Ahousaht to host traditional food gathering event | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Ahousaht to host traditional food gathering event

Port Alberni, BC

Ahousaht, in partnership with Tseshaht First Nation, are inviting Indigenous people of Vancouver Island to a traditional food gathering at Maht Mahs on March 21 – 22.

The event will bring people together to share thoughts and traditions related to traditional food gathering and preparation. According to organizers, the event will bring together up to 200 participants from Vancouver Island.

“This event is an opportunity for mutual learning, knowledge-sharing and focused collaboration. Together, the leadership at this event will aim to establish and implement a comprehensive and sustainable strategy to advance food sovereignty for their communities,” stated a media release for the event.

According to Nitanis Desjarlais, a traditional foods knowledge keeper for Island Health and an affiliate of the Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities Indigenous Foods Network, food security is especially important for the isolated communities on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

“When the Cameron Bluffs fire happened, we were cut off from the mainland. Are we prepared for another disaster?” she asked.

Equally important is the nutritional and cultural values of a more traditional diet.

“What do we know about our traditional foods?” Desjarlais asked.

Prior to contact, the Nuu-chah-nulth diet was different than what it is today, and people were healthier. The people were eating plenty of fish and other seafood along with game meat, berries and roots. Desjarlais said she knows that we all cannot return to a traditional diet at this moment, because everything would wiped out. There are not enough traditional foods to sustain the population.

That is why it is important to talk about what these foods are and how we can save it for our children.

“We want to promote healthy eating habits and bring back our ways,” said Desjarlais, “the culture, the berry fields, the family ties to the land and the songs that go with that.”

But it’s not all about the old ways of doing things. Desjarlais says there will be opportunities to share ideas of how to prepare traditional foods in a modern context. Seaweed, for example, can be made into a crispy treat in a few minutes in an air fryer.

According to Desjarlais, the first day of the gathering will focus on solution-based dialogue and there will be a guest speaker leading a discussion about food security and traditional food sovereignty.

Day two will be filled with information tables, food samples and demonstrations around the smoke houses, the fire pit for traditional barbecue salmon and a pit cook. In addition, special guest Art Napoleon, host and co-producer of the television show Moose Meat and Marmalade, will be at the event.

Art Napoleon is an experienced hunter and outdoor cook. He combines his knowledge of plants and wildlife with home-style cooking techniques to create healthy, affordable meals that showcase Indigenous foods. Traditional Indigenous practices such as the respect for food sources, creating minimal waste and following ethical techniques are key considerations in the meals he creates.

Funding for the event comes from Island Coastal Economic Trust, which is supported by the Province of British Columbia.

According to the Island Coastal Economic Trust, this event is anticipated to spur economic development, providing collaborative opportunities for local businesses, artisans, and food producers.

“Knowledge sharing will be a central theme, providing opportunities to learn traditional skills, culinary expertise, and sustainable agricultural practices. By providing an immersive experience, the event should strengthen cultural heritage and promote community pride,” ICET stated.

“Indigenous food security and sovereignty is an important factor of the overall health and wellbeing of our people,” stated Ahousaht Chief Councillor n̓aasʔałuk, John Rampanen, in a press release. “Our connection to the surrounding lands and waters is a vital component of our cultural identity and our ability to survive and thrive as a people. Ahousaht is pleased to host the Island Indigenous Foods Gathering 2024 to support the ongoing healing and nurturing qualities that our food systems and practices have to offer.”

“The re-establishment of traditional food sovereignty and security for First Nations is such an important part of our work in reconciliation,” stated Josie Osborne, MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim. “By supporting this traditional food gathering, the Trust will help hundreds more Indigenous people get the tools they need to empower their communities with access to traditional and nutritious food.”

Ahousaht is pleased to be co-hosting the event with Tseshaht First Nation and say seats are filling up fast. Desjarlais says they are looking for people who are knowledgeable about traditional foods to participate in the event. That could be people with knowledge about sustainable harvesting of traditional foods and those that know traditional methods of food preparation and preservation.

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