Monday, July 27, 2009

Feasting For Change Celebrating 2008-2009


The Feasting For Change Project is a broadly representative group composed of interested parties who are working collaboratively to support Aboriginal Communities in South Vancouver Island to enhance their food sovereignty.

Food Sovereignty is the state of being in which ‘all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self reliance and social justice.’ Hamm and Bellows 2002

Purpose: The purpose of the Feasting for Change: Reconnecting to Food, Land and Culture Project is to bring Aboriginal Peoples in South Vancouver Island together around Traditional Food Feasts to discuss food security and food sovereignty in their communities. The goal is to identify community-specific issues around food and inspire action to address these issues.

Funding: The Feasting for Change project has generously been funded by Vancity Sustainability Group.

The Spark:
The Aboriginal Health Diabetes team makes their way to the door of one of the local Elders who has diabetes. As he opens the door he softly gestures to the team as he points out past the fields to the bay in front of his house. He says, “You see this? When I was growing up, this was my grocery store.” They pause to listen as he passionately tells of a time “before diabetes…when diabetes prevention was woven into the fabric of everyday life.” He talks about the challenge of managing this disease and how it continues to affect so many people in his community.

Not surprisingly, this was not the first time the team had heard such a story - a story about a time when activity and healthy living was a part of the Aboriginal culture. Over the years of visiting Aboriginal people in their homes, attending sharing circles, and listening to their stories, they began to identify a common theme—the connection between food, culture, and healthy living. What they saw was the hope that this way of life could be revitalized, and in doing so, the epidemic of diabetes could be brought under control.

Below are some examples of how this program has evolved.

Event 1: In May (2007) invited representatives from each First Nation took part in a Feast to be held at the T’Sou-ke First Nation. They shared crab, halibut and other traditional foods as they came together to discuss what could be done to inspire people to take charge of their health, culture, and community. The T’Sou-ke hall was packed with families and the energy was palpable—people were excited and hopeful for a healthier, more vibrant future. Elders and young-ones alike shared their stories and ideas about what it would take to “bring people together” and “get back to the basics” by utilizing traditional knowledge and expertise within the community. As the ideas percolated it was clear that the knowledge to accomplish this already exists. What emerged from this gathering was the innovative idea of having these Feasts in each community and inviting select people from other communities.

Event 2: On July 6th and 9th (2007) the Pauquachin First Nation hosted the 2nd community event. A plant/berry gathering day and a huge community feast were the focus. People shared stories and skills throughout the two days. Lucia Bartleman and Joyce Underwood took us throughout the Pauquachin Nation looking at plants and telling stories. Elder Elmer Henry taught us how to harvest and dig for clams, how to cut and prepare fish and how to cook fish heads. People ages 1-90 years shared fish heads, baked fish, clam chowder, fresh berry crumble and a traditional tea made by a local Elder.

The Pauquachin Feast also sparked some positive energy for change. This community is planning to serve more traditional foods at their weekly community lunches, have planned a community fish cleaning and canning day, and have organized some berry picking events to store up for the winter.

Event 3: On Aug 24th (2007) the Tsawout Community hosted an amazing Seafood Festival showcasing a traditional pit cook, crab and salmon feast, sea urchins and a salmon ceremony. The festival organizer Dan and Belinda Claxton wanted to highlight and showcase the traditional food practices to help encourage community members to use their traditional land and ocean.

Event 4: On Oct 26th and Oct 27th (2007) the Songhees community hosted a feast at the Pauquachin Nation. This event was a collaboration with UVic and Dr. Nancy Turner. On the Friday Nancy took her 60 students and other interested people out to T’Sou-ke to collect materials for the pit cook, plant identification and weaving activities. On the Saturday Cheryl Bryce and Nancy shared their knowledge with her 60 UVic students and the 50 community members for a daylong event of learning, feasting and friendship. We feasted on crab and halibut donated by T’Sou-ke Nation, salmon from the Songhees Health Counselor Frank George, smoked salmon caught through gaffing at Goldstream, salmon chowder make by Joan Henry and delicious variety of veggies cooked in the pit that were donated by UVic.

Events 5 & 6: On January 25th and 28th (2008) the T’Sou-ke Nation and Pauquachin Nation hosted feasts in honour of invited guest Dawn Morrison of the Secwepemc Territory. Dawn is the coordinator of the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty in BC. Dawn has been asked by the Public Health Association of BC to travel to many Aboriginal communities in BC to provide information around food sovereignty and find out what are the concerns and hopes around food. The information from these meetings will be summarized in a report. This goal of this report is to document the concerns of the communities, raise the awareness of decision makers and the highlight the great THREAT to the food supply. The report will also share the ideas, plans and initiatives for change.

Event 7: On March 12th(2008) The Pacheedaht First Nation and the local school came together to harvest seafood down at Botanical Beach and enjoy a community Feast. We partnered with the community and the Uvic/DFO research project. This research project focused on dietary intakes of seafood and risk of contamination. Elder Jimmy Chester from Dididat lead the day with his singing, stories, skills and language. He taught all of us the traditional names for mussels, sea eggs, rock stickers and gooseneck barnacles. We feasted all day and shared stories and skills.

Event 8: On May 4th (2008) - The Scianew First Nation drew on the knowledge of one of their community members, ethnobotanist and professor Dr. Pakki Chipps. Pakki taught local ethnobotony at the University of Victoria and around the local area. She led us on a traditional pit cook and plant identification walk. Pakki asked the children aged 3-12 to gather salal and ferns for the pit. It was their first time out gathering these plants. While the food cooked in the pit we drank tea, peeled salmon berry shoots and shared stories. Then the 25 participants were taken up into the woods to talk about nature and our relationship with plants. Henry Chipps barbequed the salmon and we opened the pit cook of root veggies, clams and salmon and ate on local cabbage leaves. It was a spectacular day.

Event 9: On May 23rd (2008) - The Pacheedaht First Nation hosted a pit cook on their beautiful beach. With the guidance of Pakki Chipps and Henry Chipps we dug a pit and filled it full of local root veggies and mussels harvested by community members at Botanical Beach. Community members Nadine, Dana, Jenny, Denise and Dave all share their stories and knowledge. We also feasted on rock stickers, gooseneck barnacles, crab, barbequed salmon and traditional tea. We spent the long and warm day feasting with the community members and children on the beach. The children were challenging all of us for a swim in the ocean. This method of Pit Cooking was shared by an Elder Ida Jones from Pacheedaht. It was much appreciated to have this food cooking method performed back in the community.

Event 10: On May 27th (2008) – Earl Claxton Jr. and JB Williams from Seachange toured the Feasting Group around the Gowland Todd Park which is traditional territory. They shared traditional stories and knowledge about the local environment and edible plants.

Event 11: On June 7th (2008) - The Tsawout First Nation hosted their annual Seafood festival packed with over 300 people. There were two beach pit cooks, bannock making events on the beach and glorious seafood to sample, including sea urchin, sea eggs, crab, mussels, scallops, clams, and salmon. There was a traditional plant walk led by local knowledge keeper Earl Claxton Jr. and renowned ethnobotanist, Dr. Nancy Turner. Elders and other community members shared stories about their experiences with traditional foods, feasts and gatherings. This was a very special all-day event and many thanks to Dan Claxton and Tsawout Band and Health Council.

Event 12: Oct 18th – The Pauquachin First Nation and Uvic partnered again for a day of feasting and sharing. Over 80 people spent the day learning how to do a pit cook, drinking teas, cooking and playing together. Uvic Grad student Abe Llyod coordinated the pit cook and shared his passion for teaching and for traditional cooking methods with the community members. We feasting on canned salmon donated by Lucia Bartleman and fish head soup for lunch. For dinner we had crab, fish heads and the food from the pit. The pit was filled with root vegetables, fish heads and seasoned deer meat. The seasoned deer meat was gifted and prepared by Bev Williams. The Elders shared and feasting with the children of Pauquachin.

Event 13: November 5th Feedback and Visioning Feast – Over 25 community leaders and champions joined together to reflect on the year and plan for the upcoming years events. The Urban HEAL champion Carrie Pollard cooked for us all day. Our bellies and souls were full of her good medicine. Elder Shirley Alphonse opened and closed the day with a inspiring and movitating prayers. The people voiced their desire for continued feasts in each community with a youth focus. They are hoping for more events that link the youths to their elders. The vision for a youth/elder camp was one big wish.

Event 14: Nov 20th Urban Feast – Victoria Native Friendship Centre joined forces to celebrate the births of all the new babies in the community and to Feast. This was a huge success, over 300 people from newborns to Elders were in attendance. The babies were welcomed into the community and then an offering of crab, fish chowder, deer stew, bread, berry salad and fruit salad was shared. All programs and services offered from the Centre we around the room and there to answer questions and share services. Many thanks to Carrie Pollard and Leslie McGarry.

The expected outcomes of this project are many, below are the main ones:

Ø Increased Community Capacity Building
Ø Knowledge Translation from Elders to Youth, and between Communities.
Ø Cultural Pride and Enhanced Self Esteem
Ø Sustained Energy, Ideas and Knowledge to propel further projects.
Ø Linking communities.

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