Living in Southeast Alaska, Sitka residents are exposed to a wealth of traditional foods that grow in our forests or can be found along our beaches. But many Sitka residents aren’t familiar with which plants are safe to eat, and which plants they should avoid. They also aren’t familiar with when are the prime times to gather certain plants.
In recent years, several books have been published to help teach people more about traditional plants and how they can be used. There also have been other groups, such as the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Kayaaní Commission, the Sealaska Heritage Institute and the Alaska Native Knowledge Network, that have posted traditional plant information online, including complete curriculum outlines for teachers to use in their classrooms.
Some of the more popular books used in Sitka (many of these can be found at Old Harbor Books) include:
- Wild Edible & Medicinal Plants: Alaska, Canada & Pacific Northwest Rainforest: An Introductory Pocket Trail Guide (Volumes 1 and 2) by Carol R. Biggs
- Wild Edible and Poisonous Plants of Alaska by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service (FNH-00028)
- Traditional Food Guide for Alaska Native Cancer Survivors by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Cancer Program
- Common Edible Seaweeds in the Gulf of Alaska by Dolly Garza of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Sea Grant Program
- Collecting and Using Alaska’s Wild Berries and Other Wild Products by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service (FNH-00120)
In addition to these books, the Sealaska Heritage Institute has created curriculum resources using the Tlingít and Haida languages that are built around using traditional foods (links on language names go to Grades K-2 versions, but upper-lever courses available on main curriculum link). Examples of the Tlingít and Haida Grade K-2 courses for Plants are linked below as PDF documents, but there also are separate courses for beach greens, berries, cedar trees, hemlock trees, spruce trees, herring, hooligan, salmon, sea mammals, as well as for other cultural knowledge such as canoes, totem poles and Elizabeth Peratrovich.
The Alaska Native Knowledge Network also some curriculum resources posted online for Tlingít, Haida and Tsimshian culture, including some by Sitka teacher Pauline Duncan. The Alaska Native Plant Society has some information on traditional plant use, but the group is geared more toward the Anchorage area. The Alaska Natural History Program publishes an online Alaska Rare Plant Field Guide. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service has online and printed guides available on plant identification, berries and berry use, and even has online tutorials about how to home can jams and jellies.
On a related note, the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Diabetes Program will be turning its focus to traditional living classes for 2011. The program will focus on traditional foods and activities to teach its Native patients and other community members how to prevent and manage their diabetes (the SEARHC Diabetes Program operates throughout Southeast Alaska, not just in Sitka). The SEARHC Diabetes Program is looking for resident experts in traditional living (fishing, hunting, gathering, preparation, storage, gardening, etc.) who can help teach these skills to others. The program also wants to learn what types of classes people want to see offered in their communities. For more information, contact SEARHC Health Educator Renae Mathson at 966-8797 or firstname.lastname@example.org.