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Everyone can help promote traditional diets in Northwest Alaska

September 15th, 2017 | Brittany Sweeney Print this article   Email this article  

Last week in Kotzebue, Maniilaq Association hosted a Niqipiat Niġikkavut Symposium. Elders, youth, health providers, cooks, plant experts and land managers gathered to discuss the importance of traditional foods and medicines in the health of the people of Northwest Alaska. I was able to participate and was inspired to share some of what I heard.

We're blessed to live in a region with wide-open country, abundant resources, and strong cultural traditions. As Paniyavluk Hannah Loon taught me, "We are rich!" Hunters, gatherers, niqipiaq cooks and tribal doctors are all keeping alive the region's culture, food and health.

By learning about the land, harvesting, processing and serving "real food" to friends and family, you live the Iñupiat Iḷitqusiat values of "sharing, hard work, cooperation, hunter success, respect for nature, domestic skills and family roles."

A special thanks to those who show respect for Elders by making sure they have these comfort foods they grew up on. What a cool region where people put their values into action!

In addition to providing food, did you know niqipiaq keeps people physically and mentally healthy and strong? Wild foods are super health foods:

• Game meats like caribou, seal and moose are higher in protein and iron than beef bought from a store, not to mention fresher and free of added hormones and antibiotics.

• Marine mammal fats like seal oil, blubber and muktuk have a high amount of "good" cholesterol, compared to Crisco or butter.

• Wild berries and greens are a great source of vitamins A and C, fiber and antioxidants.

• Fish, fish oil and fish livers provide vitamins A, B, D, E as well as protein and iron.

The work of harvesting and gathering these foods keeps our bodies strong. Getting out on the land, working with friends and family, promotes wellness and refreshes our spirits. Aarigaa! Everyone can play a part:

• Hunters and gatherers: continue to harvest, share, and teach people these traditions surrounding our wild foods.

• Elders: keep teaching us and sharing your stories.

• Young people: follow along when you can and take the time to learn. Try niqipiaq.

• Parents: feed these foods to your children. Let them learn to enjoy fish, seal oil, and stinkweed to grow up strong and stay healthy.

• Tribal doctors: keep sharing knowledge about traditional medicines available here.

• Everyone: stay active to keep your body in shape. Use less of high-sugar food and drinks, tobacco, alcohol and "heatables" to stay healthy.

Want to do more? I learned that you can donate certain traditional foods to provide for the Elders in Utuqqanaat Inaat long-term care. Contact Cyrus Harris or Chris Dankmeyer at Maniilaq Association for more information. NANA Management Services (NMS) also accepts donations for the Alaska Native Medical Center and beyond, thank you NMS. Thank you to Maniilaq Environmental Health and all those that played a role in the Niqipiat Niġikkavut symposium.

Brittany Sweeney lives in Kotzebue and works for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Selawik Refuge. She has enjoyed working in Northwest Alaska for the past seven n years to learn and to teach about local wildlife and the environment.

Brittany feels lucky to have a job where she gets to travel on the land, work with local people, and join in promoting healthy outdoor activities for young people. You can contact her at .


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