A lesson on food CRT

Growing up Tlingit in Ketchikan and Saxman, Alaska, I related to what the Elders were saying the other day about the importance of food as a means of acknowledging others. Food enhances the spirit as well as nourishes the body. Whether it be gumboots, abalone, black cod, berries, or seaweed, the gathering, preparing, and presenting of food is a meaningful experience, because, within the context of a potlatch, it is where traditions and wisdom are transmitted to the younger generation. Everyone is attentive during and following meals as Elders speak. Moreover, we must be thoughtful to respect the animal and plant life that nourishes Alaska Native culture, in which every being and living object of the sea and forest is acknowledge as possessing a spirit. We honor the intelligence of those who proclaimed the trees as “the lungs of the earth” from time immemorial. We are conscientious of our words, recognizing that they have the power to affect Nature. I loved the story told of the hunter who told the bear, “Go the other way. We are hunting for our food, too.”

We must choose wisely how and where we harvest our resources, being thankful, saying prayers of thanks to our Creator, for the abundance we receive. Everything requires respect, otherwise there are consequences. These are valuable lessons that we all must learn, not just school age children. As one elder put it, there is always room for learning. Traditionally, clans honored each other by the offering of food, and we can similarly honor each other by sharing out of our abundance.

5 thoughts on “A lesson on food CRT”

  1. Thank you for that beautiful reflection, Jerry. Now I know why Angie wanted us to read it!

    One of the most profoundly disturbing things I have heard people say in Tlingit country was an almost offhand comment that the Elder David made about how the noise of motorboats and recreational watercraft has destroyed one of the local salmon runs. I am of course okay with (to use your words) “wise” and “respectful” modifications of the natural world, but to destroy the fishes’ lives and also distort the diet and practices of the indigenous people so that (I’m about to be prejudicial) a bunch of spoiled rich people can have a party on the water really revolts me. I am similarly revolted by the systemic injustice faced year after year by Yup’ik villages on the Kuskokuim. It is my opinion that the river should not be open to commercial fishing or recreational fishing until every family on the Kuskokuim has caught what they want.

    Before I came up here, I happened to be in a local supermarket in Pennsylvania with my fiancee. She saw the salmon that they had, and that they wanted $27/lb for, and said, “wow, that is such a low grade of salmon, you would have a hard time getting $3/lb for it in Alaska.” Obviously the price is influenced by scarcity, but in my opinion, it is better to not be able to get salmon on the East Coast at all if the alternative is that rich people can eat salmon in the East and people who have lived here all their lives and whose families have lived here for millenia cannot get it. I think in the minds of some white settlers, if they wrote up pieces of paper with ink on them in the right way, theft could be justified. But, as God sees and knows, it was still theft. The pieces of paper were false justifications to salve the consciences of the conquerors. As I think many of us know anecdotally, there are many things in the world that courts find “legal” which are neither right nor just.

  2. Thanks for your words, Jerry. So many lessons to learn- and to be reminded of. What you speak of, and take from the Elders we listened to, regarding fishing, eating, the ‘bear story’,.. they all spoke to me. But these are things that I wasn’t necessarily taught in stories or by many Elders. And I know many kids that I was friends with growing up that were not taught to respect the food and environment around them– and to listen to the environment around them.

    These lessons need to be heard and felt by so many people in Alaska- and elsewhere. I am so happy to hear them from these Elders and be reminded of the importance of listening to our Elders and learning from their ways.

  3. This is relatable to my lesson that I posted here in the blogs. Food is important and perhaps the most drastic representation of cultures world wide. Access to food is even more important.

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