Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium


Background Information: The title of this project is “‘WISEFAMILIES’ Through Customary and Traditional Living.” WISEFAMILIES supports community-driven programs in Kake and Wrangell, Alaska, that build on healthy traditional ways of eating, being active, and communicating health information through storytelling leading to preventing diabetes and other chronic disease. An important part of the program engages community members affecting health policy change in schools, senior centers, grocery stores, and community groups. Digital storytelling workshops engages youth, elders and professional Tlingit storytellers, enhancing communication of wellness messages.

Processing salmon in Kake, Alaska. Photo courtesy of SEARHC.

We have the opportunity to feature interviews from staff members representing the Wrangell and Kake communities. Here is a stunning digital story encompassing the Alaska Native communities involved in the WISEFAMILIES project:

Be sure to check out our Traditional Foods Recipes page for following delicious recipes: Georgie’s Salad (with beach asparagus and smoked salmon) and Alaskan Blueberry Pie.  The pictures and interviews below will have you planning a trip to southeast Alaska before the day’s end.

Organized Village of Kake – Kake, Alaska

Interview with Georgie Davis-Gastelum

What’s your favorite thing about being involved in your traditional foods project?

The fact that we are out in nature gathering foods that we gathered with our parents, that our grandparents also
gathered… the connection that it gives us with our ancestors, and to the earth and to our Creator. (The foods are healthy and delicious, and we get good exercise gathering… it’s a good social time. But, my favorite thing is this connection to our ancestors and to the earth and our Creator.) What also makes our gathering special is that we always try to share the food we gather with our elders through the senior center lunch program.

Kake berry picking. Photo courtesy of SEARHC.

What traditional foods and activities are going on this summer? 

Traditional Foods

  • Beach greens (beach asparagus and goose tongue)
  • Salmonberries, blueberries, huckleberries
  • Salmon (smoked strips)
  • Seal
  • Halibut
  • Moose
  • Deer


  • 24th Annual Culture Camp for Youth (sponsored by Organized Village of Kake, our federally recognized tribe), which SEARHC assists with every year, and which the WISEFAMILIES Traditional Foods program supports financially. This camp began in 1988 under a state suicide prevention grant following a time when Kake had the highest suicide rate per capita in the nation. Youth learn to process our traditional foods during a week-long camp, where older youth camp overnight and younger children come out in the daytime to do crafts. Many groups and organizations take part in the camp, including a Lutheran group from Minnesota, teachers from Anchorage and Fairbanks, a state trooper, Tribal Youth Program, SEARHC Health Promotion, a nutritionist, suicide prevention staff, Keex Kwaan dancers, a magistrate, tribal environmental staff, AMSEA, USFS, RAVEN AmeriCorps. The Saturday following culture camp, samples of all the foods that were prepared during the week are prepared and shared at a community potluck.
  • Every fall, for 3 years, our project has brought over 1,000 Coho salmon from a nearby hatchery (Hidden Falls), and distributed to community members. About 100 families benefit from this, as well as our senior center lunch program.
  • Late summer or early fall, we will have a first annual culture camp (fish camp) for adults under our WISEFAMILIES Traditional Foods community transformation grant. Community members will share their method of smoking salmon strips; this will be a 3-day process—two days for smoking, one day for pressure canning the fish, and a community celebration.

Processing seal in Kake, Alaska. Photo courtesy of SEARHC.

Which local traditional foods did you choose to cultivate, hunt, gather or plant for your program? What techniques have you been using?

  • Beach greens (beach asparagus and goose tongue): last year and this year we pickled beach asparagus. Last year we used a

    Bounty of the land, Goose Tongue. Photo courtesy of SEARHC.

    sweet pickle recipe, and this year a dill pickle recipe — both were delicious! We also donate beach greens to the senior center lunch program.

  • Berries: every year my project at culture camp is to make low-sugar, no-cook jam with the youth. Each child takes home a sample in a plastic cup with a “sugar comparison” label.
  • Salmon: smoked strips. Every year at culture camp, the youth learn to cut salmon into strips and smoke it. In the past, the fish was processed in a hot water bath, which did not get the fish to a high enough temperature for safe food processing. Under the community transformation grant, this year the fish and meat were pressure canned at culture camp—a first.
  • Halibut: at culture camp this year, the halibut was processed in pint jars, which can be used for fish spread and eaten on crackers (mixed with mayonnaise).
  • Hooligan: the community of Wrangell shared their hooligan (candlefish) with us this year, and this was smoked and eaten at culture camp. We still need to reciprocate with a gift of traditional foods for them.
  • Moose: the USFS donated a moose to culture camp, which was processed in a pressure canner in pint jars.
  • Deer: a community member donated a deer to culture camp, which was processed in a pressure canner in pint jars. They also smoked some in the smokehouse.
  • Seal: was cut and prepared for the community potluck. The fat was cooked into seal grease.
  • King salmon and sockeye salmon were also donated to the culture camp. Some of this was cut in strips and smoked and some was cooked using the “pit” method, where the fish is cooked in a hole underground, wrapped in greens. The community is invited to participate in this feast during culture camp week.
  • Coho salmon that was donated by Hidden Falls Hatchery last August was cut into strips and smoked at culture camp, and jarred in the pressure canner.

How has this project impacted your community?

Gathering Goose Tongue in Kake, Alaska. Photo courtesy of SEARHC.

Back in the 1980’s when Kake had such a high suicide rate, community members realized that the answer had to come from within, and took action to stem the tide of suicide. Culture camp was one activity, with youth learning to process traditional foods, but also spending time around the fire talking, having adults come out and share with them. Another activity was teaching traditional classes in the school (beading, carving, etc.). Our WISEFAMILIES traditional foods program builds on what has already been ongoing, strengthening our people by strengthening our link to our cult ure — including traditional foods.

What are your plans to sustain this project?

  • The culture camp will continue year after year under the tribe, and we will continue to help with this.
  • We are hoping our “first annual” adult culture camp will continue every year.
  • Our community transformation grant advocates for safe food preservation (pressure canning meats and fish, rather than hot water bath), and this should continue every year.
  • To make our WISEFAMILIES project sustainable, our plan is to create a “how-to” book, with step-by-step instructions on preparing our food. For instance, with smoking salmon strips: we will share brine recipes; different methods people use to cut and hang their strips; what kind of wood to use; how hot to make the fire; how many hours to put smoke on it, and how many hours to put heat. There are many recipe books out, but this book will share how to process the food from beginning to end. This will probably be online and hard copy also.
  • My job with health promotion will continue to involve our traditional foods whenever possible.

Special thanks to the SEARHC staff, particularly Ms. Georgie Davis-Gastelum and Ms. Caroline Roberts for sharing their time, recipes, and stories. For more information on the this program, contact Georgie Davis-Gastelum at or Martha Pearson at

Kake drummers. Photo courtesy of SEARHC.

Shtax’ Heen Khwaan Community – Wrangell, Alaska

Interview with Ken Hoyt

What’s your favorite thing about being involved in your traditional foods project?

I was raised outside of Alaska, in the suburbs of Washington State, but I was raised to be proud of my Tlingit heritage, which meant songs, dancing and foods but I didn’t know my tribal community personally. This position brought me home to Wrangell, to the Shtax’ Heen Khwaan. Today, it is my job to get to know the people of my homeland and work intimately with them on important food-related tasks. I am so grateful for the opportunity to positively impact my tribal community.

To me, our food is our relationship to the land. We take care of the land and the land takes care of us. My favorite part of participating in this project is the feeling of helping to strengthen that relationship. From the very beginning I have been praying for the food to help bring us together as a people and it really has. Our food is a lot more than just delicious and good nutrition, it’s our medicine, for bodies, minds, psyches and spirits. Our food is the story of our people, our identity, our struggle.

What traditional foods and activities are going on this summer? 

For physical activity, our program became very involved with the recent Paddle to Celebration 2012. In anticipation for the event we hosted a paddle making workshop and team-building exercises like practice paddles. During the Paddle to Celebration, our canoe team joined alongside canoes from six other communities and paddled about one hundred miles in a traditional style canoe on our way to the huge Celebration in Juneau. Along the way we were able to hunt and fish and we ate a lot of good traditional foods in the communities who hosted us. For that event, we borrowed a canoe, but we look forward to having a few canoes owned by the Wrangell people.

One of our new projects is the community smokehouse. Many people in our community don’t have their own smokehouses or yards but would benefit from access to one. The smokehouse will be open for use to any member of the Wrangell community, and especially to organizations like our tribe as it prepares for upcoming festivities. The smokehouse will also be a classroom for expert fish-smokers to pass their knowledge to the next generations. It is our goal that the smokehouse fosters a sense of community and sharing for the people of Wrangell.

Which local traditional foods did you choose to cultivate, hunt, gather or plant for your program? What techniques have you been using?

So far our program has worked on the early salmon runs and processed some sockeye and dog salmon. We are currently gearing up for the coho runs. Hunting season is also very near and we look forward to getting deer, moose and even elk. We are also hosting a canning and jam-making workshop where folks will bring their own berries they have picked and learn techniques for storage. Additionally our program has a small plot at the community garden where we are cultivating some crops that were common in the old gardens, as well as two types of indigenous potatoes.

Our program is proud to be involved with our local tribal community as it gears up for the dedication ceremonies of our tribal house. The Chief Shakes House rededication is set for May of 2013 which means we will be processing and storing food this summer in anticipation of next spring. This is no small task as we are expecting to serve dinner for around 1,000 guests. So in addition to “personal use” and “subsistence” quantities of most foods, we are expecting to process large-scale donations from the local fisheries as well as donations of confiscated moose.

 How has this project impacted your community?

Traditional foods have always been of central importance to the Native culture of the people of Shtax’ Heen Khwaan. Many people value their culture so highly that they treat it like the good china and only bring it out for special occasions. The project, however, has increased the use of traditional foods, making them more of the norm. These days it’s generally expected that people bring seafood and game to potlucks and local events and it’s common to see folks snacking on seaweed and dryfish. The project has increased peoples’ access to the foods so people are eating more of it.

That said, our food is of even greater significance than just the calories, but the community has benefited in spiritual, social and psychological ways. When our kids get to eat the same foods as their ancestors, they have an increased sense of pride in their identity and culture. The foods aren’t just medicine for their bodies but for their whole beings.

 What are your plans to sustain this project?

Our grant funding is set to end pretty soon. We have been very conscious of how to make sustainable community investments. We are reminded of the old parable about teaching a man to fish—the project seeks to teach the community how to feed itself. Increasing community connections between those who have access and knowledge to the foods, and those who want to learn how or who can’t get them on their own, is one of the most profound and long-term impacts we can make. Also, we are constantly seeking ways to partner with local organizations that will carry on with the projects. Tradition means using old wisdom to deal with new realities, so I think whatever we teach the youngsters will continue— I have faith in the persistence of my people.

Kake smokehouse. Photo courtesy of SEARHC.

Notes About Fish-Smoking Traditions

One of my favorite parts about fish-smoking traditions is the diversity among individuals and between families. Everyone has their own personal recipes and individual style. Everyone’s smokehouse is a little different and their processes all vary. There’s a standard version—cut it, brine it, smoke it, pack it, but seemingly infinite possibilities for creativity. I don’t have my own recipes yet, but I’m a big fan of brown sugar brines. Salmon is pretty sweet already and the sugar really brings that flavor out.

Special thanks to the SEARHC staff, particularly Mr. Ken Hoyt for sharing his time and stories. For more information on the this program, contact Ken Hoyt at or Martha Pearson at


3 responses to “Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium

  1. i would love to see some of our ancestors receipes using skunk cabbage, and the wild tea that i drank as a child. not to mention the use of the devil club stocks. Dez

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