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Social Science Native American Studies

Keeping It Living

Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on Northwest Coast of North America

edited by Douglas Deur & Nancy J. Turner

University of Washington Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2006
Native American Studies, Ecology, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2006
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2005
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2006
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


Keeping It Living brings together some of the world’s most prominent specialists on Northwest Coast cultures to examine traditional cultivation practices from Oregon to Southeast Alaska. It explores tobacco gardens among the Haida and Tlingit, managed camas plots among the Coast Salish of Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia, estuarine root gardens along the central coast of British Columbia, wapato maintenance on the Columbia and Fraser Rivers, and tended berry plots up and down the entire coast. With contributions from a host of experts, Native American scholars and elders, Keeping It Living documents practices of manipulating plants and their environments in ways that enhanced culturally preferred plants and plant communities. It describes how indigenous peoples of this region used and cared for over 300 species of plants, from the lofty red cedar to diminutive plants of backwater bogs.

About the authors

Douglas Deur's profile page

Nancy J. Turner is an ethnobotanist, and Distinguished Professor Emerita, School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Canada. She has worked with First Nations elders and cultural specialists in northwestern North America for over 50 years, helping to document, retain and promote their traditional knowledge of plants and environments, including Indigenous foods, materials and traditional medicines. Her two-volume book, Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge (July, 2014; McGill-Queen’s University Press), integrates her long term research. She has authored or co-authored/co-edited 30 other books, including: Plants of Haida Gwaii; The Earth’s Blanket; Keeping It Living (with Doug Deur); Saanich Ethnobotany (with Richard Hebda), and Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples, and over 150 book chapters and papers. Her latest edited book is Plants, People and Places: the Roles of Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology in Indigenous Peoples’ Land Rights in Canada and Beyond (2020). She has received a number of awards for her work, including membership in Order of British Columbia (1999) and the Order of Canada (2009), honorary degrees from University of British Columbia, University of Northern British Columbia and Vancouver Island and Simon Fraser Universities.

Nancy J. Turner's profile page

Editorial Reviews

Rarely does a collection of essays provide a cohesive and convincing argument, but Keeping it Living accomplishes this admirably ... Undoubtedly, this fine collection can be used by other scholars to consider later developments.

Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Spring 2006

Of all the ways that B.C.’s aboriginal people have been imagined, represented, described, and understood, the one characterization that has persisted is the idea that they just weren’t the sort of people who transformed landscapes the way Europeans did. They didn’t cultivate plants or tend crops ... That last and most persistent misapprehension was already entrenched as a tenet of academic faith in the earliest days of Northwest Coast anthropology but is only now being thoroughly reconsidered, thanks largely to Nancy J. Turner, a U.Vic ethnobotanist of boundless energy and curiosity. For her efforts, Turner is beloved among dozens of British Columbia’s aboriginal communities. With Keeping It Living, Turner and co-editor Douglas Deur of the University of Washington have mustered a broad body of evidence that is a full-on assault upon the hunter-gatherer orthodoxy. Joined by a dozen other academics whose contributions enliven this book, Turner and Deur present a picture of aboriginal life that is utterly different from the sort found in the conventional literature.

Georgia Straight, April 2006

To extol the merits of all the essays and case studies in this valuable work is beyond the limits of a brief review, but the volume is a necessary read for anyone interested in food research, ethnobotany, anthropology of food and folk foodways, and cultural representation. The excellent bibliography is a valuable resource for the intellectual history of First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast.

Western Folklore

This book is the first comprehensive examination of how the first people to inhabit what is now the Pacific Northwest managed the land on which they lived.

Salem Statesman Journal

This treatment of historically neglected yet compelling topics provides a welcome contribution to the literature on the subject…[the book] is written in a manner that should appeal to a wide range of readers, including many who will appreciate its regional approach. Those with interests in ethnobotany, indigenous American studies, general history, and most importantly with a desire to more fully comprehend the pre-contact realities of human landscape interactions and what they mean today for the future, will surely find this book of much value.

Northwest Indian College, Discovery, v. 35, n.1, Spring 2006

Douglas Deur and Nancy Turner marshal a strong collection of essays to attack the argument that indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast were purely hunter-gatherer cultures, devoid of agricultural practices because of their good fortune to occupy a resource-laden landscape. Keeping It Living is an important book that will appeal to scholars interested in Northwest Coast peoples and Native American ethnobotany in general.

Pacific Northwest Quarterly

In beginning to correct a profound historical error in Northwest Coast anthropology and sister disciplines, many doors have been opened for future scholarship that re-examines the cultivation practices of coastal First Nations. As the editors acknowledge, this work will keep the knowledge of Northwest Coast Elders and their forebears alive for present and coming generations. Keeping it Living should be essential reading for all people interested in the history of the Northwest Coast.

Canadian Journal of Archaeology

The significance of plants to the aboriginal cultures of the Northwest Coast of North America often takes a back seat to the iconic salmon. Keeping it Living ... brings these essential resources to the forefront.

The Midden: Publication of the Archaeological Society of British Columbia