Editors Note: The following story is printed by the Herald in order to educate our readers and the citizens of our community as to the existence of a historic Camas meadow in our community, why it is important, and to support the community members at large who have cared for this treasured and little known resource. You all can be a part of this story in the coming years. Below is some education and a call to action by Washington County Historian and guest journalist for the Hillsboro Herald, Ginny Mapes.
By Ginny Mapes; Washington County Historian – Helvetia Resident
Part 1: Learn about Camas:
Spring is here and soon the local Camas meadows will be in full bloom. These meadows were where the local Atfalati People would gather and dig the camas bulb in the fall, camas being a staple food item.
Women were the food gatherers, starting their rounds when the warm spring weather arrived. Leaving their winter quarters, they moved to a springtime/summer camp. This was usually April when the vivid blue of the camas flower came into bloom.
Camas bulbs could be gathered in the spring but were usually left until July or August when the bulbs would be bigger. The women dug the larger bulbs, put the smaller ones back into the ground, and let the seeds go.
Camas (Camassia quamash) is a native plant that grows in moist meadows, emerging in early spring in the Pacific Northwest. Camas grows to a height of 12 to 50 inches. Flowers vary in color from pale lilac, to deep purple or blue-violet. Vibrant colors look like a sea of blue.
The month of August in the Atfalati language was called “tahapunoeuq” meaning “camas time.” Although the soil in the late summer would be hard and require more labor with their digging sticks, the larger camas bulb was worth the work. It was also important to let the plants seed before harvest. Camas bulbs were dug and used for food, shared, and traded as gifts. The Wapato Lake area located between the Tualatin and Yamhill Rivers contained both wapato and camas, which were diet staples. The Atfalati also traveled to Wapato Island (Sauvie Island) to harvest wapato.
Camas is known by some as “Indian Candy.” In the traditional way, bulbs were roasted for three nights in a pit oven, becoming very sweet. Camas can be steamed, roasted, used as a sweetener, dried whole for storage, or dried the pounded into flour to make breads and cakes. Traditional underground ovens have largely given way to modern-day Crockpots for cooking, a three-day process that results in the same delicious product.
Camas meadows habitats are usually protected and limited to Native gatherers. I hope we can protect this local treasure?
Part 2: Call To Action In Hillsboro to Preserve the last Camas Meadows
Friends of Waibel Creek want to maintain the natural setting of the creek and the surrounding camas meadow. This was a gathering place for the Atfalati People. The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde consider the Helvetia/West Union area a “remnant cultural landscape.” An area remains very similar in flora, fauna, and landscape as it was in previous cultural histories. It still reflects the cultural practices of collecting and gathering.
The First Root Gathering Celebration was a spiritual ceremony for the Atfalati People. The bright blue flowers of the camas blossom marked an extensive area that would later host the neighboring tribes coming together, meeting where their forefathers met. Old men would talk, and young men would spend time singing and gaming. The women, young and old, would occupy their time gathering the camas bulbs. Young women would sometimes vie with each other collecting the best quality and quantity of camas which was dug with their digging sticks. Future marriages were sometimes arranged during this celebration.
The natural, cultural, and historical significance of Waibel Creek must be preserved for history and for future generations. Members of the Native community and the general public can come to view this camas meadow (East Tualatin Plains near Meek Road & Sewell Road). Most camas fields in the area have been destroyed over the years through farming practices and modern building. Here is a lone, natural, pristine view of camas in a park-like setting which gives the indigenous community a chance to reflect, pray, show gratitude, and reveal to their children one of the few remaining camas meadows in the Hillsboro area, Washington County.
For the entire community, it is a time to remember, to reflect, and reconnect.
More to learn and next steps –
By Editor Dirk Knudsen –
It has been my great pleasure to be involved with Ginny Mapes and people like Judy Goldmann & others for quite a number of years now. As the President of the Hillsboro Historical Society and resident of 58 years, I have worked side by side with these fine folks to preserve a number of the historic sites around our fine City and valley. This Camas Meadow must be one of them.
This beautiful little patch of Camas that Ginny so colorfully describes above is one of the life works of local resident Jeanie (Jean) Morgan. At almost 85 she is still preserving the Camas, Waibel Creek, and the oak habitat on her property. Many are the times we have gone by to see Jeanie out working on her yard and this preserve that she has so proudly protected. Imagine seeing a sea of blue and purple all along this creek corridor and the low-lying areas of the Oak savannah that once graced this area. Jean and others have this goal. If she can turn her back property along the creek into something this beautiful, imagine what we can all do together?
There are reasons for both optimism and some real concerns as the next few years roll out. The City of Hillsboro has just purchased about 200 acres directly East of Jeanie’s land for a very large industrial plant. Air and Water quality on those lands and in North Hillsboro could easily threaten the health and well-being of this incredible place. In addition, the Crescent Trail is slated to run right through or along this camas meadow. The alignment for the trail is still being finished up and Hillsboro will hopefully strive to minimize the disruption. Working together the stakeholders can plant additional Camas and other native species and keep the trail far enough away from the creek and uplands so as to allow both enjoyment and preservation. I have total faith that can happen, but it will take some great hand-in-hand partnership with people like Jeanie and her family. The Grand Ronde Tribe and its members will certainly have interest too.
As we conclude this multipart article please reflect on this. For 14,000 years before the first white man came and settled here it was home to the Atfalati (ah-TFAH-lah-tee) people; tens of thousands of them. They utilized these plants to survive peacefully and sustainably. Only the arrival of the white man ended their successful civilization. This is not the last Camas meadow around but it is certainly one of the last and maybe the most idyllic. Keeping this patch alive has taken will, effort, time, and money. If Jeanie could do that on her own what can all of us accomplish in the coming years? 5 acres? 10 Acres? Even a continuous ribbon of these life-sustaining plants is possible for miles. If we can save them as a community maybe we can sustain ourselves too. We can certainly learn from the first nation people and respect them through the preservation and restoration of the plants. If we lean into what Jean has done here, the sky is the limit. This little camas meadow can be one of the most historic areas in our community. A place where we can all stop, remember and imagine. That can happen!
Ginny, myself, Judy, Jeanie, family, and others will be making a concerted effort to help preserve this asset on Waibel Creek. You can be a part of this too! Email us if you are interested at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will include you in future communications and pass your interest along.
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