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By Dana Lepofsky
While many people interested in Indigenous heritage tend to focus on artifacts and archaeological sites, the distribution of cultural valued plants provides other important clues about how Indigenous People lived on the land. One such plant is the native crabapple (Malus fusca). These fruits were valued foods by coastal First Nations because they are nutritious and could be picked en masse in the fall. After harvest, they were stored in water in bentwood boxes where they softened and got sweeter.
Among several First Nations of BC, crabapples were actively tended by pruning, clearing the land around them, and by transplanting. The importance of crabapples is illustrated in the oral traditions of the Tla’amin living at the head of Toba Inlet, who were told by their leader Crow to gather lots of food, including crabapples, when they had to leave their village. As Kitsumkalum Elder Lucy Hayward noted to my friend “Where people are, crabapples grow”. In fact, there is often an abundance of native crabapples growing on ancient village sites, and recent research shows that crabapples are an indicator of tended “forest gardens” associated with these ancient villages.