Liz Charlesbois Works to Honor Indigenous Foods and Culture

liz-charlesbois-gardens

Liz Charlebois is bringing indigenous food traditions back to the community, one seed – dried on an old pizza box – at a time. Seeds sat in one such container in Charlebois’ office at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum last week, surrounded by their source: massive, orange, Buffalo Creek squash. They were grown and harvested last month on the grounds of the Warner museum, where Charlebois works as education director.

Charlebois, 41, grew up in Harrisville and is Missisquoi Abenaki. While she was raised in Native American culture, she said she’s taken a special interest in indigenous foods only recently. She’s particularly concerned about preserving indigenous seed varieties in the era of big agriculture and access to healthful, nourishing foods for existing native communities.

Read this encouraging story in the Concord Monitor.

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Kik8mkwak: the Garden Fish

kik8mkwak white suckers garden fish

Look in the mid-ground of this photo, taken at noon in mid-September above the shallows of the Kwanitekw/ Connecticut River at the confluence of Kitad8gan Sibo/Whetstone Brook. A squadron of suckers, kik8mkwak, maybe 50 or 60 of them, are all hovering there in the warming sun, facing west and waiting for the next big thing to wash down from the hills. The name “kik8mkwa” in Western Abenaki literally means “field or garden fish,” from their use in traditional planting as fertilizer, specifically kik8n = improved land or garden plus -akw = fish. White suckers will move upstream in May to spawn, traveling in great numbers from their usual haunts in lakes and rivers into the smaller tributary brooks and streams. Rather than using the more valuable anadromous shad, salmon, alewives, and herring for planting, the less desirable and easily procured suckers fit the bill quite well.

A story from Dr. Fred Wiseman illustrates the practice well: “Former Koasek Chief Nancy Millette says that when she was a child, she and her little friends went to the Connecticut River and its tributaries in the spring to catch the sucker fish that ran in huge schools so thick “that your could almost walk upon them.” She says the fish were not for eating, but for the gardens. This was a revelation to me, because I had known that the Abenaki word for sucker fish was “kikômkwa,” and the first syllable was hauntingly similar to “kikôn,” the Abenaki word for field. I had dismissed the connection, but after Chief Nancy’s information sunk in, I discovered from 18th-century Abenaki dictionaries that the word originally meant “the garden fish.” So linguistics from years ago explains an obscure cultural connection between spring fish runs and the gardens that were being prepared at the same time. Today, it is traditional to insert one or more fish or parts of fish “about the size of your open hand” 8 to 18 inches deep in the mound.”

Sources:

Notes on a Lost Flute, Kerry Hardy, 2009.

Sun Dance Season: An Abenaki Summer, Fred Wiseman, 2015.