Indigenous Food Relationships: Sociological Impacts on the Coast Salish People

Ane Berrett, Nothwest Indian College


How have dominant societies impacted the relationship between man, seed and plant of local indigenous communities? Creation stories from varied cultures abound with references of the gift of food to man from a "creator" to use with harmony and reciprocity. Indigenous people throughout the world have maintained these spiritual and ecological relationships with local seeds and plants of their place of origin.

This is a unit designed to gain awareness of the sustainable and reciprocal relationship that existed between indigenous people and plants in local communities such as the Coast Salish region prior to the effects of assimilation and colonization.

In this unit, students will analyze the macro level of societal influences which have interrupted micro level ecological relationship between plant and man. Sociological concepts such as sub culture, dominant culture, stages of historical change (Hunter Gatherer societies to Technological societies), stratification and poverty will be addressed through the sociological perspective. Students will experience solutions of sustainability which are interdependent with local place and people. Learning activities involve using the "citizen's argument," oral presentations, portfolio creation, written reflections and experiential service learning projects.

Learning Goals

Overall Learning Outcomes

  • Identify historical, economic and societal influences from a "sociological perspective" that create barriers to local food and seed access including stages of social change, multinational corporations, biotechnology, colonialism, genetic engineering.
  • Identify local open-pollinated seeds and food plants which provide interdependent relationships with cultures of the Coast Salish Territory.

Specific Learning Objectives

  • Students will identify major social changes, beliefs and values that create barriers to local food sources.
  • Students will describe the qualities of open-pollinated seeds in contrast to hybrid seeds.
  • Students will identify local resources to obtain open-pollinated seeds and plants.
  • Students will identify, harvest and create a meal with at least three local native food plants.

Context for Use

This is a unit designed to gain awareness of the sustainable and reciprocal relationship that existed between indigenous people and plants in local communities such as the Coast Salish region prior to the effects of assimilation and colonization. To provide for the experiential learning components, it should be offered during spring and summer months.

Possible Use in Other Courses: This unit could be used within a wide variety of undergraduate courses such as Sociology, Native American studies, Ethnobotany, Ecology, Ecopsychology or Anthropology. It could be designed as a complete agricultural and/or sustainability course, part of a diabetes curriculum, or partnered with local cooperative extension education training with local tribal groups.

Timeframe: This unit needs at least a two weeks to cover the basic concepts but could span an entire course as it is easily adapted to offer opportunities for extended research, service and experiential learning.

Description and Teaching Materials

The Learning Activities

Part 1: Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering and Impact on Indigenous Food Relationships

View one or more of these documentaries: "The World According to Monsanto", "Corporation", "The Future of Food", "King Corn" and "Knowing How to Nurture Ourselves" from the Global Oneness Project.

Set up a "Citizens Argument." Students are assigned roles to represent viewpoints of both sides of the biotechnology issue. Assessment to include both oral and written rationale. (See Assessment Criteria Rubric).

Part 2: History of Social Change and Impacts of Colonialism of Indigenous Food Relationships

Assign one or all of the following readings to student groups or pairs. Students will discuss articles, compare and contrast concepts of domination, stewardship, and reciprocal relationships. Students will share findings and lead a discussion with the rest of class. Assessment to include both oral and written rationale. (See Assessment Criteria Rubric).

  • "Food is Medicine" from the Book Recovering the Sacred by Winona LaDuke
  • "The Hair of the Earth Mother" from the book Native Science; Natural Laws of Independence by Gregory Cajete
  • "Indians of the Pacific Northwest" from the Coming of the White Man to the Present Day" by Vine Deloria Jr.
  • "Why Can't People Feed Themselves?" by Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins from the book Food First Indigenous creation, food myths and stories, including the Judeo-Christian creation story in Genesis.

Part 3: Sustainability Through Interdependent Relationship of Indigenous Plants and Seeds

Field trip to local plant sources and/or in class speaker from Uprising Seeds or Tree Frog Farm.
One or more of the following service-learning options:
  • Invite local elders to a student prepared feast created from foods indigenous to place. Allow elders to share personal stories of their relationship with indigenous food plants.
  • Plant open-pollinated seeds in green house and contribute to local home and community gardens.
  • Conduct a food assessment survey with the local community or college campus. Present results to tribal council leaders or school administrators.
Students will assemble portfolio of local seeds and plants to include names, pictures, and resources.
The portfolio will also include a reflection of student's personal experience from the service learning activities and provide the means of assessment. (See Assessment Criteria Rubric.)

Assessment Criteria Rubric (Microsoft Word 142kB Oct21 11)

Teaching Notes and Tips


See Assessment Criteria Rubric attachment.

References and Resources


  • Achbar, Mark and Jennifer Abbott, Directors. "Corporation." (Big Picture Media, 2005)
  • Jennings, Katie, Director. "Teachings of the Tree People: The Work of Bruce Miller." (New Day Films, 2006)
  • Koons Garcia, Deborah, Director. "The Future of Food." (Lily Films, 2005)
  • Monique Robin, Marie, Director. "The World According to Monsanto." (National Film Board of Canada, 2008)
  • Wolf, Aaron, Director. "King Corn." (New Video Group, 2008)

Books and Articles:

  • Bell-Sheeter, Alicia. Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool. (First Nations Development Institute, 2004)
  • Cajete, Gregory. Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence (Clear Light Publishers, Santa Fe. New Mexico, 2000)
  • Cummings, Claire Hope "The Good Food Revolution," YES magazine, Spring 2009
  • Deloria, Vine, Jr. Indians of the Pacific Northwest: From the Coming of the White Man to the Present Day.(Doubleday and Company 1977)
  • Keoke, Emory Dean and Kay Marie Porterfield, "100 Amazing Indian Discoveries," (American Indian Smithsonian Institution, Fall 2004)
  • Krohn, Elise. Wild Rose, Western Cedar. (Gorham Printing, Centralia, WA, 2007). (To protect cultural property rights, this book is only available within Northwest Indian communities. To use it for teaching purposes contact Vanessa Cooper or Elise Krohn
  • Fayon, Stephan. "Stephan Fayon: Knowing How to Nurture Ourselves." Global Oneness Project.
  • LaDuke, Winona. Recovering the Sacred. (Consortium Books: 2005)
  • Lappe, Frances Moore and Joseph Collins. Food First. (Institute for Food and Development Policy. Ballantine Books, 1978)
  • Miller, Bruce. Editor. Be Of Good Mind; Essays on the Coast Salish. (UBC Press 2007)
  • Naeem, Shahid. "Lessons From the Reverse Engineering of Nature: The Importance of Biodiversity and the True Significance of the Human Species." Miller-McCune, May/June 2009 Volume 2, Number 3.
  • Pojar, Jim and Andrew MacKinnon. Plants of the Pacific Northwest. (B.C. Ministry of Forests and Lone Pine Publishing, 1994)
  • Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire. (Bloomsbury, 2002)
  • Shiva, Vandana, Editor. "Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed."
  • Turner, Nancy. The Earth's Blanket: Traditional Teachings for Sustainable Living. University of Washington Press, 2005
  • Turner, Nancy. Food Plants of Coastal First People. (Royal British Columbia Museum, 1995)
  • Turner, Nancy. Plant Technology. (UBC Press, 1998)

Community Resources:

Uprising Seeds. Organic Heirloom Seeds. (organic seed stock)
Seeds of Change. Seeds of Change. (organic seed stock)
Tree Frog Farm. Flower & Tree Essences in Partnership with Nature. (native plants)

World Resources:

Annadana. Annadana Soil and Seed Savers Network.
CWIS. Center for World Indigenous Studies.