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Back in Time at the Fur Trade Festival: Part Seven

A Nature Walk With Jack Nisbet.

Hornet's Nest
Hornet’s Nest

Welcome back!

This is the final segment of the Fur Trade Festival in Kettle Falls, WA at the Kettle Falls Historical Center.

Naturalist and author Jack Nisbet led the students on the last session the kids experienced at the Fur Trade Festival.  We met Mr. Nisbet last year at the festival, and he has come to our afterschool program twice now, once in the fall and again in the spring, taking our kids on a journey through the forested park on school grounds.

On festival grounds, we began walking down an old access road, identifying plants: goats beard which came from Europe, antelope bitter brush, grease wood, butter and eggs or snap dragons and a cherry tree that was not native and had sometime been planted long ago.

We discovered nine bark which the Native Americans used for arrows as it is as straight as a pencil. We saw service berry bushes and learned that the berries first turn green, then red and are ready to eat when they are black. Being June they were not ready; the berries were still red.

As we walked on a trail toward the Columbia River, one of the students spotted a hornet’s nest on a branch of scrub brush. It was smooth and protected under leaves.

Hazel Nut
Hazel Nut

But next to the nest were a couple of wild potato plants with the purple/blue flower sitting regal on top of a tall stem. This is a fascinating plant; the Natives called it “buttons”

because when dug out, with their pointed deer antler digging sticks, a button-looking part of the root appeared once a netting that seeming to protect the button was peeled off.

Beneath this button was the wild potato root.  Native woman would cook these potatoes in a pit with hot rocks, mash and eat them.

When we finally descended down to the river to our right was a hazel nut bush. I had no idea they grew there. Of course the nut was not ripe yet, not until fall, but we were able to see how they grew, like twins.

Calling the Salmon Back
Calling the Salmon Back

Just a few yards away was a rock cliff that hangs over the Columbia River. Most of my students are tribal members of the Colville Confederated Tribes, as are my husband and sons, so for them to lay on the rock cliff that hovered above the river was a magnificent sight. You see this is where the salmon used to swim up from Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River, from the Pacific Ocean up into British Columbia, Canada to spawn. Where we stood, sat and laid on the massive rock cliff is where their ancestors netted and speared these salmon which was the main staple for the People.

Do the kids understand what was lost when the dams were put in up and down the Columbia River with no fish ladders? Do they listen when their grandparents tell them stories of fishing at the Kettle Falls? Yes, they listen. Watching the students, Mr. Nisbet asked them if they were calling the salmon back. Yes, they were.  They will continue to call them back and teach their children to do the same. I believe so. It was their way. It’s in their blood.

More information on the Fur Trade Festival:

Every year the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area’s education specialist, Janice Elvidge, heads up the Fur Trade Festival at the Kettle Falls Historical Center and Mission Point that perches above Lake Roosevelt at Kettle Falls, WA which is a section of the Columbia River from Grand Coulee Dam to the Canadian border.

This year was the fourth annual event for grades 3-6 held June 2, 2014. Sessions this year included: Furs of the Fur Trade, David Thompson and David Douglas at the Kettle Falls, Fur Trade Tools, Traps, Fire and Firearms, Fire Starting and Rope Making, Indian Sign Talk, and Tools and Women of the Fur Trade.

Area schools and their classrooms participate.  I think I was the only program coordinator/teacher who brought an after school program––Rez Stop (Raising our Educational Zone and Standing Tall On Pride). So we actually had grades 3-7 represented in one group and the students had an exciting and education time learning about the old days and how people survived and traded.


The Fur Trade Festival is sponsored by:

National Park Service, Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, Kettle Falls School District, Friends of Spokane House, Kettle Falls Historical Society

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  1. Jean Sutton says:

    Another great read, interesting story. I would like to attend Jack Nisbets class! His books are wonderful.

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      He’s really great with the kids.