By Mishuana Goeman and Allison Fischer-Olson
The Pimu Catalina Island Archaeology Field School is taught over four weeks in Tongva land where the students learn the skills essential for working as professional archaeologists. Unlike other archaeological field schools, however, students are also steeped in Indigenous Archaeology, meaning that they are taught to seek guidance about the landscape in which they work from the people to whom the land belongs. This crucial insight allows them to more accurately, appropriately, and respectfully contextualize their work, and hopefully to become the best collaborative archaeologists possible. In addition to having a Tongva archaeologist as co-Director, the field school works closely with elders who work regularly with the students, as well as providing additional special programming to supplement the students’ enrichment about what it means to work on Tongva land.
During the field season this year, a special program took place over the weekend of July 24-26. The students were treated to a Cooking with Native Foods weekend, put on by members of the Chia Cafe Collective, Craig Torres (Tongva) and Abe Sanchez. In addition students also had the privilege of hearing Tashina Miranda (Luiseno) speak about gathering and processing practices of materials for basketry, and the importance and difficulties of retaining and transmitting this knowledge to her own students. Through the days the students attended lectures and demonstrations about Native foodways and participated in a day of cooking recipes shared by Abe and Craig. Students helped at every step from processing raw and freshly gathered ingredients using Native methods to sharing in a huge meal cooked collectively in the field school outdoor kitchen. Tashina’s expertise was also welcomed in helping the field school participants to refine their own newly acquired skills, such as how to properly shell, skin, grind, and leach acorns for wyook (acorn mush). Not to do so makes for a bitter dish and consequently a bitter elder!
Abe and Craig extolled the virtues of Native foods and at the same time conveyed the deep sense of history on top of the importance of these foods for creating a healthy path forward. For example, as Abe pointed out upon introducing mesquite as an ingredient, we so often relate it to BBQ sauce or mesquite wood for grilling. However, the beans from the mesquite tree were a major food source for Southern Californians, and can be ground into flour that is healthy, delicious and gluten free. Freshly made mesquite tortillas, artfully used to scoop up and eat the side dishes, tasted amazing with a sweet and smoky flavor that so nicely complemented the tapery bean and stinging nettle mixture. This dish was packed with protein, allergy fighters and lots of flavor. In fact, as she drank the liquid from the bottom of the nettle bowl, Tashina Miranda spoke to how she drinks nettle tea daily to fight allergies. Abe also spoke about Amaranth (also sometimes called pigweed), which blooms in early or late spring in the region. While it was a common pre-Hispanic food, the Spanish quickly disparaged it in the wake of their contradictory pillaging and assertion of following Christianity’s sexual mores that discouraged sex. Native people used to make dolls out of the Amaranth plant in reference to deities of sexuality, as the food itself was known to get the blood flowing. The Spanish banned both the dolls and consumption of the greens. There were many such points in the conversations throughout the two days where one could see the historical layers in relation to colonial land theft and changing of our foods, bodies, and health.
While the weekend was fun and delicious, learning to cook Native recipes was not the most important point of the programming provided for the field school students. Alongside the activities, the content raised important questions and meaningful conversations. What does it mean when your lands are occupied by the urban? How does the urban development affect your access to traditional foods? In what ways might the Tongva reclamations of gathering and food sources provide a model for living healthy in urban environments? The connection between land and food consumption is so important that movements for food sovereignty are popping up all over Indian Country. From wild rice, corn, beans and fish, tribal Nations are looking for ways to reclaim traditional sources of food for their communities health. Mapping from an Indigenous perspective ensures that we look past territorial jurisdictions and follow practices of caring for our environment. This of course presents many challenges such as gathering, development, environmental devastations and, often, lack of access to knowledge about how to gather. Most importantly, as Tashina Miranda speaks to here, we also need to continuously assess our responsibility to land, community, and future generations. And, as Craig and Abe make clear, this is about our health and our communities.
Abe and Craig regularly run workshops on Native foodways, called California Native Food Symposium. All those interested in booking a Native foodways seminar, we highly encourage you to do so as they have a presentation style that is useful from the youngest participants to adults. It was an amazing way to learn about our place here in Los Angeles, our relationship to Indigenous peoples of the area, our histories and , as Cindi ALvitre reminds us here, our responsibilities to the land and water that nurtures us.
For more information, interviews with Abe and others as well as a series of beautiful photo documentation, see Deborah Small’s Ethnobotany Blog where she speaks to gathering Chia, Juncus, Deergrass. She also provides a purview of what the day making Native foods with Chia Cafe Collective is like, see here.
The Pimu Catalina Island Archaeology Field School is taught through California State University, Northridge each summer. For more information about the field school and the Pimu Catalina Island Archaeology Project directed by Wendy Teeter, Desiree Martinez (Tongva), Karimah Kennedy-Richardson, and Lynn Swartz Dodd visit their website or facebook page.