Historical Foods / Wildcrafting of the Plateau Indians:
The Plateau Indians were semi-nomadic hunter/gatherers. Deer was the primary big game animal, but the culture and economy of the tribe centered around fishing, especially for salmon, steelhead, trout, sturgeon, suckers, and lampreys. Rabbits, squirrels, beaver, marmot, ducks, geese, grouse, and clams were also important small game animals. They also hunted for bear, goat,elk, and later buffalo after they aquired the horse.
They also gathered roots, berries, pine nuts, and medicinal herbs. One hundred thirty-five plant species formed a vital component of the diet. Camas was the most important root. Women used wooden digging sticks to harvest roots and bulbs.
The Plateau villages shared the Wenatshapam Fishery in the Wenatchee Valley with the Wenatchi and Yakimas. Certain locations were favored by different families of each band for various foods.Early fur traders taught them to cultivate potatoes.
During the spring they gathered the abundant sunflowers, bitterroot, and camas, which they ate fresh or dried for later use. Bitterroot and bulb-like roots were dug with a pica or a root digging stick with the top of which was sometimes made of the antler of an elk or deer. The roots were then gathered into woven baskets.
Each April was bitterroot digging time along with other important roots. These roots were boiled and dried to be pounded into cakes. The people demonstrated their thankfulness with the root feast each spring. The first roots gathered were ceremonially distributed and eaten by all in reverence to the Creator.
Camas and biscuit roots (also known as Kouse or Cous) were dug in June and July. Kouse had a parsnip-like flavor when fresh. The common method of preparation involved drying the roots, then grinding them into a meal. Mixed with water, the meal was then formed into cakes, and partly baked for storage. These cakes tasted like stale biscuits, giving the plant the common name of biscuitroot.
In the late summer, they headed high into the mountains to collect huckleberries and blackberries in the alpine meadows.
In the early 1700s, the Plateau Indians acquired horses for transportation and for food. In the fall, the Plateau traveled into the high country of the Cascade Mountains to hunt elk, bear, and marmots. Sometimes they went to Montana to hunt buffalo. A buffalo hunting trip usually took two years to get there, hunt the buffalo, and make it back to their permanent homes again.
Plateau groups used tobacco and had an extensive trade network, especially with the Northwest Coast tribes.
The Plateau indians made thread and tangle-free rope from the inner bark of the basswood tree, and even stitched wounds with the thread. Tule reeds were used for everything from baskets and hats to sleeping mats and houses. Cattails around the lake provided fresh green shoots in the spring and roots were harvested and roasted much like potatoes. The fluff from the cattail flower seed was used for wattling in diapers and as tender to start fires.
Subsistence / Industry Today:
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have year round hunting rights on the northern portion of the Colville Reservation. The Boldt Decision in 1974 also affirmed Indian fishing access rights.
The Chelan Indians have the Mill Bay Casino on Lake Chelan and are heavily involved in the tourist industry. The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation also owns two other casinos, a sawmill and veneer plant, and various other timber and agriculture industries managed by a tribal business council.