NWIC conference brings together tribal food sovereignty leaders

From left, Miguel Hernandez, JB Williams and Shin-Gee Dunston hold bowls of vegetables that were cooked in a pit oven at the Our Food Is Our Medicine conference, held in early September on Bainbridge Island.
From left, Miguel Hernandez, JB Williams and Shin-Gee Dunston hold bowls of vegetables that were cooked in a pit oven at the Our Food Is Our Medicine conference, held in early September on Bainbridge Island.
In early September, more than 130 tribal food sovereignty leaders and learners gathered to share stories of community programs that have helped regional tribal members return to more traditional, healthier diets, and to share traditional food and cooking methods.

The gathering, called the Our Food is Our Medicine: Revitalizing Native Food Traditions Conference, was organized by Northwest Indian College’s (NWIC) Institute of Indigenous Foods & Traditions and held on Bainbridge Island. The three-day conference attracted people from as far as Minnesota, Alaska and California, said Meghan McCormick, coordinator of the Institute, which is part of NWIC’s Cooperative Extension Department.   

“We were honored to have so many people who are passionate about food and community in one place,” McCormick said. “It was a great opportunity for people to connect, learn, explore and grow. A lot of people talk about the way things used to be and this was a way to show that people are still using traditional knowledge to prepare food and for them to share their traditional knowledge. There were a lot of knowledge keepers at the conference who shared what they know about particular plants, for instance.”

In addition to keynote speakers from the Alaskan Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Vancouver Island & Coastal Communities Indigenous Food Network, the conference included plant walks, medicine making, interactive workshops (such as big leaf maple tapping and processing a deer) and traditional cooking demonstrations.

“The traditional cooking demonstrations were definitely a highlight for many people,” McCormick said. “We roasted veggies in a pit oven, cooked salmon and clams over an open fire and had a deer dressed and butchered by a group of Muckleshoot hunters. I heard people all day raving about the venison stew, it was delicious. All the meals featured traditional food sources in the region.”

McCormick said she was happy about the turnout at the conference and that another is in the works for next year; it will be more focused on food sovereignty and policy than this year’s was.

For information about the conference or NWIC’s Institute of Indigenous Foods & Traditions, contact McCormick at (360) 594-4099 or mmccormick@nwic.edu.