BRIDGE — Speaking with an intensity and reverence inspired by the land where she walked, Fauna Larkin instructed the little one at her side:
“This is a special place that your ancestors have been coming to for ever and ever,” she said, as she made her way along the grassy hillside trail at Euphoria Ridge.
With bright eyes and an open heart, the child took in the gravity of the moment from the safety of her mother’s embrace.
Each spring, Coquille Tribal members make a sojourn to a cherished meadow within the Coquille Tribal Forest. On this landscape, their ancestors carefully nurtured the abundant camas bulb that was an important part of their diet.
Euphoria Ridge was given its contemporary name by a member of a mountain biking club that helped build biking trails throughout the area. Today, in addition to appreciating Euphoria Ridge’s cultural value, the Tribe also uses the land’s economic assets.
Speaking to the Tribal community that had gathered to dig camas, Chief Don Ivy said Euphoria Ridge exemplified “the suite of values” for which the Tribe manages its forest.
First, he said, “There’s the economic value of the timber production.”
Second: the cultural values of the natural landscape and native plants.
“Besides camas, there’s iris and biscuit root, huckleberries in the fall and hazel shoots in the springtime,” he said.
And finally: “the social values that attach for us – to be on our own land, under our own rules, our own people, doing our own thing, without having to ask someone else’s permission for it.”
At the camas field, several people gathered around the chief for a lesson on harvesting the treasured bulb.
“It’s an important food crop from southern British Columbia to Northern California, clear to the Rockies. Camas is important to Nez Perce people and coastal people and everybody in between.”
Kneeling with a tool in hand, he further explained, “I use the pitchfork rather than the shovel, because it’s a little wider dig, and most of the time I don’t have to lift a lot of dirt.”
Much later, after the camas was dug and the group had enjoyed a barbecue meal, several Tribal members sat in a circle of chairs on the grass. They peeled the outer layers from the camas bulbs, getting them ready to cook for a future tribal gathering. Good-natured ribbing ensued, and soon the work became play.
Coquille people were on their ancestral lands, doing what they had done for thousands of years. It was a good day.