Catalina Island – USC Lectures and Indigenous Food Experience

Abe Sanchez, USC Indigenous Food ExperienceWhile we on Catalina with American Conservation Experience, we were provided with an excellent opportunity to sit in on a special seminar for USC. It was a series of three lectures which were quite fascinating.

1.  Working with Indigenous Communities: Respect and Reciprocity by Tharron Bloomfield

2.  Tongva Use of Plants and Native Teas by Craig Torres (with Abe Sanchez)

3.  California Native American Basketry by Tashina Miranda (Luiseno)

The first lecture was very interesting, Tharron began with a brief overview of the history of conservation of artefacts before moving into cultural perspectives. He mentioned a curious occurrence from 1966 where Fiorenze (Florence) had flooded and thousands of volunteers travelled to the city to save the artefacts. The volunteers were affectionately called the mud angels, but they were also professionals and here they began to discuss their varied techniques and for the first time began to standardise the profession. He also discussed the notion that conservation of artefacts is not a neutral profession; each conservator brings their cultural bias to the process which influences how artefacts are represented in their curation such as what degree of restoration is required, how it will be displayed or stored, and what level of access will be provided for the artefacts both to the public and to the descendants. He ended by saying that conservation is a balance between maintaining the original intent and education of the object.

Craig Torres and Abe Sanchez' lecture was about Indigenous plants and their uses and he had dozens of samples to view and taste. Craig began by explaining how the Tongva people are relearning their culture and beginning the re-education of that culture to their descendants. He highlighted that a culture is often defined by their land and resources, therefore food is an integral part of this process, relearning what food is locally available and their uses.

As he talked of food and medicine he handed around bags containing samples and gave a brief description of its use. Among the items he passed around were Californian Chia, Creosote, Yerba Mansa and Santa, Coyote Mint, Stinging Nettle, California Bay Leaf and Wild Rose, Coyote Melon, and many more. It was fascinating to hear of all these plants and their uses while also being able to smell and sometimes taste.

The final Lecture by Tashina Miranda was on basket weaving. Tashina is Luiseno from Tameeka Village in Southern California and is passionate about this skill. She described the plants (using traditional and modern names) used for weaving and why, such as Willow (Wút) and Yucca (Hanúuvat). She briefly described the techniques to harvest and process the plants including cleaning and dyeing. Then she introduced some of the tools and techniques of the weaving process. Tashina also impressed on us the difficulty in educating about a traditional skill without actually teaching the how it is done, which must remain in the tribe.

All in all it was an excellent series of lectures. At the conclusion of which Craig Torres invited everyone present to an Indigenous Food Experience the following day where we would all assist in creating a lunch from some of the plants we had been introduced to.

Rina making Californian Chia Pudding, USC Indigenous Food ExperienceThe following day Rina and I, along with our camp leader Ashley, attended the lunch located at a camp about a thirty minute drive from Two Harbors. It was explained to us that the range of dishes we were going to be making and eating today were a mixture of traditional ideas and introduced foods, in an effort to transition the indigenous people who only knew the introduced foods back to their traditions. The food we were going to make was Amaranth greens Cactus salad, Native squash soup, Acorn gruel, Venison stew, Spiced quail and rabbit, Seafood stew, Yucca sakatash, Mesquit tortilla, Raw chia chocolate bar, Chia pudding, Cricket salsa, and Limpit Ceviche.

Chad helping cook rabbit and goat, USC Indigenous Food ExperienceUnder the guidance of Abe Sanchez and Craig Torres we divided into groups to prepare the ingredients. Rina helped with the Chia Pudding. My table peeled and chopped garlic and tomatoes while others worked on preparing and spicing the meats and seafood or chopping greens. While we were doing this everyone was refreshing themselves with Cactus (sour) or Prickly Pear Juice (sweet), although I found that a mixture of the two juices was best. They also passed around plates of prickly pear for everyone to try which was sweet and delicious, similar to honeydew melon.

USC Indigenous Food ExperienceThe group laboured together for a couple of hours preparing everything and when we got close to serving we needed to make the Mesquit Tortillas. Some of the University students had already made the dough but now we had to roll it into a circle and fry it. Everyone had a go and some tortillas were better than others but we all had fun.

Just prior to the serving we gathered together and gave thanks for the food and the experience and were lead in a traditional prayer. We then dug in with gusto. Unfortunately we had to leave and so we took a selection of foods to eat along the way back to camp.

It was such an incredible day of learning and taste that I would heartily recommend anyone to take the opportunity to experience something like this.


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