The Hunt for Huckleberries

In northwest Washington, most tribal people describe a special relationship with the huckleberry. The plant has historical, cultural and nutritional importance. Considered a “superfood,” huckleberries are rich in antioxidants and used to help control glucose levels for diabetics and to treat stomach illness.

“These berries are influential. They tell us when to go to the mountains,” says Warren D. King George, a historian for the Muckleshoot Tribe and active in preparing and preserving traditional foods. “We use ‘cultural leave’ from work for gathering berries, just as we do for catching sockeye and attending pow wows.”

But, today Native people compete with a growing commercial market for berries and fields are dwindling in number and difficult to access, located on government land. Tribal communities are partnering with the federal government to co-manage lands in ways to increase berry production and provide tribes greater access.  

  • The Tulalip Tribes are helping move toward traditional land management, working with U.S. Forest Service to thin berry plants, burn land, and plant huckleberry seedlings. The government has shown increased respect for cultural, traditional foods and installed a gate, giving tribal members access for cultural use.
  • Some tribes are loaning officers to the Forest Service and also seeking grants to do the work.
  • The Suquamish Tribe developed a relationship with the Indian Island Naval Reserve that allows outings to pick berries and other traditional plants such as settles a few times each year.  Base security presents challenges since officers must accompany visitors.