Helping tradition and species at risk

Penticton Indian Band knowledge keeper leads tour of special land

Richard Armstrong of the Penticton Indian Band explains the traditional uses of rosehips and their importance to the endangered yellow-breasted chat.

Richard Armstrong of the Penticton Indian Band explains the traditional uses of rosehips and their importance to the endangered yellow-breasted chat.

For Richard Armstrong and Michael Bezener, trying to undo the impact of development on a special piece of land, west of the Okanagan River channel is a matter of tradition and revival.

Armstrong, a traditional ecological knowledge keeper who works at the En’owkin Centre, and Bezener, a conservation biologist with the En’owkin Centre, led a group of volunteers through the piece of land known as ECOmmunity Place.

Along the way Armstrong stopped to point out the invasive species such as creeping vines that choke the native plants.

Restoring the land is important to the traditional ways of the Okanagan Nation and to Armstrong.

“I was brought up by my elders to know the old ways and to respect the land, and the prayers, protocols and ceremonies,” Armstrong said.

“It’s my life’s work.”

The piece of land represents a reasonably healthy example of riparian habitat and is home to about 20 species at risk, including the tiger salamander, spade-foot toad and great-basin gopher snake, and contains one of the last significant intact stands of black cottonwood trees in the South Okanagan valley, explained Bezener.

In addition to the cottonwood trees, one of the plants on the menu for the day was the wild rose, specifically rosehips, the fruit of the rose.

For millennia, aboriginal peoples have used rosehips to make tea in the winter, explained Armstrong.

“It’s a very important berry in our culture,” he said.

The rosehips are also key to the survival of a small population of the endangered yellow-breasted chat.

There are about 50 pairs in B.C. and up to six breeding pairs on the ECOmmunity Place locatee land where they nest almost exclusively in thickets of wild rose, said Bezener.

That is why the volunteers gathered with Armstrong and Bezener, to collect rosehips for later planting in the hopes of increasing the extent of wild rose habitat in the area.

At the same time, helping to recover the land, said Bezener, also helps the En’owkin Centre fulfill its underlying mandate to recover, revitalize and perpetuate Okanagan language, culture, community and environment.

“So much of the language and culture comes from the land itself,” Bezener said.

“So if we are going to fulfill our mandate, we need a land base from which to do that work.”