The Poirier Street Farmers Market in Coquitlam is located in Coast Salish territory. The city of Coquitlam’s name is derived from the Kwikwetlem First Nation (KFN) band. The name Kwikwetlem means, “Red fish up the river” and the band’s reserve lands are located alongside the Coquitlam River. The red fish or salmon, has been an integral part of the First Nations’ diet in the coastal regions of British Columbia for several millennia.
When most people learn about BC’s history, it’s in the context of European settlement. Cities, islands, rivers, and other bodies of water bear the names of explorers from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The KFN band offers a historical timeline on their web site that traces the presence of First Nations people in the Mary Hill area to over 6,000 years ago. Archaeologist Valerie Patenaude collected approximately 50,000 artifacts while excavating a spring summer villagebetween 1978 and 1981. “She quoted in the 1995 Tri-City News “These were wealthy people. They had salmon, berries, potatoes, migratory birds, deer, mountain sheep, specialists in art and storytellers.”
The Coast Salish people relied on the ocean as the main source of food. Salmon, halibut, shellfish, smelt, crabs, seaweed, and whale were staples of the coastal diet. While some of the salmon that was caught was eaten fresh, most of it would be dried in smokehouses and stored for later consumption. The dried salmon was often eaten with eulachon oil. Eulachon is a type of smelt that is rich in oil. Many of these traditions remain but a variety of environmental factors have had significant impacts on traditional aboriginal diet.
A First Nations Food Nutrition and Environment study conducted in 2011 found that communities that include traditional foods like salmon, moose, and berries in their diet, enjoy better health. Unfortunately, due to loss of habitat and water pollution these traditional food sources are in decline. In some cases, fish, seafood and other traditional foods contain carcinogenic pollutants. The study continues to establish baseline data and quantify the level of toxins in the food supply.
In response to the World Food Summit Plan of Action, the Canadian government developed Canada’s Action Plan for Food Security in 1998. The following is one of the ten priorities identified:
Priority 5: Traditional food acquisition methods of Aboriginal and coastal communitiesacknowledge the important role that hunting, fishing, gathering, bartering and trading play in the food security of many communities in Canada and abroad. By sharing their awareness of traditional foods and their knowledge of sustainable natural resource practices, indigenous people have an important contribution to make in achieving the World Food Summit’s goal. Actions related to the reduction of environmental contaminants, sustainable management of resources (including fisheries) and appropriate supplementation with high-quality commercial foods, strengthen access to food for these communities.
Lastly, this excerpt from Food Secure Canada underscores the important role that environmental stewardship plays in our relationship with food:
Indigenous stewardship practices and traditional knowledge of the land may help the general Canadian society appreciate its responsibilities to the land. In this time of dynamic change, the traditional Indigenous way of looking at the land may assist Canadian society to understand some of the maxims needed to protect the Earth:
1. The Earth is Our Mother.
2. Cooperation is the way to survive.
3. Knowledge is powerful, only if it is shared.
4. Responsibility is the best practice.
5. Everything is connected to everything.
6. Place is important.
7. The spiritual world is not distant from the Earth.