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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Traditional Kalispel Foods


by Deanne Osterman

Nature was certainly the Kalispel's pantry. The Tribe utilized food resources from throughout their aboriginal territory. This was accomplished every year and roughly in the same manner through an annual "seasonal round." This seasonal round exploited diverse habitats at different elevations and at different times of the year. This round ensured that resources would not be over-exploited and allowed seasonal management of those particular resources.

Kalispel social organization was based on permanent winter villages composed of multiple extended family groups. These winter village groups broke apart as winter ended and the growing season commenced. Many small groups were formed to focus on the exploitation of specific resources such as plant, fish and other terrestrial resources. How these groups moved around the environment depended on the seasons and elevation of the resource and the knowledge of the people on when it was the appropriate time for them to be picked or harvested. The Tribe used many indicators of when it was appropriate to harvest particular resources.

Root Crops: Spring-Summer

By far the most important of the root crops was camas (Cammasia quamash). The Kalispel name for the camas in the ground is sXWe /1/ . This member of the lily family was harvested in late spring and early summer after the flowers have wilted and the fruiting body was set. Women would gather the camas using a pec' e/ (digging stick) and store them in woven sacks. The camas, once cleaned, would be cooked in earth ovens. The Kalispel name for cooked camas is i tXWE. This cooking process converted the starches in the camas into a more digestible form and also made the camas storable for the long winter months. Another root crop of importance to the Kalispel was bitteroot (speK ' . This hardy root was gathered in Montana and around Cheney as bitterroot does not grow well in the relatively wet climate of Northeast Washington and Northern Idaho.

Berries: Summer-Fall

Berries were gathered as they ripened. Many different kinds of berries were gathered: serviceberry (sLaq), huckleberry, soapberry (sxWusm), chokecherries (LoXWLX). These berries with the exception of soapberry were either eaten fresh or dried for storage. Soapberry is a seasonal delicacy of many northwest tribes. The berries were then whipped and the resulting foam was eaten with a little sugar or berry juice mixed in. This delicacy is called "Indian ice-cream."

Fish & Wildlife: Year-round

Most species of fish were harvested using a variety of techniques. The most important of these techniques were the use of wiers at the mouths of the tributaries of the Pend Oreille, Priest, and Clark Fork rivers. Bull trout, cutthroat and mountain whitefish were a particular importance locally, and anadromous fish such as chinook salmon and steelhead were caught at Kettle Falls and other fishing stations on the Columbia and Spokane rivers. Again, the fish were processed and either eaten fresh or dried for winter storage. It can not be emphasized enough how important resident and anadromous fish resources were to the Kalispel. It is conservatively estimated that the Kalispel procured enough salmon, steelhead and resident fish to put up three pounds per person per day of the year. With an estimated aboriginal population of 3,000 people that is an incredible amount of fish! You do the calculation.

Deer, elk, caribou and moose were other important sources of animal protein After the animal was harvested the meat was dried and put up for storage. The by-products of large mammal harvest (e.g. bone, hide and sinew) were equally as important as the flesh of the animal. These were then used for tool and house construction. Waterfowl were harvested for eggs as well as flesh. Small mammals (rabbit, marmot, muskrat, beaver, etc.) were procured when occasioned through the use of snares & traps.

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