Indigenous Culture and Traditional Food Celebration
By Ruochen You
On October 27, I attended the Indigenous Culture and Traditional Foods Celebration workshop held at the Mount Pleasant Community Centre, which was lead by Shaniece Angus from Nisga’a&Tsimshian Nations and Jessica Savoy form RISE (Responsible Indigenous Strategy for Empowerment). The workshop consisted of two parts.
First, we were taught to make traditional indigenous beading by Shaniece. I chose to make one traditional indigenous earring. The process was not that hard, however, I found myself having a severe lack of talent in beading, which resulted in a messy work. Shaniece was nice and friendly and helped me find a solution to fix my work, as she said: “beading is all about patience”.
Next, we tried the “Indian” ice-cream made by Jessica. The ice-cream looked same as other ice-cream we usually eat, but it was foamy and gave some sweetness first with a bitter aftertaste. One elder in the Mount Pleasant Community Centre tried a cup of “Indian” ice-cream and found the texture and taste was quite good. “It is actually pretty great” and she asked for another cup.
Jessica illustrated how to make the soap ice cream on our own and told us the most important ingredient is the soapberry, which can be crushed and whipped up to make the foamy texture of the ice-cream. Soapberry also brings health benefits with an adequate amount of vitamin A and folate. It also functions as a mouth cleanser and helps with digestion if consumed in small amounts (First Nations Traditional Foods Fact Sheet, 2018). Besides the nutritional value, the stems and leaves of it can be used as a treatment for swellings and sores (Traditional Native Healing, 2018), therefore it is considered as both a nutritional food source and as a healer.
The experience from the workshop makes me relate to the video we watched on the course website. Valerie Segrest, a member and food educator who lives in Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, discusses food sovereignty, which often refers to community members shaping their own diet.
The access to food, according to Valerie is the priority as it is the core of tribal sovereignty. Food does not only provide energy but also builds on the culture and strengthens the self-image for indigenous people. The meaning of cedar trees is that of a long life-giver since the trees are used as housing and bakery material, transport, medicine and so on, as Valerie says, it “provides everything we need to survive in this world”(Food sovereignty: Valerie Segrest at TEDxRainier, 2014).
Similar to the cedar trees, soapberry from shrub can be viewed as another food that can contribute to Indigenous people’s everyday life from several aspects, as mentioned above, used as food, treatment, cleansing….. However, with climate change, over-harvesting and loss of traditional food practice and land, indigenous people find it is difficult to have access to their food. What’s more, the markets do not seem to be able to provide all different kinds of food they consume, which is much various than a typical western diet. Therefore, Valerie believes that indigenous people should “value traditional food knowledge as a gift” and “remember what they already knew and share those memories to promote active citizenship”(Food sovereignty: Valerie Segrest at TEDxRainier, 2014). That can be accomplished by holding workshops about indigenous food, and teaching the indigenous food practice in the community, as the Mount Pleasant Community Centre has done.
So what can you do to help enhance the identity of indigenous people, to gain their food sovereignty? Start with the workshops near your community. Even though I personally did not have background knowledge about Indigenous people before this event, I still found it to be extremely interesting and meaningful to learn about how the culture affect their beliefs: to be patient and to appreciate the natural product by using it in daily life.
By attending such an event, we might be a step closer to understanding food decision and practice. Another thing related to the access to traditional food might be to treasure land and resources as they have been over-explored over the years. Perhaps reducing the carbon footprint, or trying to think about how indigenous people might find it hard to have access to their traditional food, while we can easily get food and sometimes waste it without considering how much effort needed to make to harvest it. It is all about respecting and accepting different cultures.
First Nations Traditional Foods Fact Sheet. (2018) First Nations Health Authority. Available at: http://www.fnha.ca/documents/traditional_food_fact_sheets.pdf
Food sovereignty: Valerie Segrest at TEDxRainier. (2014).
Traditional Native Healing. (2018). Soapberries: little fruits full of benefits – Traditional Native Healing. [online] Available at: http://traditionalnativehealing.com/soapberries-little-fruits-full-of-benefits
By Hailey Wang
On October 27, I attended the Indigenous culture and traditional foods celebration at the Mount Pleasant Community Center, which was led by RISE (Responsible Indigenous Strategy for Empowerment). This event aimed to help to learn and to understand the true community history through the eyes of the youth, and by sharing their ancestry cultural roots through traditional foods and crafts.
During the workshop, we were first taught to make the traditional beadings and then the “Indian ice-cream”, which was a foamy dessert made of water, soapberries and sweeteners (we used strawberries). Jessica Savoy, who is one of the leaders of this workshop introduced us the soapberries: small red fruit and which is very beneficial to human health. She showed us the research about the benefits of soapberries: they contain high vitamin C and can be used to treat high blood pressure, digestive disorders, and acne. In addition, the roots, leaves and bark of soapberries can also be used in medicines. Examples are, the boiled inner bark which can be used as a laxative, the infusion of the bark which can be used as an eyewash, and the brew which can soothe an upset stomach and treat stomach cancer, constipation and venereal diseases, etc.
This was my first time learning about Indigenous cultures including traditional foods and crafts, and the organizers introduced these foods and crafts very passionately. I was reminded of the presentation about Indigenous foods and food sovereignty that we had in class.
In the presentation, Valerie Segrest, the presenter and native nutrition educator who specializes in local and traditional foods said that “Traditional foods are a pillar of our culture and they feed much more than our physical bodies but also feed our spirits”.
She stated that Indigenous people consider traditional foods a living link with the land and with their legacy and that it helps them always remember who they are and where they come from.
Both the organizers from RISE organization and Valerie Segrest uplifted traditional food as part of their culture and Valerie says that “the act of harvesting hunting and preparing the traditional food are more than just feeding hunger and a sense of identity, it is also about our mental health and our own self-worth” (Segrest, 2014). From them, I can feel that indigenous people really treat their traditional culture as treasure.
Segrest, V. (2014). Food sovereignty: Valerie Segrest at TEDxRainier. Retrieved November 1, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=11&v=RGkWI7c74oo
Event Calendar – Sustenance Festival. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2018, from http://sustenancefestival.ca/calendar/