Baskets and Botany in Tecolote

Article excerpt

San Diegans and Kumeyaay elders save a canyon

AIthough our ancestors may not be here today, their spirits are with us." So said Kumeyaay elder Jane Dumas last year at a dedication ceremony in Tecolote Canyon. Dumas and other tribal members from San Diego and northern Baja California were here because of a unique partnership between the canyon's citizen advisory committee and Kumeyaay descendants. The canyon once supported Kumeyaay villages; its plants were harvested for food and shelter. Now it's a San Diego city park, and plants are still very much at its heart.

Eloise Battle, chair of the advisory committee, lives on the edge of Tecolote Canyon. For three decades she's been one of the principal advocates for this urban canyon park less than a mile from Interstate 5 and Mission Bay. Battle remembers one of her first walks with Dumas at Tecolote (which means owl in Kumeyaay).

"Jane is a magical person," says Battle. "She pointed out dozens of plants and their traditional uses, and at one point put her hand on a common coastal sage scrub and looked up at me. `If you take a tip of this branch and make tea, it will help you with your respiratory problems,' she said. I had told her nothing about my asthma."

A handout at the Tecolote Nature Center lists 27 plants in the canyon that were used by the Kumeyaay tribe. Sometimes the application was practical. Need laundry soap? Try wild gourd. Aches and pains from flu or arthritis? Black sage might help.

Kumeyaay elders still have extensive knowledge of native plants, their propagation, and their usage (although elders and park officials alike discourage canyon visitors from ingesting any plants). …