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Feasting for Change

Feasting for Change: Reconnecting with food, land and culture

About this story

Generations ago, when visitors arrived in the territory of the Coast Salish People, they were welcomed with food, ceremony and generosity, which are deeply rooted in the Coast Salish culture. Since May 2007, First Nation communities across southern Vancouver Island have sought to revive their traditional food practices through Feasting for Change activities, which have included a traditional salmon barbecue, pit cooking, berry picking, cleaning fish and crab, plant walks, making tea and so much more.

The Feasting for Change project is supported by the a strong working group, VIHA Aboriginal Health Nutritionists, Horner Foundation and Vancity. It started with a feast in the T’Sou-ke First Nation, to which representatives from each First Nation in southern Vancouver Island were invited. They shared a meal of crab, halibut, salmon and other traditional foods made using traditional methods, and spoke both about the loss of their food and the importance of food to their traditions.

As their individual memories grew into a collective community memory, the elders asked, “How can we bring this back?” They wanted to bring similar feasts to each First Nation in the area, to inspire people to share their knowledge and advocate for their food. The feasts serve as a platform to support an open discussion of community issues and the sharing of traditional knowledge between elders and youth. They offer rural and urban First Nation communities the chance to experience a meal created collaboratively, with activities that link youth and elders and highlight the knowledge keepers.

Fiona Devereaux, a Feasting for Change collaborator, has spent years learning about First Nation culture of the area. On one of her visits, an elder opened his door and pointed past the fields to the bay in front of his house. “You see this?” he said. “When I was growing up, this was my grocery store.” He told a passionate story of a time before diabetes, when a healthy lifestyle was woven into the fabric of everyday life. He spoke of the challenges of getting his food today due to contamination, over-harvesting, lack of access and lack of knowledge among young people about how to harvest.

“As organizers, what we do essentially is set the table and the community takes over,” Fiona says. “There is so much knowledge and stories in the communities. Many people just need a venue to share this with their community. And the youth are just as excited to learn how to pick berries, harvest seafood, build a pit, barbeque salmon and celebrate their families, culture and foods.”

Hawk, a member of the Nanoose Nation and co-organizer of the Snaw-naw-as Feast, expresses a reaction shared by many youth, “It makes me want to have my own garden, growing your own food instead of buying it from a store. Like peas—I didn't think I liked peas because I only had the ones from the store, but I love the ones from the garden.”

Other First Nation community members have said:

"It was so nice to have the families and friends together and having good times around our food."

“Only about two of my friends eat seafood … but that day, all of them were eating seafood—it was so great to see!"

"People don't really get together a lot anymore as a community but everyone was together that day."

“This is the first time I have tried these foods or seen food cooked in the ground.”

“I feel proud about how the old people used to do things.”

“I miss these foods; it is so nice to have them; my body always feels better when I eat them.”

One of the goals of the Feasting for Change movement is to model ancestral First Nations stewardship to ensure food resources that nourish bodies and revitalize spirits are sustainable. But other outcomes are also being realized, as Stewart Anderson, Vancity’s Manager, Aboriginal Banking, explains, “Healthier communities create a foundation for other opportunities to surface, such as community-based business ventures that create employment and leverage the skills and assets created through the process. Look at the number of tables that have been set, the knowledge that continues to be shared, and how eager the youth are to learn to cook delicious, old-style food. There’s a new optimism developing in First Nation communities on southern Vancouver Island, and this is a great example of how Vancity supports redefining wealth in our communities.”

Vancity, the BC Healthy Living Alliance and others, have created the Knowledge Basket, a two-disc DVD set that includes tools and resources that have been useful for communities hosting their own Feasting for Change events. Money raised from the sale of these sets will help in continuing these community feasting events. To order a copy of the Knowledge Basket DVD, phone the Aboriginal Health Department at 250.370.8914.