On May 1-2, 2013 the University of Washington’s American Indian Studies Department held a two-day symposium, The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ: Indigenous Ways of Knowing Cultural Food Practices and Ecological Knowledge, which brought together over 180 people to hear Northwest Coast Native leaders, elders, and scholars from the U.S. and Canada share their knowledge and expertise about tribal food sovereignty initiatives, food justice and security issues, traditional foods and health, global climate change’s impact on coastal indigenous food systems, treaties and reserved water rights, and treaty fishing rights and habitat protection.
The symposium was coordinated by American Indian Studies’ professors Charlotte Coté and Dian Million (also affiliated faculty of Canadian Studies), American Indian Studies’ Academic Councilor and Lecturer Elissa Washuta, and Ph.D. candidate in U.W.’s School of Public Health, Clarita Lefthand Begay. “We were very excited about the great response our event received,” said Coté, which she says, demonstrates the need for more events like this that bring together Native and non-Native people from the Northwest to discuss these important environmental and indigenous food sovereignty issues. She says, “We, Native people living in the Northwest, have maintained a sustainable way of life through a cultural, spiritual, and reciprocal relationship with their environment. Presently we face serious disruptions to this relationship from policies, environmental threats, and global climate change. Therefore, our traditional ecological knowledge is of paramount importance as we strive to sustain our cultural food practices and preserve this healthy relationship to the land, water, and all living things.”
The symposium coordinators plan to make this an annual event that honors U.W.’s future longhouse-style community building, Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (a Lushootseed word meaning Intellectual House), that will open its doors in 2014.
The event was co-sponsored by the Canadian Studies Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies thanks, in part, to Title VI grant funding from the Office of Postsecondary Education, International Education Program Services, U.S. Department of Education.