Paper birch leaves and flowers    Non-timber Forests Products: Historical and Current Use

First Nations Historical Use & Management of Non-Timber Forest Products

 1 | FN Historical
 2 | FN Current
 3 | Early Commercial
 4 | Current Commercial


Historically, First Nations culture and survival depended on the use and management of non-timber forest products. First Nations peoples utilized non-timber forest products for a wide range of purposes including: food, clothing, tools, vessels and medicine. Click on the image to view a larger version.






Drying Berries Bark Gatherer Digging Stick Birch Basket Red Elderberries
Drying Berries
BC Archives
Bark Gatherer
BC Archives
Digging Stick
Birch Basket
Red Elderberry
W. Cocksedge

In the past, trade in non-timber forest products between different First Nations groups was widespread. Elders in First Nations communities passed on important information on uses and management of non-timber forest products. In many communities, the interdependent link between the natural resource and cultural survival contributed to respectful management strategies for non-timber forest resources.

Historical Traditional Uses

Many First Nations diets depended on edible berry bushes and shrubs that surrounded communities (1). To uncover root vegetables, a digging stick made from the strong wood of the hawthorn was used (2). The Birch tree is a prime example of the potential multitude of uses to which one species of non-timber forest product can be put. The Birch tree provided a food source (birch syrup) and the bark for basket making (3).

Click on the bracketed number above or the image below to view the corresponding video.

1 View the Picking Berries Video 2 View the Harvesting Root Vegetables Video 3 View the Harvesting Birch Video

[Video Transcript]
Root Vegetables

[Video Transcript]
  Harvesting Birch
[Video Transcript]

Historical Traditional Management

In the past, First Nations actively managed a broad range of non-timber forest resources with the goal of long-term sustainability of the resources they depended on for survival. Examples abound of communal and individual ownership of these resources, and of their careful management aimed at enhancing or maintaining supplies. Important non-timber resources growing on the territory of a particular group were considered to belong to that group; others from outside the group seeking to use these resources were obliged to ask permission prior to harvesta.

On the coast, silverweed, camas, and clover were just a few of the resources often produced from plots considered to be individually owned. Plots were cleared of branches, large stones, and competing vegetation - often through controlled burning - and selective harvesting was employed to ensure good future harvestsb.

The traditional view of a mutual interdependence with nature encouraged respectful harvesting and management (4), respect for the natural world (5), and the First Nations’ connection (6) to the land. Historically, First Nations usage and management were irrevocably linked: sustainably managed resources ensured the continued use of the resource.

Click on the bracketed number above or the image below to view the corresponding video.

4 View the Respectful Harvesting Video 5 View the Respect for Nature Video 6 View the Connection to Land Video
  Respectful Harvesting
[Video Transcript]
for Nature

[Video Transcript]
to Land

[Video Transcript]

a Turner, Nancy. Plant Technology of First Peoples in British Columbia.
b Turner, Nancy. Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples.