Ross River First Nation (Traditional Medicine)

Culturally Important Plants of the Ross River Dena, and Associated Impacts Related to Climate

Project Purpose

The purpose of this project was to document culturally important plants.  The study was undertaken for three reasons;

  1. to ensure that our knowledge about these plants is retained,
  2. reveal where sensitive plants occur so as to protect them, and
  3. to share this knowledge with the Ross River Dena so that they might return to their traditional use of some of these plants.

Indigenous plants are clearly a healthy substitute for some of the commercially produced medicines and foods available to us – they have no chemical additives that too often impose unknown health risks, and they have a long track record of health benefits.  Studies have consistently found that where diet has shifted away from commercial additive-laden foods to local traditional foods there have been significant health benefits.  This is particularly important given the high incidence of diabetes, cancer, and other diet related diseases in our community.

Methods of study

This work is the product of 23 one-on-one interviews and three community workshops with the Elders of the Ross River Dena. The information obtained covers most of the plants in our traditional use area that were and are used by our people. These uses include medicine, food, tools, or spiritual icons.


Two products were completed:

  1. A comprehensive database was produced, including an inventory of important plants and maps indicating where some of the more sensitive and important plants occur. This map has become part of a comprehensive Traditional Knowledge database, and has provided input into land and resource planning.
  2. A book was completed, Gu None’: Ethnobotany of the Ross River Dena. Approximately 80 culturally important species of plants (as well as mushrooms) are presented in this book, organized by broad groups, including trees, berries, flowering plants, lichens and mosses, and mushrooms. Medicinal parts of some mammal species are also presented. For each plant, a description of its habitat is given, followed by its cultural importance and the steps in its preparation. Any á’ii / du la‘ (traditional laws) that apply to the plant are included, as well as excerpts from stories in which plants play a key role. Also, Kaska names are given and for some species translations of these names are provided. Photographs are presented for most of the plants. And finally, a medicine chart is included at the end of the book that organizes medicines by which parts of the body they can be used for.

Community Profile

352 (2011 Census)
Land Area:
20.62 sq km

Project Information

Years Funded:
Topic Area:
  • Northern Contaminants Program
  • Dena Kayeh Institute
  • Canadian Boreal Initiative
Norman Sterriah, Ross River Dena Council, ([email protected])

Map Location