Event Highlight: 5th Annual Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Indigenous Foods & Ecological Knowledge Symposium

The 5th Annual Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Symposium was held May 5-6, 2017 at Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ or Intellectual House,* on the University of Washington campus. The symposium was bigger and better than ever.

The meeting began with the leaders acknowledging the Duwamish tribe on whose traditional land the UW is located. Next was an extended Elder Blessing with chanting and speaking by Hyamiciate, Della (Rice) Sylvester (Cowichan), a traditional medicine woman.

Attendees graced Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ with ceremonial dresses and shawls, cedar hats, jackets embroidered with symbols from Standing Rock, and caribou-skin boots with sealskin soles worn by Inupiaq youth. I was struck by the many ways participants honored the elders who were present, from bringing them beverages and food samples, to inviting them to the front of the buffet line.

Lunches and snacks were traditional local foods, as you might expect at a conference focused on indigenous foods. I greatly enjoyed seed-filled muffins, strawberries, blueberries, sockeye salmon, nettle pesto, wild rice, elk burgers, seal oil, dried huckleberries, moose jerky, nettle bread and evergreen tree-tip tea. Participants were reminded not to decide you don't like something the first time you taste it. You have to try a new food 6 times to decide whether you like it. 

Speakers came from near and far away: Coast Salish, Alaska and Inupiaq tribes, as well as tribes from eastern Washington, the US southwest, Canada, and Mexico. Presentation topics included soil, corn, seeds, climate resilience, youth leadership, indigenous lands, traditional languages, native curriculum,  traditional foods and beverages, and food sovereignty projects.

The event honored and highlighted Native Youth. The keynote speaker was 16-year old Kalilah Rampanen from Vancouver Island (Nuu-chah-nulth, Woodland Cree and Finnish), a young activist who told her story through words and song. Her presentation on Saturday morning was followed by 13-year old Tim Masso (Tla-o-quiaht/Nu-chah-nulth) who told his story of learning and teaching the Nu-chah-nulth language. He wanted to learn his native language and pressed his school to teach Nu-chah-nulth. At first he was told to take French. When eventually a native language teacher was hired, students were taught just colors and numbers. Tim used books to learn Nu-chah-nulth on his own, and volunteered to teach the class himself. He has become the spokesperson for teaching native languages in schools in British Columbia. Tim concluded his presentation by teaching the audience some Nu-chah-nulth vocabulary: Choo (spelled phonetically) means I'm done. Che KO means Thank you.

Another inspiring presentation was titled, Building Food Sovereignty, Climate Resilience, and Youth Leadership in the Northwest Alaskan Arctic. Four youth from the Inupiaq community of Kivalina, Alaska who worked as interns in the Kivalina Food Sovereign Project presented a vivid story of life and changes in this subsistence fishing-and-hunting community. Kivalina, with 90 households, is located on a barrier island north of the Arctic Circle. Their traditional foods include beluga whale, bearded seal, caribou, moose, and deer. The island is overcrowded and lacks running water. With climate change the ice is melting, affecting animal habitat, bringing more severe storms, and raising the sea level. The oil industry has also destroyed habitat, and a neighboring village dumps waste into the river which flows through Kivalina. A project called Re-locate is working to move the village to the mainland to address overcrowding and provide fresh running water. 

Our partners in Tend, Gather & Grow, Elise Krohn and Valerie Segrest (Muckleshoot), presented their curriculum, Training Track: Empowering Health Champions with a Traditional Beverage Campaign. Their toolkit, coming out May 12th, includes a recipe book called Native Infusion, Rethink Your Drink, and 6 theme posters (Build Strength - nettles; Be Resilient - evergreen fir tips; Food is Our Medicine - huckleberries, and others). Find a description of their May 12th training at the Muckleshoot Elder's Complex on our Native Teach Facebook Page.

Here's the symposium program. It's clear that food sovereignty programs are increasing in number and growing in scope. Congratulations to the eight (mostly native) women academics who volunteered to plan the symposium. 
-- Marilyn Hair

P.S. One of the resource tables displayed traditional Nuu-chah-nulth foods and the community's fish cookbook, Camas. Camas can be ordered from the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe for $12.95. Baked sockeye marinated in maple syrup and soy sauce caught my eye.

*Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ is a longhouse-style building that pays homage to the Coast Salish culture and architecture. Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ opened in February 2015, the realization of a 40-year dream. The Intellectual House exemplifies the spirit of sharing, cooperation and commitment to indigenous knowledges and local and national indigenous communities.

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