After harvesting, processing, and jarring all summer long, September 7th finally arrived: the day of the Traditional Food Fair.
Although later summer conditions in SE Alaska are associated with rain and gloom, we were greeted with sunshine beaming through blue skies. There could be no better weather to inspire a fun and festive atmosphere. We began transporting ingredients, setting up tables, and laying out jars of traditional foods at 9AM and by 11AM Hoonah citizens began to arrive and join in the revelry.
Beginning the Festivities
The Food Fair was intended to be a family friendly event. The day kicked off with a few rounds of Traditional Foods Bingo, where you could win various prizes and soak up Luke Myers’ enthusiastic energy, and the cakewalk that filled stomachs with delicious cupcakes and brownies made by Duffy Wright and Rebekah Sawers. Thank you again Luke, Duffy, and Rebekah for putting in your valuable time and effort!
Throughout the day you could hear Sam Sheakley’s voice calling out names for the variety of raffle prizes available, including t-shirts and sweaters, gift certificates and gift cards to businesses around town, pictures, prints, cooking supplies and ingredients, soaps and salves, and more! After the raffle concluded, Hoonah’s very own Tlingit dance group the Gaawtak’aan shared a touching and energetic performance with everyone at the food fair. Adorned in traditional Tlingit regalia and singing of respect towards all life, it was an honor to engage in traditional Tlingit practices by watching the Gaawtak’aan perform. Whether or not you went home with a prize, there was bound to be something there for everyone in the family to enjoy.
Frying Up A Competition
The fry bread competition commenced soon thereafter, and you could almost taste the buttery, fluffy bread just from walking by. The judges had their work cut out for them based off the smell, and after close scrutiny and reflection they chose their favorites: Nicole Williams, Faith Grant, and Jordan Proviender! They walked home with an array of prizes ranging from a food saver from Hoonah Trading, to zip rider and catamaran tickets from Icy Strait Point, to a round-trip flight to Juneau from Alaska Seaplanes!
Congratulations to the winners, and thank you to all of our competitors for participating in the competition and making fry bread for everyone to enjoy: Tina Johnson, Kathy Marvin, Nicole Williams, Ida Jean, Faith Grant, Jerry Cheslock, Renee Gray, Jordan Provendier, and Cody Strawderman. Everyone wins when we get to share fry bread together.
Food Distribution and the Meal
A main aspect of the food fair was to celebrate the long-lasting practices and food traditions in Hoonah, including a jarred food distribution as a way of giving thanks. We spent many days throughout the summer harvesting, processing, and jarring traditional foods to prepare for this. During the spring we harvested a couple gallons of spruce tips, which yielded over 300 ounces, or two gallons, of syrup! As summer neared, we harvested and pickled over 70 pints of beach asparagus, followed by harvesting about five gallons of fireweed flowers. With that many flowers we were able to make another 70 jars of fireweed jam! Lastly, a few hours nearing the end of summer was spent harvesting over five gallons of blueberries, which we used to make over 100 jars of blueberry and blubarb (blueberry + rhubarb) jam! After putting up all that food throughout the summer, there was a total of over 320 jars of traditional foods for attendees to choose from at the food fair! This was an effective way to reconnect people with the natural environment and give back by providing traditional foods to individuals to last throughout the winter.
The day convened with a hearty meal consisting of halibut chowder and venison stew, followed by blueberry and rhubarb cobbler. There was no better way to end a fun-filled day than by stretching your stomach to max capacity with delicious food! Be sure to give Raino Hill, who caught the halibut, and George Wessman, who prepared the meal for everyone to enjoy, a huge thank you if you see them in town!
The Purpose: Culture, Community, and Food
The main purpose for hosting a Traditional Food Fair was to celebrate community, culture, and food. It’s important to acknowledge how community members rely on one another, especially in a small town like Hoonah, and a Traditional Food Fair seemed like a great way to give back to the community by providing prizes, games, and plenty of food. Since Hoonah is largely a Tlingit community and Tlingit culture has been heavily shaped by sustained interaction with the land, we found it imperative to celebrate this deep connection we share with the natural environment. Gathering and processing traditional foods is a great way to express this connection since it not only sustains physical needs but also provides community members the opportunity to reconnect with nonhuman spirits. The Tlingit have historically extended “community” to include nonhuman things, both living and nonliving. Therefore, to sufficiently celebrate the community here in Hoonah meant to celebrate the natural environment (the mountains, seas, rivers, salmon, bears, etc.) as well. We wanted to celebrate traditional foods because they have been a huge part of the culture and community in Hoonah in several ways, and we hoped to inspire people to reconnect with their community, both human and nonhuman, and revitalize some of the culture that has prevailed in Hoonah for hundreds of years.
Thank You to our Supporters
There were many individuals and institutions involved in the preparation and organization of this event to which we owe a huge thank you. The Food Fair was made possible in part through the use of the generous award from the SEARHC “Healthy is Here” Program, as well as funds from Sealaska. Additionally, we wouldn’t have been able to give away prizes to the community without the generosity of various businesses and individuals throughout town: Icy Strait Point, Alaska Seaplanes, Icy Strait Brewery, Colette’s Cupboard, Fisherman’s Daughter, Icy Strait Lodge, Hoonah Treasures, Tideland Tackle, Hoonah Trading Company, Joe Tobias, Heather Powell, Erin Lehnert, Christina Baal, Jan Parrish, and Lisa Andersson. And, of course, there couldn’t have been a fry bread competition without the help of our dedicated judges! Thank you again Gerard White, James Lindoff, Marlene White, Buddy Howard, Susan Gonzales, George Dalton, and Ken Grant for participating in the event! We were fortunate enough to have the Gaawtak’aan share their time and effort with us, all thanks to Carol Williams, Heather Powell, and the dancers themselves! Furthermore, none of this could have been done without the help of Mary Peterson, Huna Heritage Foundation‘s Amelia Wilson, and HIA‘s Ian Johnson for helping coordinate, organize, and prepare for this event throughout the summer. Your time, effort, and support are so greatly appreciated! Lastly, thank you to everyone who volunteered, prepared food, attended, or participated in any other way! It’s been a pleasure to work with various community members throughout the summer to make this event a success, and it couldn’t have been done without your help.
With over 18 prize giveaways, more than 140 attendees, and seemingly endless amounts of food, it was a guaranteed good time! Hopefully there was something for everyone to take away from the fun-filled day, whether that be a full belly, a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant in town, or a few wholesome conversations with your neighbors. We’re glad we were able to share these experiences with the community this summer and look forward to making more great memories with you all soon.
(Photography by Ian Johnson)