Washoe Tribe restores garden at Tallac Historic Site

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Washoe Tribe members spent a day restoring the Washoe Tending and Gathering Garden at Tallac Historic Site as part of an event with Blue Waters Exchange and Great Basin Institute. 

The garden was started about a decade ago as part of a grant but has since fallen into disrepair. 

The garden hasn’t been tended to in recent years.
Laney Griffo/Tahoe Daily Tribune

“We have teamed together with GBI, the Forest Service and Blue Waters Exchange to purchase some plants and get some people out here to do some garden managing, learn about cultural plants, remake the trails and do a little cultural exchange over lunch,” said Rhiana Jones, acting environmental director, Washoe Environmental Protection Department. 

Blue Waters Exchange is a cultural exchange program that gives people from Hawaii and California exposure to each other’s cultures, as well as participating in conservation efforts. They spend two weeks traveling in Hawaii and two weeks traveling in California. 

“We guide them through learning about their ancestry, their cultural stories — everybody has one no matter where they’re from — their ties to the land, and current management practices and current environmental issues and concerns, said Joy Barney, California Facilitator, Blue Waters Exchange. “The goal is to help them find their purpose and through themselves and through their ancestry discover who they are and ultimately to become better stewards of the land.”

This planting day was part of their California experience. The event started with a ceremony between the Blue Water Exchange and the Washoe Tribe. 

Blue Water Exchange started the ceremony with an oli, which is a chant delivered with no musical instruments, spoken in Hawaiian. 

“The first oli was us asking for permission to come upon this land, its asking permission from the host and we look at Washoe as the host. The other thing is asking permission to the land itself, you don’t just charge upon the land whether you are going to go on a trail or entering a new space, you always ask for permission,” Barney said. 

Jones receiving the oli from Blue Water Exchange.
Laney Griffo/Tahoe Daily Tribune

A representative of the tribe, Laura Fillmore, responded in Washoe, welcoming them onto the land. 

“We owe so much to the land. It feeds us, it provides us warmth, water, we can’t survive without it, we need to take care of it so you provide respect to the land, it will respect you back. You take care of the land, it will take care of you,” Jones said about the importance of the ceremony. 

Then each person present at the event said their names, their ancestors’ names and where they come from, as well as their home mountain and their water source. Many people spoke in their native language, including Spanish, Hawaiian and Washoe. 

Before beginning the planting, everyone also took part in a tea ceremony. The tea was an elderberry tea with rosehip and Megal (meg-ell) which in English is Indian Tea. Megal has historically been used for its medicinal purposes to treat colds, fevers and headaches. 

Several different culturally significant plants were planted.
Laney Griffo/Tahoe Daily Tribune

Following the tea, everyone began planting the plants, all of which are native to the Tahoe Basin. 

They include Wild Rose (PećumeliɁ or petz-umel-eeh), Western chokecherry (ćámdu or tz-ahm-do), yarrow (WemšiɁ or wemsheeh), elderberry (Ba:duɁ or bah-dooh), and wild strawberry (Mu:Ɂaluŋi or moo-all-ung-eeh).

“There’s a list of maybe 30 cultural plants that the Washoe Tribe has, some for the Tahoe Basin, some for the Carson Valley. All these plants are either used as food or medicine, they’re part of Washoe life,” Jones said. 

They are also planted Pinon (tꞌá꞉gim) Pines, which don’t traditionally grow in the Tahoe Basin but Jones said because of climate change and drought, it’s losing its area so they want to plant them here to see how they will fare.

This garden will be used as a demonstration garden and Jones said she hopes to have many more planting days in the garden. 

Jones hopes this is the first of many plantings.
Laney Griffo/Tahoe Daily Tribune

“Tallac gets a lot of visitors so we have little plant signs and brochures, we’re so grateful to the Forest Service to allow us to have this setup here and be able to share our culture and some of plant knowledge with the public and other groups such as Blue Waters Exchange,” Jones said. 

The garden is open to the public and is located adjacent to the Tallac Museum at 1 Heritage Way. 

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.