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Harvest Time for Key Native American Crop in Montana

July 21, 2008

Pablo, MT - The fields of blue flowers have withered in Montana, and that means it's time to bring the camas crop in. Camas is one of the plants on which Native Americans in Montana traditionally depended for food.

The People's Center in Pablo will be processing the bulbs this week, which includes digging pits and gathering wood and plants for the fire. Black tree moss is also added to the camas bake. The Center's Lucy Vanderburg says they'll prepare the camas just like their ancestors did, and it will take most of the week.

"Camas is one of the foods in which we take pride in baking. It is an important food, right along with the bitterroot and all the berries. The camas and the tree moss are probably among everyone's favorites, including the children. It's kind of sweet."

Part of the importance of teaching what type of camas to gather, Vanderburg explains, is that one species of the plant is poisonous. The baking process is also critical, she adds, because raw camas cannot be digested. The group also wants to raise awareness that traditional foods are still needed, and many of them thrive exclusively on undeveloped lands.

When the food is taken out of the pit Thursday, they'll share the feast with everyone. More information on The People's Center is available online at www.peoplescenter.net.

Deborah Smith/Steve Powers, Public News Service - MT