Makah Teens Learn About All Aspects Of Traditional Foods

NEAH BAY (Sept. 10, 2004) — In tribal culture, the social aspects of food are as important as the food itself. “One of the most important things about potlatches and funerals is eating together,” said Polly McCarty, who taught Makah teens about traditional foods this summer.

The gathering process itself is another important part of the tradition. McCarty took 10 students on extended hikes throughout the tribe’s usual and accustomed gathering areas to collect traditional foods. “The mussels are bigger in one area or more abundant in another,” said McCarty, a Makah tribal member who works at the Makah Cultural and Research Center (MCRC) “I wanted to show them all the different areas and the foods that are available right here.”

Students gathered octopi, mussels, gooseneck barnacles, razor clams and other foods from the tidal zone, then learned to prepare them at McCarty’s home. “They were all laughing and enjoying the food and that’s what it’s all about. They got to taste their own foods and know that it’s right here. They can get it any time they want,” said McCarty.

The Makah Cultural and Research Center (MCRC) paid for the program with a $19,000 grant from the First Nations Development Institute, a private foundation, as well as funds from MCRC. “Our goals were to teach sustainable, traditional food harvest practices; pass on traditional food preparation from the elders; and provide healthy snacks to the senior citizen food program and children’s dance group, ” said Janine Bowechop, director, of MCRC.

Some of the teens had never eaten much of the seafood and didn’t know how to collect it. “Teenagers aren’t known for their willingness to try new things,” McCarty said, laughing. “But these kids are really proud of being Makah and that makes them eager to try these foods. I trace some of that pride back to the successful whale hunt,” McCarty said.

The tribe has a treaty-reserved right to hunt gray whales. They harvested one gray whale in 1999 that was eaten by the whole village and thousands of guests. “It brought the whole community together. It helped kids feel real pride in being Makah,” said McCarty.

Andrew Crabtree, 17, eagerly soaked up the ways of gathering and preparing foods. “The program was excellent. It was great to see all the locations and eat the food,” he said. “Chiton (a mollusk) was interesting – really chewy,” said Kristena Sawyer, a college student who has participated in the summer youth programs for three years. “It’s been a great experience.”

McCarty hopes the students will regularly incorporate the foods into their diets. “Even adding a little bit of our traditional foods is better for their diet,” she said. “My aunt Hildred Ides always said our people would be healthier if we got back to our traditional diet.” She is gratified to hear that her students want to teach others the gathering skills. “As a teacher, you can’t ask for any better reward than their desire to pass on the knowledge.”

“Next year, we hope to expand the program to include more kids,” said Bowechop. “We also want to focus on associated healthy activities, like paddling a canoe to a harvest location. Additionally, we want to look at the nutritional benefits of the foods they are gathering.”


For more information, contact: Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501