Last Friday was The Living Breath of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ: Indigenous Foods and Ecological Knowledge Symposium. Folks from afar had made it to the University of Washington campus, including youth leadership from tribes as far away as NE Alaska.*
If you’re interested in advancing your knowledge in food movements, or advancing equity, there’s exciting work afoot from the folks in this space.
A few tidbits, big and small:
- The gathering was held in a highly symbolic space at the Intellectual House. It felt extra meaningful in an inclusive way, to welcome members of all tribes and backgrounds. The solidarity here felt strong, and I think other cultural clusterings could really learn from such an example, and benefit from more exchange of ideas. They also began with an acknowledgement that the UW is built on tribal land.
- Hyamiciate, Della (Rice) Sylvester of the Cowichan Tribes on Vancouver Island opened the gathering with an elder blessing. It was heartwarming to hear her share her wisdom on her lifelong study of medicinal plants and her life experience. It was also great and fitting contrast with the theme of the event, which was on highlighting native youth.
- The keynote speaker was Kalilah Rampanen, a musician, songwriter and activist who is Nuu-chah-nulth, Woodland Cree and Finnish. Per program details, at sixteen years of age, her music “explores Indigenous, environmental, and social horizons that combine acoustic, blues, and alternative styles of expression. I was very sad to have missed this, and while keeping an eye out for follow-up notes from the symposium, have made do with YouTube videos of her songs.
- I attended a presentation on Squaxin Island Tribal Food Sovereignty Actions by tribal members and students Aleta Poste and Candace Penn, along with UW student and Melissa Poe. I especially loved hearing from about growing up rich in culture, feeling passionate about passing on stories of gathering nettles, clams and geoduck to students while giving them experience in biology field work.
- One common and inspiring theme among this, the community garden project, and sovereignty projects was the importance of sharing the knowledge and use of First Foods, its ability to empower, and the opportunity to spend meaningful time together as a community through activities stewarding these foods.
- Did you know: there are only 3 fresh water mussels in the region? If you learn them all, you are an expert! (Candace Penn)
- Another interesting tidbit: every tribe that’s federally recognized has its own Natural Resources Department.
- This symposium was entirely volunteer-run, wow!
There were many other exciting things covered at the symposium, abstracts can be found on the symposium program.
Oh right, this is a food blog. “What did you eat, Yiling?”
There was a first foods tasting table, the main feature photo of this post. Also, I ate bitterroot, which had the texture of enoki mushrooms (or enoki had the texture of bitterroot). The native food they were preparing smelled delicious and it drove me a little wild to have to leave before it was ready to eat.
Trial Experience Rating:
Novelty Rating: in this case, it feels crass to use the word novelty lest I other the experience, so let’s just say I haven’t attended a meeting of the minds like this in quite some time. The familiarity of being among other people with “respect for elders” as a strong value was really sweet to me, while it was also refreshing to see the different flavor of a more playful mentorship attitude from Hyamiciate than I’ve found in East Asian elders. Caveat: tiny sample size, don’t generalize from this.
Likelihood of Repeat: 100% seems the symposium has grown in verve and popularity since its inception in 2015, so I expect it to happen again next year. I’d certainly be happy to go! I only caught wind of it after a prior commitment was set so only got a brief moment to attend. Would happily go back.
On a personal level, I also really enjoyed seeing the range of attendees participating, from Morgan up from Portland who works educating youth in healthy foods, the chair of the Geography department, Dr. Charlotte Cote who has written on revitalizing Indigenous food practices, and especially students leading the shift to promote First Foods and real engagement in their own communities.
*Is it a faux pas to refer to a region by the modern Western territory? Somebody pls school me on this..