and People”
Some of most staggering achievements in science have happened because someone was able to look into the chaotic mess of information the world presents us and see the hidden order beneath it – see a pattern. The ability to look for and find patterns is central to science not just as we now think of it, but to how humans have understood and interacted with our environment for millenia. This episode features Rose Bear Don’t Walk, an ethnobotanist who explains how her Bitterroot Salish and Crow heritage inform her scientific work, and how recovering traditional knowledge of plants and patterns is key to preserving culture and improving health in indigenous communities.
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[00:00:07.218]Some of the most staggering achievements
[00:00:09.720]in the history of science:
[00:00:11.077]The periodic table of the elements,
[00:00:13.830]Mendel's Laws of Genetic Inheritance,
[00:00:16.620]happened because someone
[00:00:18.510]or more likely several someones
[00:00:20.704]were able to look in to the chaotic mess
[00:00:24.480]of information the world presents to our senses
[00:00:28.062]and see the hidden order beneath it.
[00:00:30.030]See a pattern.
[00:00:31.283]The ability to look for and find patterns is central
[00:00:35.850]to science, not just as we now think of it,
[00:00:37.945]as an organized research enterprise
[00:00:40.350]that requires lots of specialized training,
[00:00:41.958]but to how humans have understood
[00:00:44.700]and interacted with our environment for millennia.
[00:00:47.970]This episode features Rose Bear Don't Walk, an ethnobotanist
[00:00:51.907]who explains how her Bitterroot Salish, and Crow heritage
[00:00:55.500]inform her scientific work
[00:00:56.926]and how recovering traditional knowledge of plants
[00:01:00.330]and their patterns is key to preserving culture
[00:01:03.060]and improving health in Indigenous Communities.
[00:01:06.105]I am Jocelyn and let's get verbing.
[00:01:18.747]If we can reconnect with our traditional foods
[00:01:21.900]and utilize them and continue to learn more
[00:01:24.849]about them in cultural ways,
[00:01:28.050]in botanical ways
[00:01:30.090]that we can become more healthier and well
[00:01:32.306]not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually,
[00:01:35.881]mentally, because I think that
[00:01:39.660]it's really important that we uphold
[00:01:41.430]these cultural traditions with our plants
[00:01:43.111]because that knowledge is so important
[00:01:45.298]and so many people work so hard for it to keep going
[00:01:48.706]that we have to utilize that knowledge
[00:01:51.659]and utilize those plants
[00:01:53.527]and recognize that we still have a relationship with them
[00:01:56.822]that we need to honor.
[00:01:58.740]It's kind of like
[00:01:59.910]a use it or lose it mentality.
[00:02:01.710]If we don't use this traditional knowledge about plants,
[00:02:04.470]if we don't talk to people about it,
[00:02:06.210]if we don't take young people out and teach them about it,
[00:02:09.360]like we will lose that knowledge.
[00:02:11.005]And I mean that's thousands of years
[00:02:13.906]and that seems like a really
[00:02:18.600]piece of our history to lose.
[00:02:22.530]And I'm curious 'cause you did study
[00:02:25.470]the effects of edible flora on the Salish people.
[00:02:29.370]Have you studied at all
[00:02:32.640]the loss of edible flora had effects too?
[00:02:36.450]that's coming from climate change
[00:02:37.830]or agriculture or whatever it is.
[00:02:40.260]Has that also kind of had an influence?
[00:02:41.923]When I interviewed different community members
[00:02:46.178]for my master's thesis,
[00:02:49.770]I asked them,
[00:02:51.007]"Where do they see the future of plants?
[00:02:53.233]What is their relationship with them now?"
[00:02:55.920]And a lot of them noted
[00:02:58.740]maybe not directly to climate change,
[00:03:01.958]but they did note that there's been
[00:03:04.726]a shift in the seasonality of different plants
[00:03:08.790]of when they're actually
[00:03:10.230]coming out and blooming
[00:03:11.357]or producing fruits.
[00:03:12.856]They've noticed they've had to
[00:03:15.300]change their harvesting patterns.
[00:03:18.090]Like a lot of elders tell us,
[00:03:20.557]"Don't harvest next to roadsides because,
[00:03:24.095]all of the dust comes up,
[00:03:26.400]and all of the exhaust comes up and sticks to the plants
[00:03:29.550]and you don't wanna be ingesting that."
[00:03:33.030]And I think another thing they noted was just
[00:03:35.190]that the loss of so many different
[00:03:39.428]landscapes due to
[00:03:43.001]or housing developments being built.
[00:03:45.870]And so a lot of our known harvesting sites have kind of
[00:03:50.070]subsided due to developments in the land
[00:03:53.153]that have kind of shifted how
[00:03:58.980]Oh, that's so interesting and important.
[00:04:00.780]I mean, because
[00:04:01.613]you're really engaged in sort of cultural preservation
[00:04:04.350]but also physical preservation
[00:04:06.180]because you can't preserve cultural knowledge
[00:04:08.610]of something that doesn't exist anymore.
[00:04:11.250]So it's so complex and important.
[00:04:13.725]And I wondered if you could talk a little bit,
[00:04:15.570]by the way, the full title
[00:04:16.830]of your master's thesis is
[00:04:18.217]"Recovering Our Roots, the Importance of Salish
[00:04:20.520]Ethnobotanical Knowledge and Traditional Food Systems
[00:04:22.620]to Community Wellbeing on the Flathead Indian Reservation
[00:04:25.920]We will link to it in the episode description.
[00:04:27.691]Try saying that five times fast, I've tried.
[00:04:33.075]Saying it one time, slow is enough.
[00:04:37.346]I don't think I'm up for the challenge.
[00:04:38.179]But that's how, you know,
[00:04:40.204]it's a real official thesis.
[00:04:42.008]You gotta have the catchy title,
[00:04:46.860]Lengthy and cumbersome description of what the paper's
[00:04:50.255]Yeah, it's the standard format.
[00:04:52.712]It's right on the money.
[00:04:53.821](Jocelyn and Rose laughing)
[00:04:55.360]But, so you've talked a few times about
[00:05:01.200]or culturally relevant foods.
[00:05:03.360]And so I wondered
[00:05:04.410]if you could talk a little bit more about what
[00:05:05.790]that means in general
[00:05:06.840]and specifically for the Salish people.
[00:05:08.880]I'm kind of thinking of an example being,
[00:05:11.250]you know we talked about food deserts
[00:05:13.144]and lack of access to foods
[00:05:15.750]but if you're somebody who
[00:05:19.290]grew up as a white American
[00:05:21.674]in the United States of America
[00:05:23.130]in the Midwest
[00:05:23.963]and you suddenly found yourself in a situation
[00:05:27.780]where the only food source
[00:05:30.332]or the primary food source
[00:05:32.690]that you had access to was crickets,
[00:05:33.689]you might be a little perturbed. (laughs)
[00:05:37.770]Not because you can't get a lot
[00:05:40.174]of good nutrition from crickets because you can
[00:05:41.520]but that's not something that you grew up eating,
[00:05:44.550]that you are used to eating,
[00:05:45.748]that means something to you.
[00:05:48.561]And so it gets into
[00:05:50.122]the cultural aspect of how we use foods as well.
[00:05:53.910]So is that a good analogy?
[00:05:55.980]Can you give us a little more information
[00:05:57.420]about what that means?
[00:05:58.710]The analogy is interesting.
[00:06:00.005]I think about it in a way
[00:06:03.826]as you take a group of people
[00:06:06.441]who have known these particular foods for so long
[00:06:11.460]and then in order to exert control over them,
[00:06:15.660]you introduce a completely different diet to them
[00:06:19.230]that only you know and that only you are used to.
[00:06:24.090]And I think that is something
[00:06:27.230]that's just super across the board for
[00:06:29.010]all native tribes in North America,
[00:06:32.490]is that the government wanted to exert control
[00:06:35.190]and autonomy over tribal people
[00:06:37.110]and so, some of the ways to do that was
[00:06:40.560]after the treaty making period,
[00:06:42.090]the way they had to honor their treaty agreement.
[00:06:46.020]And so part of that was providing food
[00:06:48.270]and they were like,
[00:06:49.103]"Okay, well we have to provide them food
[00:06:52.137]but we get to choose what the food is."
[00:06:54.090]And so a lot of our commodity programs,
[00:06:57.330]a lot of historically introduced foods
[00:06:59.859]to our communities were foods that our bodies
[00:07:02.640]were just biologically not used to,
[00:07:04.650]is flour, sugar, lard,
[00:07:08.614]different domesticated animals,
[00:07:10.980]things that we were not used to.
[00:07:12.120]And that created the shift in our health
[00:07:16.680]to something that was kind of robust
[00:07:19.920]and good and promoted longevity
[00:07:23.040]to something that was just so incredibly different
[00:07:27.240]and hard on us,
[00:07:29.070]that it's still prevalent
[00:07:32.550]to this day.
[00:07:33.383]I mean, we have such high rates of obesity and diabetes
[00:07:37.020]and cardiovascular disease
[00:07:39.030]and that's kind of as a result of this transition
[00:07:41.880]to a westernized diet of introduced foods
[00:07:44.790]that were not made for us.
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