Missoula Ecological Knowledge Series Connects People of Color to the Earth | Local News


The intergenerational knowledge of edible plants held by Iko’tsimiskimaki “Ekoo” Beck dates back at least six generations.

She has spent her entire life harvesting with her family. Now, she is sharing this information with a wider audience through the Monthly Traditional Ecological Knowledge Series, a forum held on the first Wednesday of every month through October for people of color in the community.


Iko’tsimiskimaki Beck takes a look at fresh and dried samples of native plants and berries as she talks to members of the BIPOC community about ethnobotany, foraging, and traditional ecological knowledge.


“It’s really nice to be able to pick plants and develop a deeper relationship with the world around you,” Beck said. “We feel more at home. “

Last week, Beck showed attendees a variety of ready-to-harvest plants in the ethnobotanical garden surrounding the Payne Family Native American Center. They tried serviceberries, also known as Saskatoon berries, and harvested fresh mint, chives, and wild onions, among other edible plants.


Stephanie Barron picks and eats dark Shabad berries from a bush just outside the Payne Native American Center.


While Beck is willing to share her knowledge with others, the opportunity to teach the topic to other people of color is important, she said.

“I love everyone who is interested in plants, but I want to be able to talk to people of color who are also interested in plants, so it’s exciting to be able to have a forum to talk to them,” Beck said.


Iko’tsimiskimaki Beck examines and shows guests a small wild strawberry bush behind the Payne Native American Center.


The series is made possible through a partnership between All Nations Health Center and Here Montana, an outdoor recreation group that seeks to increase access to the outdoors for people of color.

During the pandemic, All Nations Health Center noticed an increased desire for natural remedies for wellness and created the series accordingly. Dana Kingfisher and Faith Price of the health center said it connects culture, wellness, sovereignty, knowledge and community.

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Faith Price with All Nations Health Center of Missoula smells a sample of mint leaves during a native plants and ethnobotany workshop outside the Payne Native American Center. Price is one of the organizers who set up the summer workshops in partnership with Here Montana.


“Missoula is a college town so there are a lot of people coming and going here,” Price said. “I think it’s good to introduce people to the plants that we have available to us here.”

The series is normally led by ethnobotanist Dr. Rosalyn LaPier, associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana. LaPier was unable to attend the July session, so Beck took the reins.


Iko’tsimiskimaki Beck examines a patch of Beebalm plants and teaches participants about its use by Native American tribes.


Sessions are held on campus outside of the Payne Family Native American Center at the University of Montana and begin around 6 p.m.

The July session focused on edible plants that can be found in the Missoula area. The next month will focus on the use of plants for medicine. After that, the group will transition to talk about Indigenous foods that can be purchased at the grocery store. The series will end with plans to harvest edible and medicinal plants for the next season.


Jaine Morin, pictured outside the Payne Native American Center, smiles with a Beebalm plant.


Participant Stephanie Barron, an Indigenous student at the University of Montana, said she first heard about the show through Here Montana.

“I’m always trying to glean information and learn more to build a better and deeper relationship with my environment,” said Barron.


Missoula residents Ray Kingfisher, left, and Matt Bell chat on the lawn outside the Payne Native American Center ahead of the start of this month’s traditional ecological knowledge workshop.


She was happy to learn different ways of preparing serviceberries during the July session – this year she hopes to make a jam.

“Being able to identify the plants in the landscape only deepens your relationship with this place because you know more about it and it doesn’t sound foreign,” Barron said.

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