By Molly Bryant, Puyallup Tribal News
Nestled at the bottom of the mountains in Randle, Tribal community members attended Huckleberry Culture Camp in late August. Smiling children ran around the campground playing games as adults packed their day’s huckleberry harvest in large Ziploc bags.
Organized by the Puyallup Tribal Culture Department, the camp serves as a way for Puyallup Tribal members to connect with their culture.
They rented out the Cispus Learning Center. Each day, the department planned fun cultural activities. Attendees spent the days picking huckleberries, crafting, playing games and enjoying the great outdoors.
A lack of cell phone service at the campsite encouraged participants to engage in more activities. “Everybody was busy doing crafts or playing games out here, or even roasting marshmallows,” Culture Department Director Angie Totus said.
More than 70 families attended on Aug. 26, with some staying in cabins and vans, while others pitched tents.
For the first time, meals were provided by the Culture Department. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served each day, allowing the community to gather together over meals. This was especially meaningful since the previous years were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With no social distancing in place, participants were able to eat, play, camp and participate in activities together without worry.
Puyallup Tribal member Danyelle Satiacum said coming out of COVID was a culture shock. “It feels amazing to be back up there around family picking and doing crafts together,” she said.
Pole Patch berry field is about one hour from the campsite near the top of a long winding National Forest road. Totus used to pick berries with her family at these particular huckleberry patches when she was young. “We’d actually camp right there amongst the huckleberries,” she said.
Huckleberries have long been a part of Indigenous diets in the Pacific Northwest. “Our traditions say that huckleberries are one of our sacred foods,” said Heritage Division Manager Connie McCloud.
According to Totus, Huckleberries are ripe between late August and late September, depending on the year. There are many common varieties of huckleberries, such as red huckleberries and mountain huckleberries. Red huckleberries are commonly located in low-level forests while mountain huckleberries can be found higher up in elevation. There are three main categories of mountain huckleberries: blue, reddish-black and black.
Many campers had their own ideas for how to use the berries. Satiacum said she enjoys using them in pancakes and huckleberry crumble. Totus said many of the berries will be used in jam-making classes held at the Culture Department for the Puyallup Tribal community. She said the berries will be preserved with a freeze-drying machine back at the Culture Center.
“I’m just thankful that we have more people coming and look forward to next year,” Totus said. “The kids really love it.”
To learn more about future huckleberry jam-making classes, be sure to follow the Puyallup Tribal Culture Department on Facebook www.facebook.com/PuyallupCanoeFamily.