Lummi Elders help tackle community health questions

On Nov. 6, Northwest Indian College’s Lummi Traditional Plants & Foods program hosted a dinner and roundtable discussion called “Reclaiming our Local Food System, Back to the Basics.”

Program staff invited Elders from the Lummi community to discuss three questions: 
• What does feeding the people look like to you?
• What ways do you see families working together to feed the community?
• How do you want to be involved?

Below, Gail Julius, Lummi Tribal member and Traditional Plants & Foods program assistant, recounts the event’s outcomes.


The overarching goal of the Lummi Traditional Plants & Foods program is to create a healthy community and reclaim and own our own health. We want to help create a greater understanding of traditional plants and foods and teach community members how to use them, for both medicinal and preventative measures.

We recently held a roundtable discussion to further our program goals by seeking guidance from our community.

We invited key people to the gathering who we felt would have great knowledge of “back in the day” traditions: our beloved Elders. Bill James, Fran James, Ernestine Gensaw, Floyd and Ethyl Warbus, and Sharon Wolfe (Lummi Health Commissioner) were among those in attendance to share stories and ideas.

Not only did they talk about the questions introduced in the roundtable discussion sessions, but also about their concerns regarding this project. They fear the project will not move forward or that it will be put aside like they have seen happen many times in the past.

The passion they expressed about getting our community healthy again was heartfelt and genuine.

Also in attendance was: Ceserita Ballew (Lummi caterer) Althea Wilson, Kim Nunnenkamp, Annette Warbus, Cristie James (Traditional Plants & Food family), and Winona and Paul (NWIC students).

These ladies and gentleman shared their youthful energy and the passion they have to move the program’s goals forward and looked to the knowledge of our Elders to come up with creative ways to meet program goals.

Among the many ideas derived from the three questions, the ones that most stuck out were:
• Educate our community starting as young as Head Start age
• Teach our tribal cooks, caterers, and funeral cooks about traditional foods
• Hold cooking classes on preservation of food and when to gather (4 seasons)
• Hold traditional skill building classes (hunting, fishing, clam digging, diving)
• Create gardens
• Invite elders to more home gatherings
• Share food recipes with other individuals and other communities
• Work together as a whole and not as individuals
• Educate our community on local hunger issues

On the question of “How do you want to be involved,” the responses were simple and to the point:
• Be a part of the planning process
• Learn objectives to help educate others
• Learn from elders
• Assist with community gardens or be a part of the Gleaning Project
• Assist with community gatherings and dinners
• Work with health services to minimize diabetes and other health elements through natural foods

The night was filled with an abundance of knowledge and ideas. We thoroughly enjoyed listening and absorbing what was shared with us, and we look forward to meeting again during our many future gatherings.

In addition, we would like to invite YOU, Lummi community, to come and share in this movement to change the lives within our families, friendships and community. Come share your stories, ideas and your passion.

We are excited for this project to take form, and equally as excited to work with all of you to move this work to the next level. With your help we can give our community more opportunities to make lifestyle interventions, relearn our local food system, reclaim our culture through plants and foods, and get back to the basics.

Please do not hesitate to contact me or Vanessa Cooper, Lummi Traditional Plants & Foods program coordinator, if you want to know more about how you can get involved, or if you want more information on the healthy goals we have in store for Lummi. We look forward to hearing from you.
Vanessa Cooper can be reached at or (360) 392-4343. I can be reached at or (360) 595-4396.

Many hy’shqes friends and family,

Gail Julius