As leaves start to yellow and nights fall earlier, the Stellat’en First Nation is celebrating harvest season with natural bounty from the local river and land.
From Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, the Stellat’en First Nation’s Salmon Fest accompanies the annual salmon run with a demonstration of traditional fish preservation methods, craft workshops, and feasts of locally sourced foods.
Open to all aboriginals and non-aboriginals of the area, the three-day Salmon Fest features not only salmon fished from the Stellaquo River, but also fresh vegetables harvested from Stellat’en’s community garden, said Juanita Heron, a coordinator of the festival.
“It’s the freshest meal of the year,” Heron said. “Everything is fresh out of the garden and river.”
After an opening ceremony in the morning of Aug. 30, community members gather at the community smokehouse, built in 2013, to prepare salmon together. First hung for 24 hours, each fish is then filleted on angled cutting boards and then half-smoked. Some salmon are also canned.
As elders impart traditional methods to younger members of the community, the event is an opportunity for cultural enrichment and participation grows each year, Heron explained. Five student employees assist with community garden and salmon preparation work during the summer.
“We try to use local knowledge from the community as much as possible,” she said. “We want our youth to learn how to smoke and prepare food.
“No one’s going to be around to teach them; for the elders that was the way of living.”
For Michelle Ossi, who graduated from high school this year, the work was not completely new, as she helped her grandparents in smoking fish and gardening in the past.
“I really like the idea of it ‘cause you know where it comes from; you’re not buying processed food,” Ossi said. “A lot of our friends don’t know what they should know, so I feel like our culture is lost.
“It’s good to learn as much as we can from our elders, so we can teach our kids and grandkids.”
Community fight against diabetes
Accompanying the salmon harvest of the year is fresh produce from the community garden, which first started eight years ago, said Cynthia Munger, Stellat’en’s community health representative and garden coordinator.
Began as small individual plots with funding from First Nations Health Authority, the initiative is now one communal garden and have flourished, with support from local garden guru Janet Romaine. Community members can assist whenever they can, and pick the fruits of their labour on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“Our goal is not have any diabetes or heart diseases,” Munger said. “It’s all organic; there’s no reason for using chemicals — everything grows so good here.”
Workshops are held to teach people how to use the produce.
“For a lot of the vegetables people don’t know what to do with them; they are new,” she added. “We make sure the moms and babies are taught; some of the things we do is make baby food with the vegetables.”
When Munger assumed her role shortly after the garden’s start, she noticed that diabetes and heart diseases have been growing in the community and returned to school to become a certified diabetes educator. “I just want the best for my community,” she said. “I grew up on the land here, and I try to teach what my grandmother taught me.”