New book by Tseshaht professor focusses on Nuu-chah-nulth food and culture

Seattle, WA

A Tseshaht scholar living and working in Seattle, WA, is about to publish her second book focusing on Indigenous culture and food sovereignty. Dr. Charlotte Coté will be releasing A Drum in One Hand, A Sockeye in the Other in January 2022.

Her book explores Nuu-chah-nulth food practices, both in pre-contact time and in a more contemporary context.

“Charlotte Coté shares contemporary Nuu-chah-nulth practices of traditional food revitalization in the context of broader efforts to re-Indigenize contemporary diets on the Northwest Coast,” states the publisher’s press release. “Coté offers evocative stories of her Tseshaht community’s and her own work to revitalize relationships to haʔum (traditional food) as a way to nurture health and wellness.”

Pre-contact Nuu-chah-nulth diets consisted mostly of fish, whale or fish oil, berries, and roots. It was low in carbohydrates and high in healthy fats. A more westernized diet with its processed food has had adverse effects on Indigenous peoples, who suffer higher incidences of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.

In her introduction Dr. Coté questions the effects of colonialism on the health of Indigenous peoples across the continent. Besides living in overcrowded conditions that are conducive to the spread of viruses like COVID-19, she contends that the foods we eat are weakening our immune system.

“As leading medical scholars, doctors, and food advocates point out: ‘Among the most significant risk factors for hospitalization and death in COVID-19 are the presence of diet-related chronic diseases such as hypertension’,” writes Coté.

A Drum in One Hand, A Sockeye in the Other examines local foods that were once plentiful to Nuu-chah-nulth-aht. She starts out with childhood memories of growing up with grandparents and extended family harvesting fish and berries in the Alberni Valley.

Cote recalls berry picking trips on mountain logging roads during the 1970s. In one story she tells of seeing her grandmother pick wild blackberries near a stump with a black bear feasting on berries on the other side of the stump.

The book tells of the importance of the Somass River and its life-giving salmon to the Tseshaht.

The harvest of sockeye not only allowed the Tseshaht to build winter food stocks with a source of healthy protein, but also played an important role in a social context. Family groups came together to harvest,  prepare and preserve the food. Elders in the family would pass down generations of knowledge and skills to younger people.

“C̓uumaʕas and miʕaat (Somass River and sockeye salmon) are central to the sacred food practices that have been a crucial part of the Indigenous community’s efforts to enact food sovereignty, decolonize their diet, and preserve their ancestral knowledge,” reads the publisher’s press release.

Food Sovereignty is defined by La Via Campesina on the Food Secure Canada website in this way, “(it) is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”

“As Indigenous peoples continue to face food insecurity due to ongoing inequality, environmental degradation and the Westernization of traditional diets, Cote foregrounds healing and cultural sustenance via everyday enactments of food sovereignty: berry picking, salmon fishing, and building a community garden on reclaimed residential school grounds, “ says the publisher.

Dr.Coté is an associate professor at the University of Washington. She holds a Ph.D and M.A. in Comparative Ethnic Studies from the University of California at Berkeley, a B.A. in Political Science from Simon Fraser University in B.C., and a diploma in Broadcast Communications from the B.C. Institute of Technology.

Her first book, published in 2010, is Spirits of Our Whaling Ancestors: Revitalizing Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth Traditions.

In more recent times, she has published “Indigenizing Food Sovereignty. Revitalizing Indigenous Food Practices and Ecological Knowledges in Canada and the U.S.,” and “Food Sovereignty, Food Hegemony, and the Revitalization of Indigenous Whaling Practices.”

A Drum in One hand, A Sockeye in the Other will be available in paperback at $29.95 USD and in hard cover at $99.00 USD.

Contact Kait Heacock, publicity manager at to purchase a copy.

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