News & Events

Sharing Earth’s Gifts: Local Tribes, Local Lands, and Natural Cultural Resources

Author: Lilly Schneider | 03/29/23

Woman removing bark from cedar tree

Members of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe were invited to to harvest cedar bark during our pilot selective tree harvest at Valley View Forest in 2021.

During the Q&A session at last year’s Virtual Conservation Breakfast, Listening to the Land: Understanding the Indigenous Landscape of Jefferson County, Laura Price, Cultural Resources Director for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe noted that local property owners can play a valuable role in addressing the scarcity of natural cultural resources by sharing them with local Tribal members.

“As a Tribal community, the resources provided by the forests all around us are vital to our way of life and preservation of culture,” Laura says. “If you have resources to share, I encourage you to reach out to the Tribal people in your vicinity, and share this gift of life with them.”


Cedar tree in the Quimper Wildlife Corridor.

For the S’Klallam people, cedar trees; soapberry, aka foamberry or sx̣ʷásəm; cherry trees; alder trees; maple trees; and yew trees are necessary for carrying forward traditional teachings and practices.

“The hope,” Laura says, “is that we’re able to network with our surrounding communities to honor the resources that are on our lands, especially when it comes to cultural resources that are becoming scarce now, and are so important to our people. I’d love for us to branch out and build friendships and allyships with our neighbors so that we can maximize or utilize those resources. If someone is willing to share with us, it would be such a treasure, and that treasure would be very well received.”

One of the main cultural resources from the forest essential to local Tribes is the western redcedar. “For the S’Klallam people,” Laura explains, “the cedar, or x̣páy in our language, is considered the tree of life. Every single piece of the tree is important. Cedar is a life-giving resource to our people and we look for opportunities to honor this gift.”

Cedar is indigenous to this area, and it has learned to adapt and thrive in this environment. But although we see cedar everywhere, cedar bark is getting harder to find because so much of it’s on private land. This is why, Laura says, it’s so important to her to share the values that her people have regarding the cedar tree and ask for the broader community’s help in accessing the resources that the tree provides.

If you have a cedar that you know has to be felled or brought down — because it’s too old, it’s dying, or has become hazardous in some way; or say you plan to clear land to build a house or a garden — Laura suggests you reach out to the Tribal community in your area and invite them to gather material from tree before it comes down. It’s important to know that there’s a specific time of year to gather cedar bark: when the sap runs in late spring to early summer, in accordance with the climate. 

Cedar bark on a fern

Harvested cedar bark at Valley View Forest in 2021.

“If you do have to give up the life of this beautiful tree,” Laura says, “let’s make sure it does not go to waste, that it’s honored to our best ability. Cedar roots can  be used for medicine and twining; the bark can be used for weaving baskets, regalia or rope; the wood can be used carving into beautiful pieces of art signifying cultural continuance. I believe this would be a beautiful and respectful way to bring honor to these cultural resources.”

Timing is the greatest consideration for harvesting cedar bark in the warmer season, while the roots of a fallen tree or wood for preparing traditional foods and ceremonies could be resourced any time of year. 

To learn about the Tribes in your area and the cultural resources important to them that you may be able to share, Laura says, first look at your county maps and find out which Tribes are within your vicinity. Then, reach out to ask if the resources you have to share would be accepted.

Tree spotted with orange lichen

Alder tree (spotted with lichen) in the Quimper Wildlife Corridor.

“Every Tribe is different, but most Tribal communities will have a cultural program. You could call the front office and say you’d like to talk to someone about cultural resources. Some Tribes have Cultural Departments; some Tribes have Natural Resources Departments. Any of those would be a great place to reach out to and say something like, ‘Hey, we have this little grove of trees we have to take down in the next couple years, and we’d like to share the resources if they would be accepted.’ Just to put that offer out there would be great.” 

The “usual and accustomed area,” or U&A, of the S’Klallam people spans a vast distance from the Hoko River to the Hamma Hamma River, all the way up into the Olympic Mountains and into the San Juan Islands. If you have resources to share on land within that area, Laura says she feels it would be appropriate  to reach out to the S’Klallam people. That includes the Port Gamble S’Klallam, the Jamestown S’Klallam, and the Lower Elwha Klallam.

“Down into the Hood Canal there’s the Skokomish and the Squaxin Island Tribe. So if you’re in the southern part of Jefferson County, those might be the tribes you reach out to,” she says. “In the inner Puget Sound, there’s the Suquamish people, and the Puyallup are down deep into the Sound. So it just depends on where you live. You may have to do a little outreach, but it will be worth the time and effort to share and honor these rich plant resources to their fullest extent.”

If you want more information, Laura says she’s happy to be a resource to help connect people with a local Tribe. “I try to be mindful of not speaking for other Tribes,” Laura says. “But I do think that many would agree that these resources are scarce, they’re becoming scarcer, and if we could come up with a solution to better share what’s left, help promote sustainable practices, and be mindful of our environment, I think that’s the best direction we can all take.” 

You can reach Laura by emailing her at: lives[at]

In the early summer of 2021, as Jefferson Land Trust began our pilot selective harvest at Valley View Forest, the future gateway to Chimacum Ridge Community Forest, we invited members of the Port Gamble and Jamestown S’Klallam Tribes to harvest cedar bark. 

Closeup of white flowering plant

Labrador tea.

“The Land Trust allowed us to come in and take some bark from those cedars that they knew were coming down,” Laura says. “I’d like to reach out to other conservation groups, like other land trusts and reforestation groups — people who care for the land — and get the message out about the value of cedar, and what it means to local Tribal people.”

In 2022, the Land Trust also facilitated tribal access on two more of our protected properties for harvest of other culturally significant species, including evergreen huckleberry, Labrador tea, western redcedar bark, soapberry, and other medicinal plants.

Laura says, “At heart, conservationists and nature lovers want to maximize. They don’t want to waste material. They want to be sustainable. They want to protect our resources, like our water, our air quality, and our soils. Today, because of all the ongoing deterioration of our natural resources, I strive to look for more sustainable methods and more responsible ways to harvest so we’re not bringing harm to the scarce resources left. We want to be mindful and thoughtful of the future generations, making sure that this culture continues on indefinitely.”

Some of the increasingly scarce plants that are important cultural resources for the S’Klallam people include:

  • Cherry tree. “Cherry wood, cherry bark. That’s a resource we use a lot of and which can be used for preparing dried foods and as a material for weaving projects.”
  • Alder tree. “You used to be able to find alder, big alder, all over the place, but now it’s become a scarce resource again. Alder was used for big masks, but you can’t find alder trees large enough to make those big, beautiful art pieces anymore.”
  • Soapberry: “Another plant that I would love to share with the broader communities of its scarcity and value that I don’t think people are aware of is, in common terms, soapberry, or foamberry. We call it sx̣ʷásəm in our language. Another nickname it has is ‘Indian ice cream.’ This plant produces a berry in springtime. You can take a tablespoon of this berry and whip it up with water, and add berries, or honey, or in modern times we add a spoonful of jam. You whip it up, and it will quadruple in size and fill a small bowl with a thick foam. You eat that like a dessert. Our elders crave this food; it is like a delicacy to them. It’s something they were raised with, and would eat every spring. Kind of like a springtime tonic. It was medicine, it was medicine for the people, it would build them up and make them strong. But this plant can barely be found anymore. We know a couple elders who have patches that they check on but are reluctant to share because of fear of getting overharvested. This plant hasn’t been protected. I would love to have support from the general community on that. I would love to see a collaborative effort come up around the sx̣ʷásəm bush to protect it as a sacred food medicine.”
  • Yew tree: “Not many people even know what a yew tree looks like because it’s so scarce. The yew wood is a hardwood, used for all sorts of things: for cooking tools, for hunting materials. I would love to find a yew wood tree. Even if someone knows of one that was taken down in a storm, we would love to have that as a resource. We would make full use of the yew wood tree and bring honor to its life and contribution to our cultural survivance.”
  • Cedar tree: The roots of the cedar tree provided material to make watertight baskets, and the tree trunk itself would create planks to make homes and logs big enough to create dugout canoes and paddles. It would also be used for carving traditional dance masks and regalia. The inner bark was used to make clothing, such as hats, foot coverings, and diapers, as well as cordage, which was used to tie house posts together and build canoes, among many other uses. The boughs were used ceremonially, and sometimes for medicine. Cedar wood has antimicrobial properties, so it won’t deteriorate as quickly as some other material; tannins in it preserve the wood and repel bugs.

Please note: Harvesting cedar bark from live trees is a delicate process; the teachings are passed down over generations. There are methods of taking it from a live tree, but if you don’t do it correctly you will damage the tree and perhaps even kill it and the surrounding trees.