Restoring a Coast Salish Clam Garden – Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

Clam gardens were traditionally built by First Nations people to harvest clams and other bivalve species. These gardens consist of a boulder wall built near the lowest tide mark and a terrace on the landward side. Clams were a staple food source for northwest coast First Nations for generations. In one way it was like a pantry of food, ready to be eaten when needed. It was also a place of cultural significance where Elders shared their knowledge and taught skills to their youth. My name is Nathan Cardinal. I’m the Clam Garden Restoration Project coordinator. So the purpose of our activity was to bring out First Nations people to come out and be exposed to science at the Clam Garden. Today we’ve been collecting bivalve samples. So the students have been helping us dig and collecting all the bivalves or clams that are in each of those holes, coming up to a weigh station where we identify the clam, take its length, weigh it, and record that. And so we’re trying to figure out what the composition of the beach is. So what are all the different species, but also the abundance, so how many of each species is here? So this is just one piece of the clam garden restoration project, which is a multi-year 5-6 year project. And part of this initial work that we’re doing here is to get baseline data for the project so that when we actually restore the clam garden, we have some before data that we can compare to after data when we have the wall and are actively managing it. We’ve, just in the past year, started to do excavations within the clam garden walls themselves and they’re showing that those rock walls are reef habitat as well and so they could be important places to gather whelks or sea cucumbers or octopus or different kinds of seaweeds that like to live on those rocks. Just seeing like all the different clams and stuff because I thought there was only one type. It’s pretty cool learning about the history of all the islands and clam gardens and clams and just the history of everything. I’m an artistic person, so I like the shell and the drawing on the clams. What I saw here today was the inter-generational connection to the land. You know, you can hear stories around the dinner table for generations, but if you don’t experience the stories then they’re not real. They’re only a story. Like today they’ve become a little more real, but I think when the tide is low we should make that our classroom. It’s awakening for them to be here and study all that. Hopefully that one day they’ll be able to be in archaeology and science and really help. I think it’s really important that we wed both traditional and scientific knowledge because, essentially, they’re two halves of a circle and I think we can learn a lot from each other. With everyone partnering up it makes the job so much lighter and we’re able to pursue a goal, look to see, well, what is the answer?

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