Traditional Foods 2008 By Monica Charles

I'm honored to introduce you to Monica Charles blog, which can be found at:


I first met Monica at Indian school, at IAIA in the late sixties. She was an amazing writer and personage then, as she is now. (I will add her to my links (once I figure out how). )



It’s amazing how fast time passes. We started our Traditional Foods dinners in the year 2000. The diabetes nurse and I went to a workshop put on by Rudy Ryser chairman of the Center for World Indigenous Studies.

We immersed ourselves in Traditional foods of the Coast Salish and the Plateau Tribes. The Yakama man who was to speak on his Tribe’s Traditional foods couldn’t make it because of a death in his family. Bruce Miller is both Coast Salish and Yakama. He spoke in the morning about Salish foods and stepped up to speak about Plateau foods.

This was very exciting for me. I had seen a TV news magazine segment on a Native Hawaiian doctor who had put his Native patients on a Traditional Hawaiian diet. They have the same health problems Indians do.

They didn’t have to count calories or weigh their food. They could eat as much as they wanted to but they could only eat their traditional foods. It was amazing. Their blood sugar normalized. So did blood pressure. Arthritis disappeared. They lost weight.

They caught the taro root before it disappeared. There was some still growing unattended in old gardens. They began cultivating it again. This planted a seed in my mind.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s I had tried to revive the First Salmon Ceremony in my Tribe. No one was interested. There were Elders still living who knew how to do the real old ceremony. A few years later the Shaker Minister would ring his bells and sing to bless the fish at the fish hatchery.

Now the Fish Committee has a blessing of the fleet and a first salmon ceremony. We are going forward, back to our roots, our strength.

This year will be my first time without my Mom. She has supported our Traditional Foods dinners since the beginning. It will be hard not to have her sitting at the table with me.


The dinner is over now. I felt mom’s Spirit supporting me during our dinner. There were new people that came. I went to see a cousin that was decorating the tables and making the buckskin bread.

I came across some boys about 8 or 10 years old. They were cutting branches off young trees by the side of the road. They looked guilty and scared when I stopped. I told them we were having a Traditional Foods Dinner in a couple hours. I told them to come eat with us.

The boys came and filled their plates. I saw them go back for seconds. My grand nephew was one of them. He kept going back for desert.

My older sister had promised to bake bread but wasn’t able to. I got out my flour and yeast and prayed it would taste good. Mom was famous for her yeast bread. My other sisters are good bread makers. So I prayed the whole time. There wasn’t any left after the dinner so I guess I did okay.

It was the first time that a cousin came from Muckleshoot. She had a good time. Another came from Oregon and cooked the duck for us. She promised duck again for the fall dinner.

I tell the same story at each dinner.

On the Elwha River, there is a rock with a deep depression in it like a basket. That is our Creation Site. It is buried beneath one of the dams.

The first People were the Trees and plants. Everything was good but there was something missing. The Creator then made all the animals. This was also good, but there was still something missing. The Creator made all that is Spirit. He then reached into the earth and pulled out the red clay. He fashioned it the way he wanted it. He filled the rock with water and bathed each Creation in it. He lifted his new Creation to each direction so all life would know it. He then worked out from the Elwha River placing each Creation where he wanted them. These new Creations are the human beings.

The Creator gave us simple laws to follow. We were to love one another and take care of one another. As long as we prayed and sang we had a good life. After a while people stopped praying and talking with the Creator. They stopped listening to him. We forgot our mandate to love and take care of one another. We became lost.

We forgot our sacred beginnings. We forgot our teachings. We thought we were the source of power. We forgot the Creator in our lives. We did unspeakable things to each other. Men began abusing women and children. Balance went out of the world.

The Creator became sorry he had made his Creations. He decided he would destroy them. Those that still prayed and listened to the Creator knew his plans. They got their canoes ready. Some made rafts. They gathered food and fresh water.

The rains started. The rivers flooded and the oceans rose. The fresh water became salty and undrinkable. Most of life on earth died.

Our People tied their canoes onto the mountain top so we wouldn’t get lost. The rains stopped and the waters receded. You can find this story in petroglyphs in the mountains. Our People recorded how long it rained, how long the flood lasted, how long it took the waters to recede. They recorded the animals they saw and how many.

After the world dried there wasn’t enough food for all the humans and animals. They got together and discussed the situation. They decided they would play a game. The winner would get to eat the loser. Our Ancestors won the game.

The animals and plants still keep their word. They give up their lives that we might live. We had ceremonies that thanked all the ones that feed us. These ceremonies were outlawed in the 1800’s by the States and the US federal government.

So much time has passed we have forgotten how to do those ceremonies. So now we have a non-denominational dinner and accept the gift of those that give up their lives that we might live. We thank and bless them. I trust that the Creator will give back to us the way he wants those ceremonies done.

The white staff has done much to undermine our Dinners. They have bought farmed clams instead of our Native ones. These clams come from the Philippines. Whites prefer them because to the white palate they are milder. They have bought farmed salmon. It comes from the Atlantic. I guess it tastes milder to them too. This year they did not invite the other Tribes. They said we were feeding more guests than our own tribal members.

That kind of stinginess is not Traditional. It is the white man’s way of thinking. We are famous for our hospitality. It is our pride and joy.

Our Potlatches or give-aways were outlawed because the white man could not understand giving away everything we owned. We knew a secret they didn’t. There was always more where that came from. Giving away keeps the luck and abundance flowing. What makes the white heart so stingy?

We didn’t become poor until the white government outlawed our giveaways. We have started them again. We didn’t ask anyone’s permission. We exercised our sovereignty and took it back.

We have started our Memorial Dinners and giveaways for those that have gone on. Our children started a Potlatch with the school district. They thought it would lessen the racism if the teachers and other school employees understood their culture or way of doing things better.

The students came up with this idea themselves. I think they were in the 5th grade. They are young adults now. The white teachers were embarrassed at first to receive gifts for no reason but the honor their students gave them. They now participate whole-heartedly and bring books for the Tribal Library. The parents put on a great dinner.

That is another thing whites don’t understand about us. We have dinners for everything. It is the most healing thing we can do for our Tribes and our communities.

It is called “Eating out of the same dish.” There was a time when we actually did eat out of the same dish. You can see in museums beautifully carved bowls that extend the length of a longhouse. It would have an animal representative of the owner carved into the bowl. We would sit around that bowl and eat out of it.

When we do that we become one-heart one-mind. We become even and equal. The elders and the sick take what they need from that combined energy for their health and strength. All of us do. The youth and children have the most strength and energy to contribute. We must not chase them away. They must be allowed to know their importance and our need for them in our Tribes and communities.

I did not understand why people had begun telling me that I did not start the Traditional Foods Dinner. Other people began taking credit for doing that.

We may get a grant next year for a Traditional Foods program. We can do so many healing things. We can teach our children to hunt and fish. We can teach them how to clean and prepare those foods. We can teach them how to smoke and other ways of preserving food.

We can bring back our Traditional values. Life will then have more meaning to us and our children. The possibilities are exciting.

All of this has come from a simple dinner, to acknowledge what the Creator gave us and to give thanks. We love our people. We love God, The Creator, by whatever name a person chooses to call that Life Source.

We have taken that first step to get us back on the right road. We have connected with the Creator and brought prayer back into our lives. We are including our Tribe and our relatives and friends from other Tribes in our journey back to healing.

We will be like our Ancestors that knew enough to ready their canoes. We will be the ones that step into the new world that is coming. We will be the ones that know how to gather from Mother Earth’s garden. We will be the survivors.
Posted by Monica at 2:14 PM


Anonymous said...

Joy: Thank you for having this blog. I'm about to take a graduate course in Native American Literature and it will feature your work and the work of several other Native writers. I'm wondering what your favorite work(s) which you have published, would you recommend that I read? Thanks, Michael A. Burris, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Kim said...

Dear Joy,

Thank you for taking the time to post to your blog. What you write, what you share of others' writings helps me to remember to breathe, share, be thankful to all life. Too often I get trapped in despair, anger, sorrow, forgetting that there is also joy, if I will only open myself to it.

Thank you and take care,


Penina said...

Talofa lava Joy,

I hope all is well and good with you. I've never blogged before, and feel good that it is on your blog. I was reading your Article on Kore newsletter: "I aspire to be song." You are always with me and its natural that I should read this article this morning...My name is Penina Ava Taesali, we've met over the years in Hawaii, Oakland, Berkeley...

here's is my comment:
Strange, but always natural, that when I am in a thirsty moment wanting to connect to beauty, strength and forgiveness – I find you, your words of spirit, of goodness, of wisdom, and that I find them today.

I am wrestling with a nasty old flame, a “detractor” that still wants to see me self-destruct. The “detractor” was at one time my partner in the grassroots youth work we started ten years ago…and I have chosen not to react. The circumstance or situation doesn’t really matter, the details don’t even matter, what matters is that I have chosen to delete, to breathe into my power, wisdom, into my new found mediation that is growing me into a powerful woman, a woman who is healing, a woman who is understanding the difference between choosing when to speak out and when speaking out will do more harm to my spirit than good. It’s a fine line trusting in the silence. But this silence I speak of is courageous and firm action. This silence is trusting something larger than my own ego mind that wants justice, but that this justice is to get even with the “detractor,” the justice that wants by all means to cause the “detractor” harm…the wisdom for me this morning is to accept and act from the big me, not the li’li’i, which I give the li’li’i lots of play and time unconsciously, but not today, I’ll use my beautiful and elegant fingers to delete…and inside and on my keyboards I will grow more beautiful with these hands, this hard, this song…love, Penina

Anonymous said...

I am a song and give what I have away because until I entered my twenties I didn't realize greed was option. I didn't know I could just reach out and take whatever I wanted. Now that I realize I can there is nothing I want but to help others on their journey.

It has nothing do being good or bad person. I grow up poor and without much besides earth, and so what little there was i shared.

When I first read your work I was surprised to hear my internal voice. my internal knowledge being reinforced by yours. Raised white trash born again poor I felt as an outsider, communicating with nature better than with humans, I remember observing my surroundings and wondering why everyone acted the way the did or why they didn't know that the earth was alive, that the rocks were alive, that plants and animals had a soul......

I learned to trust and to love the grass as i loved the kitten as I loved the sky. I questioned my sanity and place in the world before I studied native writers. Only after reading your work did I realize I was on the path of light.

Now i've studied other writers from all over the world and have learned to trust my internal light but without you I would still be trying to understand what was wrong with me....
I don't know if this is as clear as it could be but
this is; thank you.

May you stay strong and in light