Native Food

Tth'igho Baba (Real Food)

Setting net on the Yukon River
Setting net on the Yukon River
Dry fish and half-dry, dry and fry meat; duck soup and moose head soup; fireweed, wild potato, wild rhubarb, salmonberries, blueberries and cranberries.  All of these and more are, in the Minto language, tth'igho baba: real food. In Koyukon it is tl'eegho baabe and in Gwich'in, dinjii zhuh shih (literally Indian food). 
 
For Alaska Natives, both urban and village, real food (or Native food, in the Western vernacular) is a vital thread running through the warp of daily life. In Interior Alaska, people depend on salmon, whitefish and pike, moose, caribou, sometimes sheep and bear, muskrat, beaver, porcupine, and all kinds of waterfowl,  including Canada geese, speckle bellies, black ducks (scoters), and mallards. Wild greens, like wild rhubarb and fireweed, are picked in late spring and early summer; later in the summer and early fall, women and children head out to favorite berry patches for salmonberries, blueberries and cranberries. 
 
Koby Joe of Tanacross loves dry fish
Koby Joe of Tanacross loves dry fish

People's lives are mostly centered on the seasonal activities of spring waterfowl hunting, fish camp, berry picking and moose hunting. Midsummer evenings in the river villages are quiet, marked only by the distant buzz of boat motors as people head out to fish camp or to set nets. In the mornings, the air is rich with wood smoke wafting from the numerous smokehouses where salmon strips hang to dry. By late August and early September men are out hunting and women are busy cutting, drying and freezing meat for the coming months.

Subsistence, the term most often used to describe Native food systems, does not adequately convey the essence of Native food harvest. As it is most commonly defined, subsistence means merely meeting the minimum dietary requirements – i.e., getting by. The term fails to capture the richness, variety and social and cultural value of Native food.
 
Healthy, nutritious and tasty, these foods satisfy not only dietary needs, but social and cultural ones as well. Consumption of these foods is more than just abating hunger. It grounds people within their family, their community and their culture. The process of obtaining, caring for and preserving wild food reinforces and reaffirms people’s relationships to each other, to their community and to the natural resources upon which they depend.

 
 
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