This thesis is the result of my research on Shuswap (Secwépemc) and Okanagan (Syilx) peoples’ root digging protocols that I carried out between January and July 2012 with three communities in the Secwépemc Nation (Skeetchestn, Simpcw and Tk’emlups) and two communities in the Syilx Nation (Westbank First Nation and Penticton First Nation). For thousands of years, a variety of native root plants have made important contributions to the sustenance of Secwépemc, Syilx and other indigenous peoples of the Interior Plateau. Important among these were, and still are, skwenkwinem (Claytonia lanceolata – springbeauties) and spitl’em/llekw’pin (Lewisia redeviva – bitterroot). Using a grounded theory approach, but also informed by indigenous research methods and my own connection to both nations, I present information from Secwépemc and Syilx root diggers gathered during interviews and root digging expeditions. My focus is on gaining understanding of practices, norms, and rules that Secwépemc and Syilx root harvesters narrated about their techniques of digging and processing of roots, but also about the way that root digging connects them to spiritual and cultural concepts and values. To describe these, I use the term protocols in that it follows present First Nations conventions of referring to what anthropologists call “culture.” Although western market foods are commonly available in our communities, the enacted protocols of root-digging continue to connect Secwépemc and Syilx people to their identities, ancestors and lands, and can shape the identities of present and future generations. I found that Secwépemc harvesters focused on skwenkwinem, while Syilx harvesters focused on sp̓iƛ̓əm. This is partly due to the ecological conditions in their respective territories. However, as I show, these preferences also reflect important historical and spiritual associations of the respective roots that root harvesters explained to me. These differences, in turn, mark national identities of root diggers and knowledge keepers as being Syilx or Secwépemc.
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Thesis advisor: Ignace, Marianne
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