Food takes care of the people and the people take care of the food

Edie Hottowe, Makah tribal member, talks about the importance of huckleberries, one of the Makah tribe's culturally important foods. The tribe has an ethnobotanical garden behind the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay.

Teara Farrow Ferman, Cultural Resources Protection Program Manger for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, presented on climate change and the risks to first foods and tribal culture.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla are comprised of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes of Oregon and Washington and their reservation covers 172,000 acres in southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon.

Eric Quaempts, natural resources director, created the Umatilla’s approach to first foods after many interviews with tribal members. Their management program assigns natural resource management branches to the appropriate food. Quaempts noted the order of food to the table and its importance.

Water is the first food to the table and the most important. Natural resource management branches of water resources and fisheries are responsible for the water. The cultural resources program is responsible for all the first foods such as salmon, deer, roots and berries along with the other natural resource departments that manage specific foods.

The reciprocity of first foods is that they are managed to return to the people.  It is a food-associated culture. It means tribal members have:

  • access to them, as provided by their treaty rights.
  • the teaching of first foods and learning about them
  • harvest and how and when to do that
  • the preparation, that is passed on
  • consumption
  • celebration
  • sharing
  • care  – “We manage our foods to have the foods into the future and preserve the culture derived from them such as our celebrations and individual ceremonies,” said Ferman.

Historically, the men harvested and presented the water, the salmon and the deer. The women collected and presented the roots and berries. Today, because climate change is already affecting the availability of foods, Umatilla tribal members teach their sons and daughters to collect both foods. “We don’t know what will be available or who they will marry,” said Ferman. “We want them to identify these foods and know how to prepare them. It’s central to who we are.”

Ferman emphasized the importance of collecting oral history and archeological digs to have the information recorded and archived. “What this information has shown us is that we have adapted to changes in gear and species available,” said Ferman. “First foods values have been durable even if species have changed.”

If physical and ecological processes change, however, our foods will change.

Umatilla tribes are already seeing roots and berries become less available. There has been some trading with family members of other tribes for these foods. The Lummi Indian Nation (page 10) traded mussel shells for deer from the Umatilla as an example of coping with shrinking availability of first foods.

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.