I am a member of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) First Nation. My ancestral name is Styawat and I am an ethnobotanist by training. I completed my Masters of Science in Ethnobotany at the University of Victoria under the guidance of Dr. Nancy Turner, Dr. Trevor Lantz and members of my Skwxwú7mesh family and community. In the fall of 2017, I will begin pursuing my Ph.D. in Ethnobotany at the University of Montreal with Dr. Alain Cuerrier.
My interest in the relationship between food and culture developed at an early age and was nourished by my visits with my late uncle, Chester Thomas, and his wife Eva. My grandmother’s family is from the Snuneymuxw, or Nanaimo First Nations, and I visited her brother often on his land along the Nanaimo River when I was a child. My memories of that time include picking fresh fruits and vegetables from his garden and watching him prepare the salmon that he and my aunt caught and smoked on their property. I remember the fresh blackberry juice my aunt would often make to go with each meal.
These early experiences had a lasting impact on me. They were responsible for instilling in me a deep respect for the natural world. They also developed my awareness of how important the links between food and culture are. These meals have stayed vividly with me, not only because we were eating healthy food but because of the spirituality that was woven into them in the harvesting and preparing of the foods and the offering of thanks to the plants and animals that had given their lives for our nourishment.
I have worked with a number of different First Nations communities within the field of ethnobotany. Through this work I have focused largely on traditional knowledge renewal and building connections to place and to health through working with traditional plant foods and medicines. There is such a gift in this work of connection between culture, health and the environment. It is wonderful to look to the knowledge holders in a community to guide the development of programs and resources so that others in the community may learn and participate. A major focus in my past work has been on the importance of getting out onto the land and learning in a hands-on way about culturally important plants and how they connect us to place.
I am currently living in the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in Dawson City, Yukon.