Published on March 16th, 2013 | by Rhonda Winter1
Food Activist Valerie Segrest Helps Transform Chehalis Oakville Community
Muckleshoot Tribe member and author, Valerie Segrest, was the keynote speaker at an educational event hosted by the Chehalis Tribe and Oakville High School this week. Segrest has been working to promote food sovereignty, the use of traditional foods, plant medicines and better nutrition, to help create a more sustainable and culturally appropriate local food system. She explained that what we eat is not just a commodity, but that we must value where our food comes from, and that plants can become our greatest teachers.
Ms. Segrest gave an engrossing presentation about the cultural and health issues linked to harvesting and preparing different native wild foods, including the significance of camas, hazelnuts, nettle and salmonberries. She explained that the traditional methods of harvesting camas help the flowers to flourish, while also better aerating the soil, and also described the way her ancestors constructed a natural pit oven for cooking.
Segrest highlighted the many nutritional properties contained in traditional foods; consuming them may actually help prevent diabetes, obesity and other diet related diseases. The Muckleshoot nutritionist told us that through her experiences working with elders suffering from chronic health issues, she discovered that as these traditional foods have been lost, not only does the culture suffer, but so does the health of the people:
“150 years ago there were no reported cases of diabetes in our tribal communities…I am interested in building relationships with food. What we eat and choose to eat are linked with our values and our culture.”
Valerie’s genuine enthusiasm was apparent as she spoke. She stressed the importance of teaching interconnectedness in our oral traditions, and that is was possible to live a life of generosity, love and abundance, like the salmon. At the gathering I learned a great deal of useful and surprising information, met many of my neighbors, and came away with an increased respect for native Northwest culture, as well as a renewed appreciation for the seasonal abundance that surrounds us all.
Several volunteers helped to prepare medicinal nettle and mint tea for everyone to drink, and we were all also given packets of the delicious dried tea mixture to take home.
The Chehalis Tribe Community Transformation Coalition helped organize the free event, which attracted several dozen people from the neighborhood. A freshly cook healthy dinner was provided for all, as was access to blood sugar level tests, income tax and financial advice, and the opportunity to register to donate blood at the next local drive on April 11th.
In addition to Ms. Segrest, the assembled crowd also heard from several of the tribal elders and neighbors. Anita Hawkins shared her perspective on the many benefits of living in a community that is small enough to know each other, as well as tales of growing heirloom beans, and the joy that comes from gardening together:
“Community gardening is twice as good as gardening alone. Thinning carrots is much more fun when you have company.”