Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Education Collaborations: The Amah Mutsun Relearning Program

By UC Santa Cruz Arboretum Staff

The complex issues of living sustainability on the planet require a diversity of intellectual approaches. Therefore this month the Arboretum features the Amah Mutsun Relearning Program formed as a collaborative effort between the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band (AMTB) and the Arboretum. "This work is extremely important to our tribe," Valentin Lopez, Amah Mutsun tribal chairman, said. "We are working to understand the traditional practices of land management and to relearn what our ancestors knew."

Work & learn gatherings are an important part of the Amah Mutsun Relearning Program and were created to provide an educational experience where the importance of traditional resource management and uses of native plants are taught to Tribal members and the public. These gatherings usually begin with work in the California Native Plant Conservation Gardens. The work is usually followed by a lunch and then a learning session. The latest work and learn gathering was held on October 25th.

On October 25th, three instructors spoke about the importance of native plant seeds in the indigenous diet. First, Sara Reid, M.S., a former Arboretum intern and UC Santa Cruz student, and ethnobotanist for the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, spoke about her work with the Amah Mutsun and her research with native edible forb seeds.

Sara received her master’s degree in Range Management from UC Berkeley and her research involved an experiment to reintroduce culturally significant annual wildflowers to degraded grasslands in Pinnacles National Park. As an Arboretum intern and for her senior thesis, Sara created an informational pamphlet on the ethnobotany of California Indians.

Next, Rob Cuthrell, Ph.D., spoke about his archaeological research on plant use and his results from his research at Quiroste Valley Cultural Preserve at Año Nuevo State Park. Rob specializes in archaeobotany, the study of past ethnobotanical practices through analysis of archaeological plant remains. His research has uncovered the plants traditionally used for food by the Quiroste people, many of which are native grass and wildflower seeds. Interestingly, one of the most abundant nuts used by the Quiroste people is our native hazelnut (Corylus cornuta var. californica). Rob is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the Archaeological Research Facility at UC Berkeley.

Finally, Alex Takone, a California State Park Ranger, demonstrated the making of pinole, a toasted seed meal which he made from our California Brome (Bromus carinatus). Alex created his self-taught techniques through a lot of trial and error. His demonstration showed the best idea of the traditional preparation techniques based on archaeological, historical, and ethnographic sources.

At the end of his demonstration, everyone had the chance to taste the finished product, which was quite delicious! There was also time for people to practice some of the techniques Alex demonstrated. It was truly a fantastic event! Many people came away with new knowledge about the importance of native seeds in the traditional California Indian diet. They witnessed a unique demonstration of skill that turn native grass seeds into an edible product.

For many of us it was the first time tasting pinole and what a treat it was! Bringing traditional knowledge to contemporary times bridges the gap between history and today. It brings us all closer to an understanding, not only of the importance of indigenous cultures and their knowledge, but of how we can continue to interact with nature using traditional knowledge as our guides. 
For more information about the Amah Mutsun Relearning Program contact Rick Flores at rflores [at] ucsc [dot] edu.

Looking for other ways to connect with the Arboretum? Visit their events calendar here.

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