Cultural Revitalization and Biodiversity Conservation
A little known fact is that San Diego County is part of a regional “biocultural” hotspot. Ecologically, the county is extremely diverse and contains more threatened and endangered species than any other county in the contiguous US. Even less known is that culturally, the county retains the highest number of Native American reservations of any county across the country—communities that traditionally managed the native ecosystems of this region.
The connections between nature and culture are deep and profound—plants, habitats, and landscapes of a region are a critical part of people’s cultural identity, and the loss, fragmentation, and destruction of ecosystems further erode traditional knowledge, practices, and life ways. At the same time, biodiversity suffers as traditional ecological knowledge and management systems developed over hundreds and sometimes thousands of years are lost.
Last year, in an effort to support ongoing cultural revitalization efforts and increase awareness for habitat conservation, we launched an exciting program focused on biocultural revitalization in collaboration with tribal communities, artists, native plant specialists, and basket weavers. Through this project, a team of artists, conservationists, and local Native American basket weavers and storytellers worked with several tribal groups from many tribal communities, including La Jolla, Pauma, Rincon, Pala, Los Coyotes, Barona, San Pasqual, and more.
This program focuses on tribal communities in San Diego County. It highlights connections between nature and culture, supports tribal conservation efforts and teaches traditional and contemporary basket weaving to youth and adults. In these workshops, participants not only learn how to weave but also learn to identify, gather, prepare and sustainably manage and conserve basketry plants. Thus, this project supports both biological and cultural conservation right here in our own backyard.
Last month, we had a chance to celebrate the completion of this fabulous project. We developed an art exhibit entitled “Native American Cultural Revitalization,” which focuses on biocultural conservation efforts of Native American communities in San Diego County. It was on display at the Escondido Municipal Arts Gallery through November 2, 2013. This multi-media exhibition celebrated the renewal and revitalization of regional Native American cultural traditions through the sustainable use of local native plants, storytelling, and basket weaving.
The connections between nature and culture are seen clearly in Native American art forms, such as basket weaving. Traditional weaving is wholly dependent upon the native plants and resources found in natural ecosystems. Native plants such as yucca, juncus, deergrass, elderberry, and skunkbush are used to make all types of baskets, including winnowing baskets, granaries, burden baskets, seed beaters, fish-trapping and fish-netting baskets, as well as intricately woven gift and ceremonial baskets.
Without the native plants that are used to construct these baskets, these cultural traditions are lost as are connections between people and their natural surroundings. This is already happening—the native plant basket rush Juncus textilis, the most widely used basket material, was once common along the edges of streams, ponds, and wetlands; however habitat destruction and degradation have made this plant hard to find, further threatening cultural traditions. At the same time, many culturally important plants also provide critical food and shelter for local wildlife.
Bryan Endress, Ph.D., Director, Applied Plant Ecology