Community, Traditions and Food

Valerie Segrest, who is a member of the Muckleshoot Tribe, a community nutritionist, and a Native foods educator, treats readers to a lesson on the deep connection between people and the world in which we live.


| April 2014



Valerie Segrest

“How can we live like our teachers, the plants and foods around us? How can we learn to grow and thrive in diversity and be big medicine in the world?” — Valerie Segrest


Photo by Natasha Bowens

The Color of Food, by Natasha Bowens,(New Society Publishers) teaches us that the food and farm movement is about more than buying local and protecting our soil. It is about preserving community, digging deeply into the places we’ve overlooked, and celebrating those who have come before us. Valerie Segrest is campaigning to reignite a passion for traditional food and medicine. Using her knowledge as a nutritionist and traditional experience Valerie lays out a path for us to reconnect physically and spiritually with our food.

While food and plants seem to be able to touch us deeply and build connections across generations, I know of a young food activist and Native foods educator who would say that they also serve as our teachers, passed down from generation to generation. I steer Lucille north to Washington state to learn from this young community leader who is sharing what wild foods, along with her elders, are teaching her.

Driving through the Puget Sound area of Washington state, I am struck by the wild beauty of the region. Cedar trees and mountains give way to the coastline of the Sound and its many interconnected lakes, rivers and inlets leading out to the Pacific Ocean. The Puget Sound is a part of the Salish Sea that extends up to British Columbia, Canada, and is named after the Indigenous family of Salish and Coast Salish, or Co Salish, peoples who have inhabited the Puget Sound area for thousands of years. Over 65 different tribes comprise the Salish peoples today. I can’t help but think about how the beautiful landscape I am driving through has supported the diverse food system that’s sustained them for centuries.

I head toward one such tribe on the Muckleshoot Reservation south of Seattle, home to the federally recognized Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, who are descendants of the Upper Puyallup and Duwamish people, or Dkh’Duw’Absh meaning “the people of the inside” in the Salish language of Lushootseed. I am on my way to meet with 31-year-old Valerie Segrest who is a member of the Muckleshoot Tribe, a community nutritionist and a Native foods educator who founded the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project in 2009. She welcomes me into her home on Muckleshoot land in Auburn for a quick interview while her 12-week old daughter sleeps soundly in the front room. We speak softly about Valerie’s upcoming birthday when she plans to take friends and family up the mountain to harvest huckleberries as she does annually.

“Huckleberries are in season now,” Valerie starts, “and every year on my birthday I get a group of people together to go up there and pick. I tell them this is your birthday present to me, pick a gallon of berries,” she laughs, “and in that way, birthdays are awesome. Huckleberries are incredibly high in antioxidants, so they’re incredible anti-agers. We hear stories like that of my auntie who lived to be over 100 years old with a diet of berries and fish; berries are long-life givers. They’re high in fiber and vitamin C, and they do not raise the blood sugar; they actually help balance blood sugar. So they’re anti-diabetic in a way, and diabetes is such an epidemic in our community.”

Though the Muckleshoot don’t have a public health department doing research on the impact of diabetes and other illnesses in the community, Valerie has no doubt that the entirety of enrolled members (which is documented as 1,600, but she guesses is closer to 2,500) is affected by diabetes.





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