Around the World in 80 Plates: Juneau, Alaska

Alaska is a huge place, and there is no way to say “this one meal is the best Alaskan food”! There are five groups of Alaska Natives that are divided by the area they live. Today Captain Create is in Juneau, in the southeast, to see the ocean, tall mountains, a glacier, and to learn about traditional foods of the Tlingit, Haida, Eyak, and Tsimshian people.

Southeast Alaska’s “close to the ocean” environment provides plenty of things to eat, as well as wood to build with.3 Fish like salmon and halibut, ocean plants, berries, moose, deer, and mountain goat were traditional foods and are still important food sources today. They used the ocean and rivers to travel and build trade routes.3 The people of Southeast Alaska were accomplished boatmen and traders, and built long canoes out of cedar for traveling3. They also used these resources to create art to help them tell stories and pass down their oral histories. You may recognise their unique style of art in their famous totem poles!

An interesting fact is that these groups of Alaska Natives have a matrilineal system: Kids are born into their mother’s clan, with all roles and property passed down through their mother’s line.1

Now for the Alaskan food!

There is currently a special project with the US Forest Service and members of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska to grow traditional Alaskan potatoes! “Many of the clans have their stories, about how the potato, the k’únts’, was brought here,” says David Kanosh of the Forest Service.2 Tlingit people planted them by the beach, at the forest’s edge, where there was lots of sunlight and plenty of seaweed and fish guts for fertilizer.2

(Photo by Ari Snider/KCAW)

According to potato expert Elizabeth Kunibe, (yes! You really can get a job as a potato expert!) scientists used to believe the potatoes of Alaska were brought here by European colonists. But genetic studies show that the Tlingit potato is related to South American potatoes, and arrived in Southeast Alaska several hundred years ago, likely through Tlingit voyages and trade routes.2 “We’re told that they could be part of a story that is told through the Kaagwaantaan Clan,” says Tammy Young, cultural resources coordinator at Sitka Tribe of Alaska. “They have a story where canoes went down, all along the coastline, all the way down as far as they could go.”2

If they had all the yummy fish from the ocean, and they were growing potatoes, it seems to us that they would have eaten them together! Lets try it in a foil packet! You can cook these in your oven, or if you decide to make them in summer, you can even cook them in a fire!

Resources

1- https://current.seabourn.com/article/the-tlingit-people-of-alaska

2- https://www.knba.org/post/tlingit-potatoes-continue-thrive-thanks-sitka-tribe-forest-service

3- https://www.travelalaska.com/Things-To-Do/Art-Culture-History/Alaska-Natives.aspx

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