Fertile ground: Storytelling, foraging and sharing knowledge

“Food is primal. It’s something we all need and that tends to be imbued with our deepest cultural values and stories.”

A $10,000 grant from the Victoria Foundation to the Galiano-based Access to Media Education Society (AMES) program Digital Forage: Gathering the Wisdom of Island Elders gives a financial boost to a unique project that brings together school children and Penelakut elders in a special forum to share knowledge.

Pulse contacted Executive Director Deblekha Guin to hear more about the project.

What is Digital Forage: Gathering the Wisdom of Island Elders?  

This is a wild-food and plant-focused intergenerational digital storytelling program that involves the reciprocal sharing of knowledge between Galiano and Penelakut artists, elders, and youth.

The elders share their specialized and “seasoned” knowledge of foraging; the artists share their knowledge of photography, digital storytelling and new media production. Finally, the youth go full circle, and share their own emerging knowledge of new and social media with their elders.

How did this get started?

Digital Forage emerged out of ideas generated through “Two Islands United” — a project initiated by The Galiano Community Food Program in 2012. That project brought together youth and elders from the neighbouring Islands of Penelakut (formerly Kuper) and Galiano to share knowledge of wild and traditional foods and medicines. Access to Media Education Society’s role was to use technology as a bridge between generations and ways of life, in an attempt to help preserve essential knowledge that is in danger of being lost.

Between September 2012 and May 2014, AMES worked with young people from both islands to help them gain the know-how to record these inter-island gatherings. The work culminated in the creation of salishharvest.com, a site that features short videos, background information about the plants and related recipes.

In the 2015 iteration of the project, the programming involves a younger group of children in and around their local schools. The focus has also expanded to include wild plants as well as foods to engage kids in looking at the different forms of nourishment (food, medicine and spirit) that are alive in their natural world around them.

What has been the biggest benefit to emerge from this program?

Albeit a slow process, one of most rewarding aspects of this program is the gradual development of trust (one relationship at a time) between the two communities.

I would also say that one of the biggest benefits to this program has been the partnership that AMES is developing with the Galiano Island Conservancy to deliver and significantly enhance this project.

The energy and resources that the Conservancy brings has enabled us to incorporate some elements that will live on after the project has officially ended. Most notable is the hands-on habitat restoration workshop on Penelakut Island that will see students planting Sxwesum (Soapberry or Soopalalie) and Q’uxmin (Indian Consumption Plant) at both the Penelakut Island Elementary School (PIES) and the community garden (overseen by Penelakut Health).

Another legacy aspect of this program is the building of a traditional pit oven at the Galiano Learning Centre. This oven, which will ideally enhance and make possible many feasts to come, will be built under the guidance of a Penelakut elder and with the helping hands of many people from both islands.

Is there one particular success story that stands out?

Some of the most outstanding moments of success have been about the deep and animated engagement that the young people have had in terms of both the content and the creative process. It’s plain to see that this project is helping young people look at the familiar natural surroundings of their respective schools through a more sensory, attuned and creative lens.

What is the importance of connecting over land-based storytelling, and how does this foster intergenerational and cultural relationships?

Food is primal. It’s something we all need and that tends to be imbued with our deepest cultural values and stories. As a result, it’s pretty fertile ground to start from.

The creation of engaging opportunities for children to practice place-based storytelling, creatively reflect upon their natural surroundings and learn why they are worth protecting is important. It deepens their knowledge of plants/foods and medicines in their midst, enhances their awareness of the local habitats that support them, and contributes to environmental sustainability.

In addition to making an investment in the next generation of potential land stewards, the cultivation of young people’s interest in and ability to harvest local, wild foods helps to ensure access to healthy and sustainable food sources, essential aspects of both personal and ecological health and well-being.

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