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.