An in-depth report on traditions in plant use on Kodiak Island is set to be published years after it was written.
Ethnobotanist Priscilla Russell released the study in 1995, and it’s currently on loan to the Alutiiq Museum. Russell, who’s lived in Alaska since 1973, says she came to Kodiak in the early 90s and spoke to elders in the villages about different uses for native plants.
Like angelica, which Russell says is one of her favorites.
“I didn’t find that they ate it because it could be confused with the poison[ous] Water Hemlock, but they would take the stems of it and break them open. Inside, it’s kind of juicy and almost like an aloe, and they like to put that on their skin, and I do it to this day. I put it on any rashes or sores.”
She says another plant she learned about in the field was devil’s club.
“There have been studies, scientific studies, showing that devil’s club can help with diabetes, and some of the people in the Kodiak area were actually trying it for diabetes back in those days.”
Russell says she originally worked on the book for KANA and later the Alutiiq Cultural Center, and one reason the elders were so willing to speak with her was they wanted to save the knowledge for their children and grandchildren. By early 2018, that will be a reality.
The Alutiiq Museum with help from Koniag have pursued a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to fund its publication.
Museum Executive Director April Laktonen Counceller says museum staff has referenced the 150-page report repeatedly throughout her time at the museum.
“The material in Priscilla Russell’s original report is really, really rich and valuable from a cultural perspective because many of the activities that she describes and the uses that she describes are not actively practiced anymore. There is a growing interest in plant uses and plant medicines on our island and elsewhere, and so I think it’s really good timing to bring back this information into the public light.”
The grant amount is for roughly $48,200 and Russell says she has some editing to do before the work is ready for publication.