My very first sp’e’qum tu speenhw

Posted by Jared Qwustenuxun Williams on June 17, 2024

Many of us GenX/Millennials were taught in grade school that Indigenous people were basic hunter gatherers, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Speenhw* is great example of Indigenous agriculture, or permaculture, or maybe just culture. See speenhw is grown in p’hwulhp* meadows and grasslands which date back thousands of years. Dendrochronological data, basically the rings found in the p’hwulhp, show annual burning of the grasslands going back generations. Burning that made way for the speenhw to grow.

Certain family members would specialize in looking after their family’s fields. By breaking apart the dirt into square mats, and rolling over sections to harvest bulbs from below, the people could leave the mat of saxwul* and speenhw unharmed. But loosening the earth where the speenhw grew the bulbs could grow bigger, while ripe bulbs could be harvested. Then the mat would be placed back into position to grow again for another year.

Last cool fact, I saw an article recently talking about how many of the p’hwulhp are genetically the same or similar. The article surmised that p’hwulhp trees were cloned or transplanted in other areas on the island and along the coast, with southern Vancouver Island being the center of this food technology. People saw the value in the speenhw crop and were taking it home to plant it there.

If just one food technology contains that much history, imagine what the whole food system could teach us.

I was honored with a gift of speenhw bulbs a few years ago and I planted them all not knowing what would happen. Well now I’ve got five pots with five speenhw all getting ready to bloom in their new homes for the first time. I can’t wait to turn them over and soften the soil to see how big I can grow the bulbs. I have no idea how to do this work, but I am called to do it and following that calling is an incredible journey.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Picasso

*Punhwe’num (May) “the time when the speenhw blooms”
*P’hwulhp – Garry Oak
*Saxwul – Grass
*Sp’e’qum – Flower
*Speenhw – Camas

About the Author

Jared “Qwustenuxun” Williams is a passionate traditional foods chef who works with elders and knowledge holders to keep traditional food practices alive. Jared spent much of his youth with his late grandmother, immersed in Salish culture. Raised in a world filled with smoke and fish Jared became familiar with many of the cooking methods and techniques used by his ancestors.

In 2001 Jared graduated from culinary arts and spent the next few years working in restaurants across Vancouver Island. After almost 10 years gaining western culinary experience in niche restaurants like Rebar Modern Food, Spinnakers Brew Pub, and Cherry Point Bistro, Jared decided moved back home to Quw’utsun (Cowichan) to blend his culinary experience with what he could remember of his traditional foods. Having spent his youth working with his family learning many traditional harvesting and preparation techniques it was no surprise when Jared became the kitchen manager at the Elder’s Building with Cowichan Tribes. After nearly a decade and a half of cooking for his communities elders Qwustenuxun now works as an indigenous foods educator, writer, and consultant. 

Most recently,  Qwustenuxun won a Canadian Online Publishing Award for best multicultural story. He was nominated for the 2022 BC Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Award. And helped FNHA complete their first smoked salmon project, proving that Salish smoked salmon is a safe and effective technique for food preservation. Qwustenuxun has also been a featured guest on APTN’s hit series Moosemeat and Marmalade, cooked indigenous foods on Flavours of the Westcoast television show, and has been featured on CBC radio many times for his efforts in first nation’s food sovereignty.

Qwustenuxun also maintains a very popular and active social media presence. From sharing language videos on TikTok and funny Indigenous memes on Instagram, to a full blown lasting impacts of colonization blog on Facebook. 

Find Qwustenuxun Online

Website: Qwustenuxun Consulting
Instagram: @qwustenuxun
TikTok: @qwustenuxun 

Learn More

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