Event Highlight: The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Symposium

Huckleberries are a traditional food of Northwest Tribes
  The Center for Ecogenetics & Environmental Health was a sponsor of the UW American Indian Studies Department 2nd Annual Symposium, The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ. The symposium was held Sept 26-27 at the UW Center for Urban Horticulture.

  Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (listen) is a Lushootseed word that means Intellectual House. The conference title honors the Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ that UW is building on campus, the culmination of a 40-year dream of the Native community. Phase One of the Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ, a longhouse-style building that pays homage to the Coast Salish culture and architecture, is scheduled to open in February 2015. The Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ exemplifies the spirit of sharing, cooperation and commitment to indigenous knowledges and local and national indigenous communities. The symposium showcased the kind of work that will be done in this new space.

   The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ symposium began by acknowledging the Duwamish tribe on whose traditional land we were meeting. Next came the Opening Prayer with drum accompaniment and Welcome Song by the Nuu-chah-nulth singers of Vancouver Island, BC. Two young Nuu-chah-nulth children from the tribal school joined their teacher who led the Welcome Song. Many challenges and disparities remain, but here is a victory: A Native teacher in a tribal elementary school teaches tribal children their language, songs, and cultural traditions.

   A team of presenters told about the Swedafzali or "place of mountain huckleberries" (Lushootseed), a 2-square mile plot of land at 5000 feet elevation in the Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest. The land belonged to Weyerhaueser, and the lumber company clear cut the trees and and subsequently donated the plot to the US Forest Service (USFS). Through a partnership between the Tulalip Tribe and USFS, the tribe is restoring the land and planting mountain huckleberries, which are the most pure and medicinal when grown at high elevation. The damaged land is recovering, the huckleberries are profuse, and families are coming to gather. Some tribal members want to camp overnight. Next will be a campsite and rules to preserve the habitat, and negotiating the right to do traditional burning to keep encroaching trees off the huckleberry meadow. Native gathering rights off the reservation are guaranteed in the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott between the US Government and Coast Salish tribes. This partnership improves the tribe's access to traditional food.

   Another panel discussed whaling culture and food access. Prof. Charlotte Coté (Tseshaht/Nuu-chah-nulth) and Micah McCarty (Makah), special assistant to President Obama for tribal and government relations at Evergreen State College, told of their tribes' whaling culture and nearly a century in which they have lacked access to whale meat and blubber. When Charlotte Coté told her mentor at UC-Berkeley that she wanted to write her dissertation about native culture, the mentor told her to study the Navajo. Instead she went home and talked to her relatives and tribal elders and decided to study the Nuu-chah-nulth whaling culture. Her dissertation is available here: Spirits of our Whaling AncestorsMcCarty reported that the Makah Tribe conducted one gray whale hunt, in 1999, an event of international significance. The right of the Makah tribe to hunt whale has been tied up in court since 2004.

    An audience member reported that the sockeye run is abundant this year, but the fish are too large. He said the small fry are eating fish food that spills through the nets on fish farms, and more of the fry survive, but they grow too fast and they eat the wrong food. Even a success story has a shadow side.

   Symposium attendees were served meals featuring traditional foods. We enjoyed strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, and dense, seed-filled muffins; salmon, huckleberries, wild rice, and elk jerky. I noticed there were no bananas at breakfast. And I missed dessert. It hit home which foods were local and which weren't available or, like dairy, weren't part of a traditional diet. But the large urn of coffee? It was popular, but was that traditional?

   The event continued Saturday when our collaborator on the Native TEACH project, Valerie Segrest, coordinator of the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project,  participated in the panel on Northwest Tribal Food Sovereignty.

   Discussions helped spread awareness about the issue of food sovereignty and food security. Planning Committee chair Charlotte Coté reported, “It’s a coming together of people who have an interest in traditional indigenous foods, sharing stories, ideas, and strategies about how we can protect those foods.” It was The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ.
    See our Factsheets about Indigenous Cultural Autonomy and Responsible Research Partnerships with Indigenous Communities and read an article about the Living Breath Conference in the UW Daily

 -- Marilyn Hair

1 comment:

  1. In regards to the question about coffee, traditional for Indigenous
    populations? My question to you - is this based on the consideration of
    contemporary times (the present) or pre-colonial? The Indigenous
    Food(s) Movement is embracing both traditional and contemporary
    realities but most important, giving the movement a voice within
    different contexts (i.e., art, traditional foods, literature, social
    media, research, etc.).