First Foods celebration set for June 3 at plankhouse

05.31.2017 Brent Merrill Culture, People, Events

If you go

First Foods celebration

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 3

Where: achaf-hammi Tribal plankhouse adjacent to Uyxat Powwow Grounds off Hebo Road

More information: Francene Ambrose at 503-879-3663 or

The evolution of the Tribal Culture Committee’s annual First Foods celebration continues this year with a gathering component being added to the events schedule.

The theme for this year is a celebration of Tribal foods from pre-contact to post-Reservation.

“The best way for us to learn is to be active and doing it,” Tribal member and Culture Committee Chairperson Francene Ambrose said from her office at the Tribal Food Bank, iskam mfkHmfk haws. “We want it to become living, breathing again and part of everyday activities.”

This year’s First Foods event will be held at achaf-hammi, the Tribal plankhouse, adjacent to Uyxat Powwow Grounds off of Hebo Road.

Ambrose said the event will begin at 10 a.m. with a traditional welcoming and guest speakers who will be talking about cultural practices around traditional foods.

“We’re going to open up a microphone for people to share stories,” Ambrose said. “We want people to share things that they’ve done. Then we will talk about where we want First Foods to go in the future. We want more gathering opportunities.”

After the meal, which is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m., Ambrose, Culture Committee members and interested Tribal and community members will gather camas lilies.

“Every year we’re going to try to add something new to First Foods so this year we are adding a gathering activity,” Ambrose said. “We won’t just be eating the food and learning about it, but actually going out and identifying it.”

Ambrose said the ideal event is one where families feel comfortable coming together and talking about their culture and the role traditional and available foods play in that culture.

“We want to keep those stories, memories alive,” Ambrose said. “We are trying to keep First Foods an event where multi-generations can come together and talk about how they gathered. We want those stories to come out so we can talk about how we interacted with food, how we came together, when we did it and why we did it. We want to start building on the practices and bringing back ceremony.”

Tribal Council member Chris Mercier said he remembers the first time he attended a First Foods event in Grand Ronde and the results were interesting.

“That was my first time trying sea anemone,” Mercier said in an email interview from Guatamala. “Which was OK. I just remember chewing on a lot of sand.”

Mercier said the First Foods celebration is one of several events that Tribal members can participate in as a way of keeping Tribal culture alive.

“I think honoring First Foods is important because as we’ve began reviving many of the Tribe’s cultural practices, like basket weaving and hide tanning and drum making, it would seem food got lost in the shuffle,” Mercier said. “But diet was everything. In fact, a lot of Native health issues are directly related to our abandoning our traditional diets.”

Ambrose said the event is about strengthening the community as a whole and bringing people closer together in a shared activity.

“This is a way for the community to come together and celebrate these foods that we survived on when we were terminated and you had to forage whatever you could get at the time,” Ambrose said. “We were surviving. However we did it. There is that community aspect that we want to keep going. We’re using it as a community builder for people to come together.”

Mercier said he has used the last two annual events as a way to learn about what it took for Tribal members to survive during difficult times.

“Our people showed a lot of ingenuity by surviving off of things that we wouldn’t normally think of eating like acorns or nettle or camas or lamprey,” Mercier said. “There had to have been a lot of trial and error when our ancestors were mastering the traditional foods. The fact that people are relearning shows that the tradition never died, it simply fell out of use, but now folks have a reason to keep it going.”

Ambrose said the Culture Committee looks at events like First Foods as a recruitment opportunity.

“From the Culture Committee standpoint, we’re trying to use it as a jumping off point to get people curious and interested in culture,” Ambrose said.

Ambrose said Ceremonial Hunting Board member Jade Unger and Cultural Resources Department staff member Jordan Mercier will be smoking salmon for the gathering and speakers will talk about the importance of traditional foods like camas, huckleberries, bear, rabbit, venison and dried meats.

Ambrose said she hopes Tribal Elder Margaret Provost will attend and talk about her experiences as a child gathering flounder at the Oregon Coast.

“We’re trying to keep First Foods a place where that interaction happens,” Ambrose said.