Many Elders and health providers from First Nations communities have shared their knowledge with me about traditional foods. I am repeatedly surprised by the flavour, nutritional value and health benefits of traditional foods. I tell my significant other, who is a member of the Kitselas First Nation, that his canned salmon is like “pure gold” because of how much work and care he puts into harvesting and processing the fish – not to mention how amazing it tastes!
Working as a dietitian, I have learned nutritional information about traditional foods that I didn’t know before. For example, seaweed is an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin C. Moose is rich in protein and B vitamins. Most wild game is higher in nutrients than livestock and food products made from livestock like bologna and wieners.
My children are Nisga’a and we were fortunate to be given some eulachon this year. Eulachon are small, oil-rich fish that spawn in rivers along the west coast. They are high in vitamin A and calcium. Vitamin A helps our bodies to fight infection and keeps our eyes and skin healthy while calcium helps to keep our bones and teeth strong.
In addition to the nutritional value of the food itself, another great advantage of traditional food gathering is the health benefits from harvesting such as connecting with the land and with one’s culture and family, as well as exercise. These are important aspects of holistic health and well-being.
Gardening is another way to access fresh and nutritious food, connect with family, and be physically active. In my work, I notice more First Nations communities across the north developing community gardens and harvesting or growing traditional plants and medicines. Many of these communities are remote and have limited access to healthy store-bought foods, which is all the more reason to build on the knowledge and skills of Elders to ensure access to healthy food for all.
There is so much to learn, celebrate and sustain! For more information on traditional foods and nutrition, check out the First Nations Traditional Foods Fact Sheets from the First Nations Health Authority.
This article was originally published in the May 2015 issue of Northern Health’s A Healthier You magazine.
About Victoria Carter
Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.