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A Native foods symposium, a class about Twilight

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For the past several months, I've been a part of the planning committee for an exciting event, “The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ”: Indigenous Ways of Knowing Cultural Food Practices and Ecological Knowledge Symposium, coming up on May 1-2 at the University of Washington. We've been working hard to bring together the participants and registrants, figure out what to feed two hundred people without breaking the bank or going off-mission (no sandwiches!), and planning seating arrangements for the over-capacity crowd. Huge props to my fellow committee members, Charlotte Coté, Clarita Lefthand-Begay, and Dian Million.

Most of you who read this won't be joining us for the event, but it's important for me to announce that it will be taking place. I know that some readers of this blog are members of the ancestral health community, as some of my posts focus on paleo diet or ancestral health topics. In North America, where many members of the paleo community are located, many indigenous peoples continue to employ traditional dietary and medicinal practices, tailored to environment and the human relationship with it, that have served them for thousands of years. This is detailed, living knowledge.

“The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ: Indigenous Ways of Knowing Cultural Food Practices and Ecological Knowledge,” will primarily bring together Northwest Coast and regional Native leaders, elders, and scholars who will share their knowledge and expertise on topics such as tribal food sovereignty initiatives, food justice and security, traditional foods and health, global climate change’s impact on coastal indigenous food systems, treaties and reserved water rights, and treaty fishing rights and habitat protection.

Indigenous peoples in the Northwest have maintained a sustainable way of life through a cultural, spiritual, and reciprocal relationship with their environment. Presently we face serious disruptions to this relationship from policies, environmental threats, and global climate change. Thus, our traditional ecological knowledge is of paramount importance as we strive to sustain our cultural food practices and preserve this healthy relationship to the land, water, and all living things.

This symposium will be the inaugural event to honor UW’s future longhouse-style community building, Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (a Lushootseed word meaning Intellectual House), that will open its doors in 2014. This event symbolizes the spirit of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ and embodies the essence of the work we envision doing in this cultural and intellectual space.

Panels include: Sustaining Cultural Food Practices; Indigenous Women in the Sciences; Tribal Food Sovereignty Projects; Treaties, Water Rights, and Environmental Protection; Creating a Safe Space for Indigenous Foods in an Academic Setting; 12 Moons Project, Northwest Indian College; and Tulalip Treaty Rights: Perspectives on Protecting and Applying Traditional Knowledge.

Although I will likely be busy with my duties as one of the co-coordinators of the event, I hope to take as many notes as I can so that I can provide an event recap here. There is a massive body of traditional indigenous knowledge about food, medicine, wellness, and sustainability that this event will tap into. We hope to make this an annual event. If you are interested in learning more, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and ask to be placed on our mailing list.


Once the symposium is over, we'll still have plenty of spring quarter left, but we'll be quickly heading for summer. I love summers at the university. The pace slows, class sizes decrease, courses are open to the public, and instructors are free to test out wacky new course ideas.

This summer at the University of Washington, through the Department of American Indian Studies, I am offering a new course:

AIS 475 - The Twilight Series: Native Image and Myth

Since the publication of the Twilight novels and their film adaptations, audiences worldwide have been thrilled by fictional images of Native American shapeshifters. The total sales of the Twilight empire exceed $5 billion; young girls everywhere have staked out their allegiance to Team Jacob or Team Edward. The series is replete with representations of Native characters, including love interest Jacob, the rest of his Wolf Pack, and the abused fiancée of the alpha male. In this class, we will watch all of the Twilight films and read excerpts from the novels, analyzing the scenes and images as critical viewers and readers. Students will learn about the Quileute culture and the problems related to fictionalizing their cultural knowledge. We will also discuss the impact the Twilight series has had on the public’s conception of Native people. Is it problematic that so many young girls find themselves asked to choose between a Native character who transforms into a savage wolf and an alabaster vampire with endless wealth? Where have we seen similar images before? What are the stereotypes and myths about Native life on which these representations are based?

We will watch the Twilight films, read passages from Stephanie Meyer's novels, and engage with critical responses to the work. Students will be asked to view the films critically; this class will require substantial reading, writing, participation, and close viewing.

All are welcome, including non-students, during summer quarter. Tuition charges apply; the ACCESS program allows Washington residents 60 years or older to attend class as auditing students for a $5 registration fee. 

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  • Juanita Friday, 19 April 2013

    I wish I lived close enough to take your class. I could manage the $5 registration fee. Would love to be there. Didn't know the U offered this "perq" to senior citizens.

  • Elissa Saturday, 20 April 2013

    I would love to have you in my class if you lived close enough to participate! It's such a great program, and we love having Access students in our classes.

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