• Pauline Duncan wins Table of the Day at third Sitka Farmers Market of 2012

TABLE OF THE DAY: Sitka Local Foods Network volunteer Mandy Griffith, far left, volunteer Jonathan Ocampo, second from right, and Sitka Local Foods Network board member Maybelle Filler, right, present the Table of the Day Award to Pauline Duncan for the third Sitka Farmers Market of the season, on Aug. 4, 2012, at ANB Hall. Pauline sold packaged seaweed and her Tlingít recipe cookbooks at the market. The Sitka Local Foods Network board selects a Table of the Day winner from the vendors at each Sitka Farmers Market of the season, and the winners receive prizes such as a fifth-anniversary market tote bag and check.

The next Sitka Farmers Market is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18, at ANB Hall. The Sitka Local Foods Network is seeking volunteers to help set up tables and tents before the market starts, and to tear down and pack up the market after it ends. We need volunteers for all of the remaining markets (Aug. 18, Sept. 1 and 15). If you have a strong back and helping hands, please contact Johanna Willingham at 738-8336 for more details. For more information about the Sitka Local Foods Network and the Sitka Farmers Market, go to http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/

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• 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 subsistence herring egg harvest in progress

Michael Baines prepares hemlock trees and branches before they are placed in the water to catch herring spawn (Photo taken by Ed Ronco of KCAW-Raven Radio)

Michael Baines prepares hemlock trees and branches before they are placed in the water to catch herring spawn (Photo taken by Ed Ronco of KCAW-Raven Radio)

If it’s snowing in April, it probably means it’s time for the subsistence herring egg harvest in Sitka. This is one of the most important signs of spring in Sitka, especially for the Tlingít, Haida and Tsimshian people who lived in Southeast Alaska long before the first Europeans showed up.

On the KCAW-Raven Radio news Tuesday, KCAW reporter Ed Ronco reported on a trip he took with Sitka Tribe of Alaska Vice Chairman Michael Baines and his sister, Betty Baines, to place hemlock trees and branches into Sitka Sound, near Kasiana Island, to collect the herring spawn. The story link includes an audio postcard, where Michael Baines discusses the herring roe’s importance to the Native culture, and a few photos of the hemlock branches and trees being prepared. The herring eggs will collect on the branches, which will be pulled from the water a few days later, hopefully with a thick mass of roe. (Editor’s note: On Friday there was a follow-up story featuring the fishing vessel Julia Kae, skippered by Steve Demmert, which has been distributing herring eggs to local residents of Sitka and surrounding communities.)

The herring harvest is an amazing time in Sitka, because it seems like every species comes to town for the herring. There are more whales, eagles, sea gulls, sea lions, etc., around town, and even halibut and salmon are looking for meals of herring eggs. Pauline Duncan produced this Tlingít curriculum about herring geared toward younger students for the Alaska Native Knowledge Network. The blog Kiksadi News by Heen Kweix’ (Bob Gamble) tells how subsistence herring eggs are harvested and prepared (scroll down to the second item).

There also is a large commercial harvest of herring just before the subsistence herring roe harvest. The commercial harvest this year had a record guideline harvest of 18,293 tons, and finished just 550 tons short of that goal. The growing commercial harvest has put a lot of pressure on the relatively small subsistence harvest, in 2005 only 72,000 pounds (not tons) were taken out of a target range of 105,000 to 158,000 pounds. Sitka Tribe of Alaska regularly submits proposals to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (which manages both the commercial and subsistence fisheries) to increase the subsistence harvest, but the proposals have not been passed. The subsistence herring eggs are used not just in Sitka, but all over the state and they are a popular trading subsistence food (for example, a Tlingít in Sitka might swap herring eggs with an Iñupiat for caribou meat from the Kotzebue area, since caribou is an item not found in Southeast Alaska).