Muckleshoot Tribe reintroduces traditional foods

This Week From Indian Country Today reports that the Muckleshoot Tribe in Washington is working to restore its use of traditional foods.

The article states in part: "Many years ago, members of Pacific Northwest tribes subsisted on a wide diversity of foods from the sea and land. More than 300 fish, shellfish, greens and berries graced their seasonal menus and shaped their cultural lifeways.

“The foods that were eaten here were a huge pillar of our culture,” says Valerie Segrest, a Muckleshoot tribal member and a Native nutrition educator at Northwest Indian College. “They’d follow the huckleberries. Twenty varieties grew from the seashore to the higher elevations; they would follow them as they ripened.”

Today, such a life has become virtually impossible. “First of all,” Segrest notes, “there was a loss of land and a loss of rights. There is the issue of environment toxins now, the cultural oppression around harvesting food, invasive species that have come into our environment and changed it. There’s a lack of time. Now in our modern world people have jobs. You have to have vacation time to go out and harvest. Areas for harvesting mussels are located on an island. You have to have money to put gas in your vehicle to get to the ferry, and pay for the ferry.”

As a result, Pacific Northwest tribes got disconnected from their traditional food sources. They came to rely on processed foods, some of which are provided through the dominant federal assistance programs and others that are front and center at grocery stores. Like many tribes across the country, the Muckleshoot and other tribes have begun to see epidemics of diabetes and heart disease."

The Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project seeks to reintroduce traditional foods into the diets of tribal citizens. The project is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and supported by Northwest Indian College’s Traditional Plants and Foods Program.

The Muckleshoot, Suquamish, and Tulalip tribes, and the University of Washington’s Burke Museum, laid the groundwork for these efforts by investigating the plants the tribes used before European contact. The database of information on these foods help people today who wish to incorporate traditional foods into their diets.

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