THE SACRED SEEDS ETHNOBOTANICAL TRAIL AT BASTYR UNIVERSITY: LESSONS LEARNED IN DECOLONIZING AN ESTABLISHED NATIVE PLANT GARDEN

Kenmore, Washington
Sanctuary Steward: Katie Vincent

bastyr students1
Bastyr students Lauren Flanagan, Elaynee Eden (Herbal Sciences ’19) and Connor Kirchoff plant
native foods such as thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) and red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolum) in a Sacred Seeds forest restoration site.

At Bastyr University we teach integrative medicine— where the best of western medicine and natural healing modalities come together to create an approach to health and wellness that is more holistic and representative of the complex, collaborative ecosystems we are a part of. The gardens at Bastyr are an integral part of the curriculum, acting as living classrooms for students to meet their medicine and grow lifelong relationships while growing their sense of belonging to the Earth.

Bastyr’s Sacred Seeds Ethnobotanical Trail, installed in 2011, is one of the first few Sacred Seeds Sanctuaries beyond Costa Rica—and the only on the West Coast. Tom Newmark, co-founder of the network, approached Bastyr directly in 2010 and asked the school to become a Sacred Seeds site representing the plants of the Pacific Northwest. The ¾-mile-long Trail preserves and educates about over 100 native plants from three Salish Sea bioregions: camas prairie, lowland forest, and wetlands/bog.

For its first six years, the team focused primarily on installation and restoration—though the capacity of the garden staff proportionally to the Trail’s size meant that tending the land took priority, and cultivating relationship with indigenous and other local communities around native plant medicines took a backseat. With the installation of a teaching greenhouse in 2017, the Botanical Medicine department realized this was a problem and reprioritized growing educational opportunities and community connections around the Trail, resulting in a shift in our oversight strategy around the Sacred Seeds project.

Bastyr students Lauren Flanagan, Elaynee Eden (Herbal Sciences ’19) and Connor Kirchoff plant native foods such as thimbleberry (Rubus parvifl orus), evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) and red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolum) in a Sacred Seeds forest restoration site.
Bastyr students Lauren Flanagan, Elaynee Eden (Herbal Sciences ’19) and Connor Kirchoff plant
native foods such as thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
and red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolum) in a Sacred Seeds forest restoration site.

One of the primary opportunities emerging from this reframe has been the chance to set precedence for how, as a historically settler-led institution, we might be able to step back and respectfully collaborate with local Tribal Nations in the realms of preserving biodiversity and cultural plant knowledge from a place of authenticity. That is, as an institution teaching aspects of plant medicine traditions from around the globe, we wanted to step back and create space for a whole new approach to stewarding the Trail that more deeply centers the voices and perspectives of Coast Salish indigenous folks. As a University offering courses that focus on medicine from the lands our Kenmore campus sits upon (i.e. ethnobotany and wildcrafting), we are grateful for the opportunity to more deeply and publicly collaborate with Tribal Nations in realms of indigenous land stewardship practices, medicine traditions, plant propagation, and environmental activism as means of growing trust and connection with the First People of this land and of demonstrating humility to our students.

As nonindigenous gardeners, it is an ever-humbling process to grow these connections and re-envision the original Sacred Seeds Trail project with a newer lens as we widen and deepen the quality of community involvement and educational possibilities around the Trail. It is our hope that sharing about our process inspires other Sacred Seeds gardens and UpS Sanctuaries to consider the same.

Our Process:

In 2017, Bastyr’s Botanical Medicine department drafted a strategy to build community and educational opportunities around the Sacred Seeds Ethnobotanical Trail using a six-fold method:

  • Create an Advisory Committee of regional Tribal members to consult on educational materials, signage, and more.
  • Create more culturally representative plant signage and accessible educational information.
  • Purchase and train our staff on a K-12 curriculum to adapt for field trips that is rooted in indigenous sovereignty.
  • Minimize barriers for K-12 Tribal and Title I schools to access field trips at our Trail.
  • Hire an Educational Intern to coordinate, design, and organize K-12 field trips.
  • Increase ecological health and educational benefit of the Trail with planting new Pacific Northwest native plant species and continuing restoration practices.

Over the course of the last year—thanks to generous grant funding—the garden team has made significant progress in each of these categories.

removing invasive grasses bastyr
Bastyr student Lauren Flanagan (Herbal Sciences ’19) and Assistant Gardener MistyDawn Forester carefully remove invasive grasses from native Camas plantings in the Sacred Seeds meadow bioregion, clearing space for restoration plantings.

In February 2019, the garden team recruited three Committee members from local Tribal Nations to be a part of the Trail’s Advisory Committee—all compensated for their time on the project ($25/hr). So far, the Committee has advised on and supported all aspects of the project, including plant selection, signage, restoration methods, cultural knowledge, and more.

Under the Advisory Committee’s guidance, the Trail is focusing on effective signage instead of other educational materials such as digital flyers, plant profiles, or monographs. As it is our priority to support Coast Salish folks in preserving and regenerating the Lushootseed/Twulshootseed language, we have been taking their lead on how to design respectful signage that is most effective and fitting to their knowledge-sharing traditions. At the moment, this looks like exploring partnership with local indigenous non-profit Na’ah Illahee Fund to collaborate on interactive signage that makes it possible for visitors to listen to the names of the plants being spoken in Lushootseed/ Twulshootseed and to hear selected plant stories shared by elders.

students from chief kitsap
Students from Chief Kitsap Academy (Suquamish) share highlights from their Sacred Seeds forest lessons while wrapping up a
field trip in Bastyr’s Teaching Greenhouse.

In crafting our educational opportunities for K-12 visitors, we opted to purchase the ‘Tend, Gather & Grow’ curriculum from Olympia-based non-profit GRuB to use as foundational material for our youth Sacred Seeds fi eld trips. The included lessons and monographs were designed by a mixed team of indigenous and non-indigenous plant educators with the intent to revitalize wild edible and medicinal plant knowledge for Native and regional communities. With the help of a dedicated Sacred Seeds intern, we are actively adapting the curriculum to cater to individual school groups and to the seasonality of plants on the Trail. In an effort to address access barriers, we have grant funds to cover transportation and other field trip costs of Tribal and Title I schools to come to our Sacred Seeds Trail. So far, we have reached over 250 K-12 students in 2019.

Lastly, it wouldn’t be a Sacred Seeds Trail without extensive time spent restoring and tending our ecosystem! Since August 2018, we have planted over 300 native plants along the Trail through eight community work parties and with the weekday support of work study students and volunteers. Work activities generally include tasks such as removing invasive species, identifying diseases of forest plants, and implementing new strategic plantings. All of our restoration practices center on the Cultural Ecosystems principles featured in the ‘Tend’ curriculum, all of which return to healthy, conscious human stewardship of the land that also honors the medicinal value of invasive/introduced plants.

Lessons Learned and Looking Forward

planting coastal mugwort
Bastyr student Rachel Collins assists with planting coastal mugwort (Artemisia suksdorfii), Puget Sound gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia) and showy fleabane (Erigeron speciosus) in the Sacred Seeds meadow bioregion.

As we are only about three years into the decision to shift our priorities around the Sacred Seeds Trail, there has been plenty of room for missteps and growth on Bastyr’s part. We are hopeful that sharing some of these lessons will help other historically settler-led gardens and sanctuaries learn from our mistakes as they lean into deeper relationship with the indigenous peoples of their own land.

From our Advisory Committee, we are continually learning that relationship and trust-building takes time, mutuality, and commitment. It isn’t for us to assume that any Tribal community will agree to partner or collaborate unless we are willing to genuinely step up, listen, and support them. Over and over we get the feedback to slow down and learn more about the history of the land the Sacred Seeds Trail is on, as well as the stories of its First People. We are also learning that it is helpful to consider accessibility and ability needs when crafting Advisory Committee meetings, as many elders don’t have easy access to technology like video chats, and vision/hearing can be a challenge for email access well.

In terms of signage, we are learning that it is more important to our local indigenous community that the Lushootseed/Twulshootseed names for plants be shared with the general public in audible form rather than simply written on signage, as the language is in oral tradition (comprising the sounds of the land) and cannot be conveyed meaningfully through the International Linguistic Alphabet. As such, we are in active discussions with Na’ah Illahee Fund’s Native Girls Code program to partner around designing an app that speaks Lushootseed/Twulshootseed plant names and stories aloud to visitors as they walk the Trail scanning QR codes on signs with a smartphone. If you are interested in supporting or learning more about this exciting collaboration, please contact Bastyr’s Garden Supervisor at gardens@bastyr.edu.

salal grows
Salal grows (Gaultheria shallon) abundantly in the Sacred Seeds forest—a delicious and energizing snack when dried into fruit leather!

Educational opportunities on Sacred Seeds have expanded immensely for us over the last two years, from zero to an average of one field trip every 1-2 months. While feedback suggests these visits have been positive for visitors so far, we are learning the patience it takes to cultivate relationships with K-12 classrooms— especially Tribal and Title I schools—and are continually humbled by the amount of correspondence it takes to establish meaningful connection. In terms of technical support, we have discovered that while Bastyr students are enthusiastic about the Sacred Seeds project and facilitating nature connection for youth on campus, their full school schedules makes it challenging to rely on students as volunteer teachers. To this end, we are examining ways to build a wider and more resilient crew of field trip teachers by reaching out to the larger community.

To make all this education possible, it has been absolutely essential in terms of staff capacity to have a Sacred Seeds Educational Intern focused on K-12 outreach, field trip scheduling, and curriculum design. We are hopeful to increase our grant funding for the internship in the coming grant cycle so that our intern can have greater capacity to reach out more widely for K-12 classrooms and volunteer teachers— resulting in more Sacred Seeds field trips throughout 2020 and beyond.

Lastly, in the realm of restoration practices, we are growing our methods for tracking daily activities along the Trail digitally so progress can be more effectively measured over time. We are also leaning into partnerships with the Greater Seattle community to off er more regular community and occasional large-scale work parties—allowing opportunities for more people to grow and deepen relationship with the land and the project. Along the vein of reciprocity, we are tracking ways to collaborate with other universities and indigenous organizations for research around best practices for ecological health and land stewardship practices in this time of great climate instability—ideally focused on the Cultural Ecosystems principles we teach in our fi eld trip curriculum.

One of the primary philosophies of the ‘Tend, Gather & Grow’ curriculum is the unquestionable importance in these challenging times that all people feel at home in the ecosystem around them. From indigenous to settler-descendent folks, the ‘Tend’ team believes that coming home to place is coming home to ourselves and is a direct cure for the root cause of our world’s problems, including disconnection from our belonging to the land. Of course, there are many complexities inherent in this conversation regarding the violence and trauma of the Native American experience and other impacts of systemic oppression, but they believe all people need to have a connection of some kind to the Earth to begin to care and create a diff erent relationship going forward. A core tenet in Naturopathic Medicine is treating the root cause of the disease rather than simply the symptom. If we are going to address symptoms of climate change and the loss of biodiversity and cultural knowledge affecting our medicinal plants, we need to look at this deeper root cause of disremembering our belonging to the earth. And what a gift it is to be a part of an international network of Sacred Seeds gardens doing just that, one visitor at a time.

Bastyr Sacred Seeds Ethnobotanical Trail Donors:

  • The Dean Witter Foundation
  • Snoqualmie Tribe
  • Tulalip Cares Charitable Contributions
  • Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Jill Beytebiere
  • Evergreen Bicycle Club
  • Herb Pharm, Inc.
  • Horizons Foundation
  • Innate Response
  • Rebecca A. Wilhelm
  • The Rotary Foundation
  • Agnes Cash
  • The Starflower Foundation
  • Washington Native Plant Society’s
  • Central Puget Sound chapter

Katie Vincent is the Botanical Garden Supervisor at Bastyr University.