First Foods celebrated
By Ron Karten
Smoke Signals staff writer
Aiden Allen Archer Bly, 5, and Alexander Michael Bly, 6, both Tribal descendants and great-grandchildren of Culture Committee Vice Chairwoman Betty Bly, were among the first of children at this year’s First Foods Celebration to immerse themselves with crayons into the fun-for-kids part of the celebration.
“This is the best coloring ever,” said Alexander Michael.
“This is the best, best, best, best coloring ever,” said Aiden Allen Archer.
Others were busy in the Tribal Community Center with Tribal member and Cultural Education Specialist Brian Krehbiel and Chucky Fryberg (Tulalip) in creating designs with pencils and markers on cedar “clappers.”
Still others learned how to mash acorns in a stone pestle with the help of traditional Native crafts expert Margaret Mathewson, who also was a big help to the Cultural Resources Department on the subject of traditional baskets for the current Native women exhibit at Willamette Heritage Center at The Mill in Salem.
With more than 50 attending – from less than a year of age to older than 95 – the event was a family affair for many, including Tribal member Reina Nelson, who came with sons Peter, 17, and Richard, 24.
“Traditionally, it’s important to show respect and honor our relatives,” said Tribal member and Culture Committee member Perri McDaniel, by which she meant, “the salmon, the clams, oysters, elk and deer as well as all the berries and other sacred foods that have nourished our people for centuries – since time began. I was always told that if we fail to honor and respect our sacred foods that they will disappear.”
The event’s main course came with the help of many, in and out of the Culture Committee that sponsored the event.
Betty Bly “did a whole lot of cooking,” she said, including the preparation of salmon, sautéed oysters and mushrooms, crab cakes, the venison made as stew and as pieces on the side that came from the Natural Resources store of ceremonial foods. And at the end of the event, she passed out plastic bags filled with camas seeds.
Betty’s grandson, Zachary, a Tribal member, made a vegetable salad. Tribal Elder Claudia Leno prepared fry bread with assistance from Tribal Elder Regina Wheeler.
Tribal Elder and Culture Committee Secretary Linda Brandon made blackberry cobbler for dessert and McDaniel prepared the wild rice. In addition, Mathewson prepared a traditional acorn mash with huckleberries for dessert. There was salmon, clam chowder and, on every table, bowls of nuts and dried berries.
Although fry bread is not a traditional Native first food, it came into being, said McDaniel, “when they started giving out commodities, like mass quantities of flour and lard. It wasn’t the most nutritious, but our ancestors were innovative enough to come up with a way to make good use of it, and it sustained our ancestors during those hard times. We have to remember those times, too.”
Tribal member Kevin Simmons honored those “keeping these things alive, working tirelessly to maintain these practices in our community. These things don’t come easy. These foods are gifts from the creator.”
Simmons and Tribal member Marcus Gibbons each expressed the honor they felt at being asked to pray before the group, and each introduced themselves in terms of their ancestors, as is the traditional practice.
Tribal spouse Vernon Kennedy (Burns Paiute) said he came to “eat some Native foods with the people here,” and sang for the group at the end of the meal. Tribal Elder Charlie Haller, who was on hand with his wife, Pat, “came out to try some of the traditional foods.”
“Very good food,” said Tribal Elder Bob Duncan. “The young people who missed this missed a lot.”
“It’s vital we acknowledge and bless these first foods of the season,” said Reina Nelson.
“I tried everything,” said Tribal Elder Louise Medeiros. “I cleaned my plate and I am very full.”