When Jozi Child shares a jar of t’lina with a new friend, she is sharing a sacred gift. The coveted condiment is a rare delicacy in Kwakiutl culture, rendered from the oil of the eulachon fish and considered a symbol of cultural wealth.
“T’lina is definitely the most treasured food,” said Child. “It’s hard to come by. If you get it at a potlatch or feast you know you’re getting a really good gift.”
Sharing traditional food is more than just nourishment. It’s a vital means to build community, connecting individuals to the land and to each other. NIC’s Indigenous and International Foods Project is making this connection.
“Over the past year, interest in food security has increased considerably in our region,” says NIC instructor and project co-coordinator, Caitlin Hartnett. “Our goal was to begin to plant the seed of sustainable solutions by educating our community about our own position with food security, and the position of those around the world.”
With this in mind, Hartnett and colleague Leslie Dyck gathered Diane Bell, Kwakiutl elder; Julia Falla-Wood, international mentor; Joshua Terry, former NIC student; and Jozi Child, youth liaison for the Kwakiutl Band Awinakola Project to share food and knowledge across cultures.
Participants met weekly, sharing food while discussing ways to build intercultural intelligence. They researched international food systems, discussed global citizenship, equity, and social justice, and analyzed how these factors interconnect with themes of food security, locally and globally.
They then invited the community to share in a multi-cultural feast that included traditional Chilean, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine prepared by NIC ESL students, alongside Kwakiutl foods prepared by the project group and generous volunteers at U’Gwamalis Hall in T’saxis, Fort Rupert.
Joshua Terry grew up in the North Island, but didn’t have a clear understanding of local Indigenous food systems until he took part in this project. He was both nervous and excited to learn about traditional Kwakiutl food preparation as he had previously relied heavily on the grocery store for food.
“I was really excited to have the opportunity to learn in an environment that feels so safe,” he said. “I had been hesitant to ask questions because of cultural sensitivities. Being invited to be part of this project felt like a trust extended.”
Child and Terry learned how to prepare clam fritters made from clams that participants dug, shucked and prepared themselves under the guidance of Kwakiutl elder, Rupert Wilson Sr. This was a highlight for Child.
“It’s something that I’d wanted to do for so long that I had a hard time sleeping the night before,” she said. “The time flew by. It was really nice doing it with Rupert, especially once he started telling us his stories.”
Without the knowledge base to identify, harvest and prepare local foods, Indigenous food systems risk being supplanted by generic food production, with dire consequences such as chronic disease, obesity, and depression. Indigenous Kwakiutl foods, such as barbecue salmon (known regionally as t’lubakw), is a nutritious, easy to prepare, abundant food source.
“If we ever got cut off from the grocery stores that is what I’d be cooking every night for my family,” said Child. “It’s so easy.”
NIC’s Indigenous and International Foods Project was funded by NIC’s Department of Aboriginal Education, and NIC’s Global Learning Innovation Fund which provides up to $5,000 per project to foster awareness of global issues. Child and Terry created a digital story to highlight what they learned through the project, available at international.nic.bc.ca/connectglobally/projects/food.