Cheryl A. Seidner, Wiyot
Food is Sacred . . . it’s not just for pleasure . . . but to sustain life. The day begins with prayer. Food is gathered, prepared and prayed over once again, giving thanks to the Creator for the abundance of all that is gathered.
Everything has a season and it is no different for gathering indigenous crops. Whether it be salmon, abalone, mussels, eel, surf fish, clams, crabs, rabbit, deer, elk, acorns, hazel nuts, pepper nuts, berries, onions, potatoes and all the rest, we are patient—waiting for the right time to harvest.
When the time is right, we gather the family and off we go to those favorite spots that we have been tending for generations. A lunch is packed: smoked eel and salmon, Grandma’s sand bread and a Mason jar filled with water. With buckets, sacks and baskets in hand, off we go. Never taking more than what we needed was always the rule.
Camping on the river bar in the willows or on the beach, watching Mama cooking over the open fire and sleeping on the ground under the starry nights; it was a fantastic adventure. Watching Dad surf fish and teaching us to do the same was great fun.
Today it is different; barbed-wire fences have stopped our comings and goings. “No Trespassing” signs have gone up where we once gathered. There was a time when the County sprayed the roadside where we would gather berries and such. We are all grateful that that has almost stopped. Today we look for new places to gather and we continue our search for the indigenous foods of yesterday.
We always remembered to gather enough to share—not forgetting those who could not come with us. Today is no different, and we remember those who can no longer gather. The recipes have been handed down for generations. Rarely are these recipes in written form. Eel and water-fried potatoes, smoked salmon napes, fried potatoes and fresh eggs for breakfast, and clam chowder and oven bread are a few of those recipes. Nothing fancy here, just down-home cooking for the plain and simple life. This may be the case for the indigenous people of Humboldt County, the Yurok, Hupa, Mattole, Karuk, Bear River and Wiyot. Life is sacred, as is the food of the indigenous people throughout the world. Up until 1860, the Wiyot had for centuries held a World Renewal ceremony where all the local tribes came together. The ceremony was to thank the Creator for all that had been provided in the previous year and to pray for the coming year, to set the world right and to begin the new year.