Traditional Food Conference to be held in Nuu-chah-nulth Territory

By Denise Titian, August 29, 2012

5th Annual Vancouver Island Traditional Food Conference will be held at Maht Mahs gym Sept. 28 and Sept. 29.

Photo by Debora Steel

Port Alberni — 

Planning is underway for the 5th Annual Vancouver Island Traditional Food Conference which will be hosted by Tseshaht First Nation, Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities Indigenous Foods Network and the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. It will be held Sept. 28th and 29th in Port Alberni.

The conference is open to all and will feature traditional Nuu-chah-nulth foods along with information about the health benefits of returning to a more traditional diet.

The Traditional Foods Conference started in 2008 after researchers began studying contamination of traditional seafoods. Participants in the study wanted to learn more about health and availability of traditional seafood species.

A group called the Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities Indigenous Foods Network (VICCIFN) was formed. They have taken part in hosting the conference each year with a goal of learning more about and improving nutrition and health in the communities.

This year, conference goers will also be asked to look at the sustainability of traditional food sources.

Nuu-chah-nulth elders and youth have been meeting regularly in Port Alberni to discuss the types of traditional foods they would like to see at the conference. The elders also talked about the opportunities for transferring traditional knowledge from them to the youth when collecting and preparing the food. They said they fear diminishing food sources like abalone, and more reliance on grocery stores and restaurants, some of the teachings will be lost.

Simon Lucas remembered some of the foods that were common in his diet as a young boy–scallops, mussels, butterball ducks, harbor seals and abalone. He pointed out that many young Nuu-chah-nulth people have never tasted those things.

The elders also talked about how just about every part of the salmon was eaten; the cheeks, the brain and even the eyes. Nothing was wasted.

Anne Robinson talked about the teachings from the elders about food harvesting. She recalled berry picking in Makah territory and how she was told which berries to pick and which to leave for the birds so that all could share the resource.

Robinson is coordinating the conference. She asked planners to think about sustainability of traditional Nuu-chah-nulth food sources, specifically, about pollution and its impacts on the environment. She remembered hearing late elder Moses Smith telling the people, “Don’t let money get in front of everything; money is not wealth – wealth is found in giving.”

Some of the young adults attending the planning meetings are studying traditional food harvesting and they welcome the opportunity to learn the old ways from the elders. 

The two-day conference will begin Sept. 28 in Port Alberni at Maht Mahs. It will feature news and information about traditional foods, offering hands on learning and promoting successful initiatives within communities.  Participants may take part in panel discussions, medicine workshops, or they may learn firsthand how to prepare traditional foods.

Past conferences had demonstrations on barbecuing salmon, pit cooking, bentwood box cooking, smokehouse tours and more. Traditional foods will also be served to everyone there.

Please contact Anne Robinson for more information about this year’s conference being held Sept. 28th and 29th in Port Alberni: