Kayaaní Commission to host community potluck on Wednesday, May 30

The Kayaaní Commission, which is coordinated by Sitka Tribe of Alaska in partnership with other groups in Sitka, will host an open potluck from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30, at the Sheet’ká Kwáan Naa Kahidí community house. The public is invited to attend. Please bring a dish to share and a friend.

The Kayaaní Commission is a group of knowledgeable community members and tribal citizens who are concerned with preserving and protecting plants and the traditional ways they are used. It started meeting in 1997 after the USDA Forest Service created a “special forest products” category for non-timber products in the Alaska region that included many of the traditional plants gathered by Alaska Natives for food, medicine and other purposes.

The meetings provided a way for the tribe to share its knowledge and customary practices using these roots, berries, bark, fungi, and other plants with federal and state agencies, so the agencies are less likely to make regulations that prevent their harvest. The Kayaaní Commission also discusses ways to sustainably harvest these plants, so the remain a vital part of our landscape. These efforts are supported by the Forest Service, Sitka Native Education Program (SNEP), Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood (ANB/ANS), National Park Service, (NPS), Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center (SEAICC) and many other interested parties and individuals along the way.

For more information, please contact Tammy Young at 747-7167 or tammy.young@sitkatribe-nsn.gov.

• It’s time to … get outdoors and pick some berries

Blueberries (kanat'á)

Blueberries (kanat’á)

Huckleberries (tleikatánk)

Huckleberries (tleikatánk)

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Kayaaní Commission (aka, the Plants Commission) and your Sitka Local Foods Network (SLFN) remind Sitka residents that it’s time to get out in the woods and pick huckleberries (tleikatánk) and blueberries (kanat’á).

Huckleberries and blueberries are extremely healthy fruits that grow in the forests and openings that surround Sitka. They are a traditional food of the Tlingít and have become a traditional food for Sitka residents who depend on nature’s bounty to keep their families healthy. They can be used fresh on a salad, in jams and smoothies, berry desserts and many other dishes. And they store well in the freezer for a healthy winter snack.

When going berry picking, please keep the following in mind (summarized from the Kayaaní Commission Traditional Harvesting Guidelines):

  • Be Courteous — other families are picking berries too; never take more than you need. If you accidentally got too much, share it with someone that you know will use it.
  • Be Safe — be positive about your identification of edible plants. Check your field guide for details if you are unsure. And pick berries during daylight with friends; make plenty of noise to keep bears away.
  • Take Care of the Berries — wash your berries with clean water before eating them and watch for rot, mildew, and insects. For best results: rinse berries, spread on a baking sheet to freeze, once frozen, slide off the tray and freeze in bags until ready to use.
  • Pick Clean Berries — from off the major road systems and in areas where you know pesticides and other chemicals will not have reached the berry plants.
  • Take Care of the Plants — make sure that there are plenty of other plants in the area (at least 10) to assure future abundance. Whenever possible, harvest so that the existing plant can reseed or recover after you are done. Treat the plants with respect. In Alaska Native cultures, it is traditional to thank the plant for its gift and give an offering. Each individual should show respect to the plant spirits in their own way.

“We encourage people to get out and pick the ripe berries. By getting out and picking berries you’ll get fresh, healthy food, exercise, and quality time with family and friends,” said Kayaaní Commission Coordinator Heather Riggs and Sitka Local Foods Network Vice President Michelle Putz. “Encouraging berry-picking for personal consumption and for winter storage supports both our missions. The Kayaaní Commission’s mission is to preserve their spiritual way of life and to preserve and protect traditional ways of their ancestral knowledge. The Sitka Local Foods Network’s mission is to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans.”

While the kanat’á (blueberry) season is upon us, remember the plant is not finished offering its resources to the inhabitants of Sitka once the berries are gone. After the berries have completed their life cycle, the leaves from the plant can be utilized for its medicinal properties. Kanat’á leaves are high in antioxidants. These antioxidants can protect your body against heart disease and cancer. Making a tea from the leaves can help indigestion or a sore throat. Contact the Kayaaní Commission for more information on uses of native plants and methods of preparing plants.

More information about either group or local, traditionally harvested foods is available by calling Heather with the Kayaaní Commission at 747-7167 or Michelle with the Sitka Local Foods Network at 747-2708.

Please note that personal-use berry-picking is allowed on state and federal lands around Sitka, but any commercial-use berry-picking (money changes hands) requires a special permit, https://sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/2014/08/20/%E2%80%A2-tongass-national-forest-sitka-ranger-district-clarifies-rules-for-berry-picking-and-gathering-on-forest-lands/

• Kayaaní Commission Plant Gathering Guidelines

• 2003 Sitka Tribe of Alaska ordinance creating and defining the Kayaaní Commission

• Kayaaní Commission accepting letters of interest for commissioners.


Sitka Tribe of Alaska‘s Kayaaní Commission is accepting letters of interest to fill two open commissioner seats — a three-year term tribal citizen seat, and a one-year term general membership seat.

The Kayaaní Commission works to preserve and protect plants and the traditional ways they are used. It is a commission of knowledgeable tribal citizens, elders and knowledgeable Sitka residents who care for the preservation of traditional ways, protection of native species and their uses. The commission then shares that knowledge so it is not lost. A few years ago, the Kayaaní Commission published The Kayaaní Commission Ethnobotany Field Guide to Selective Plants in Sitka, Alaska, which details some of the food and medicinal uses of a variety of local plants.

For the open commission seats, the term “tribal citizen” shall mean any individual enrolled at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and the term “general membership” of the Kayaani Commission shall mean all tribal citizens and residents of Sitka who have resided here for at least six months. Deadline is close of business on Friday, March 28.

Please mail or hand deliver letters of interest to the STA’s Resource Protection Department, 456 Katlian Street, Sitka, AK 99835, Attention: Heather Riggs, or email letters to heather.riggs@sitkatribe-nsn.gov. For more information, please contact Heather @ 747-7167.

• Kayaaní Commission to meet on Thursday, March 24

The Kayaaní Commission is regrouping and it will hold an organizational meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 24, in the upstairs conference room at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska administration building, 456 Katlian St.

The Kayaaní Commission was created by an ordinance from the Sitka Tribe of Alaska as a way preserve and protect plants and the traditional ways they are used in Sitka. The group looks at medicinal, ceremonial and food uses of local plants.

To learn more, contact Leighanne McGough (747-7167 or leighanne.mcgough@sitkatribe-nsn.gov) or Kristin Rothblum (kristin.rothblum@sitkatribe-nsn.gov) at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska.

• Wealth of resources available to learn about traditional foods

A selection of traditional plant books that are in popular use in Southeast Alaska

A selection of traditional plant books that are in popular use in Southeast Alaska

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)
  • 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 renae.mathson@searhc.org.

Sealaska Heritage Institute Tlingít plant curriculum (Grades K-2)

Sealaska Heritage Institute Haida plant curriculum (Grades K-2)

UAF Cooperative Extension Service Native Plants of Alaska page on devil’s club

Nellie’s Recipes: An ANTHC (Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium) Traditional Food Cookbook for Assisted Living Homes

Alaska Traditional Food Resources (list from Eat Smart Alaska program run by Alaska Division of Public Health)

• Sitka film featured in Palmer’s “Local Harvest, Local Food” film festival, a Sitka café featured for using local food and other local foods news

Food Film Fest Poster-2

Join the Palmer Arts Council for its inaugural “Local Harvest, Local Food” film fest from Thursday, Nov. 19, through Sunday, Nov. 22, at the Strangebird Consulting Office in downtown Palmer. “Good Food” screens at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19; “Fresh” shows at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20; “Eating Alaska” by Sitka filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein screens at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21; and “Ingredients” shows at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22. After the Sunday showing there will be a discussion about women in agriculture with Cynthia Vignetti. Suggested donations are $10-15 for all films except for Sunday, which is free.

A Sitka restaurant, the Larkspur Café, was featured in Capital City Weekly last week. The article talks about the origins of the restaurant, which is located in the same building as KCAW-Raven Radio. It also discusses the restaurant’s use of local foods, including owners Amelia Budd and Amy Kane purchasing produce from the Sitka Farmers Market during the summer.

In other local foods news from around the state, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently announced an expansion to the state’s subsistence halibut fishery to include more rural residents (this includes the Sitka area). The new rules, which take effect on Dec. 4, redefine who qualifies as a rural resident. The previous rules defined rural residents as people living in a rural community or people belonging to a Native tribe with customary and traditional uses of halibut, and the news rules try to catch subsistence halibut users who fell outside the previous definition. Click this link for more information about subsistence halibut regulations and applications.

The Daily Sitka Sentinel has been running a brief announcement from the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Kayaaní Commission, which is selling 2010 calendars, CDRoms and field guides about traditional uses of native plants. Here is the information:

Kayaaní Native Plant Publications Available: 2010 Kayaaní Harvest Calendars featuring native plants and their traditional and cultural uses ($16, $2 postage per address); Interactive Ethnobotanical CDRoms with native species, their Tlingít, scientific and common names, and interviews with Elders on the traditional and medicinal uses of plants ($15, $1 postage per address); Ethnobotanical Field Guides ($16, $1 postage per address). We will mail to the addresses of your choice. Order by Dec. 18 for guaranteed delivery before Christmas. Call or e-mail with your order: 907-747-7178, pbass@sitkatribe.org, STA Kayaaní Commission, 456 Katlian. All proceeds will assist the nonprofit Kayaaní Commission in protecting, perpetuating and preserving knowledge of native plants.

The Chilkat Valley News weekly newspaper from Haines featured an article about sixth-graders at Haines School learning how to compost their leftover food (including leftover meat) so it can be used for gardening. The school is working with the Takshanuk Watershed Council to teach the students about composting. The students call their compost project “Marvin” because it’s a living organism.

The Alaska Dispatch recently ran a feature called “Growing Season” that discusses some of the farms in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys that grow local food. The feature includes video clips of harvest time at a couple of the farms featured.

The Mat-Su Frontiersman had a feature called “Chicken U,” which is about raising chickens in Alaska and getting them to produce eggs during the winter months.

The Anchorage Daily News also mentioned Chicken University, which will be one of several presentations at the Alaska Farm Bureau annual meeting on Friday, Nov. 13, at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage. Other presentations are on growing apples in Alaska and preserving your harvest.

The Anchorage Daily News also had an article about how to get local produce in Anchorage during the winter, either through the Glacier Valley CSA produce boxes from Palmer or the indoor farmers market at the Northway Mall.

Anchorage Daily News garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels wrote a column about how hydroponic gardening is easier and cheaper than ever. The column includes lots of links for people who want to try this method of growing food without soil (by the way, there is a hydroponic garden at McMurdo Station in Antarctica that keeps the scientists there stocked in fresh produce in a land of ice).

Fran Durner’s “Talk Dirt To Me” blog on the Anchorage Daily News site includes a post about how snow can act as mulch for the garden.

The Ester Republic, a monthly publication for the community near Fairbanks, runs periodic articles about sustainability and local food security issues. Some of the articles are linked in the archives, and the editors are working to get more of the past articles on these topics online so more people can enjoy them.


• 2010 Kayaaní Commission calendars are available for sale


The 2010 Kayaaní Commission calendars are available from Sitka Tribe of Alaska for $16 each. These full-color calendars feature photos and information about many common edible and medicinal plants found in the Sitka area. Also available are copies of “The Kayaaní Commission Ethnobotany Field Guide to Selected Plants Found In Sitka, Alaska,” which cost $15 each. Proceeds from the sale of these two publications go to the Kayaaní Commission to help preserve traditional Tlingít plant knowledge.

The mission of the Kayaaní Commission is “to preserve our spiritual way of life. The religion of the Tlingít is the Earth. The Tlingít are one with the Earth. The Kayaaní Commission is here to preserve and protect traditional ways of our ancestral knowledge.” The Kayaaní Commission is sponsored by Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the Sitka National Historical Park.

Calendar and field guide purchases can be made at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska main building (456 Katlian St.) or the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resources Protection Dept. (429 Katlian St.), or by calling 907-747-7178 or e-mailing pbass@sitkatribe.org. Please make checks payable to the STA Kayaaní Commission.