By Suanne Unger
Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (2014)
Review by Elise Krohn
In this time when people are estranged from the source of their food, and when chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are rampant, Native elders echo a common message: “Your culture is your medicine. If you want to be well, eat your native foods, for they feed your body and they also feed your spirit.” In the book Qaqamiigux, meaning “to hunt or fish for food and collect plants; subsistence,” we learn about the rich food traditions of the Unangan people from Alaska’s Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. While many books on Indigenous foods have surfaced in recent years, few have the magnitude, beauty, and completeness of Qaqamiigux. Rather than sharing recipes from an individual or small group, this book documents a communitywide movement in revitalizing food traditions. Aleut language is included along with stories, myths, photographs, contributing writers, and featured chefs. Creating a book like this is not an easy task, but the reward is that the whole community “owns” the book and uses it. It becomes a source of pride.
The Unangan have the longest and most difficult history of contact with foreigners among Alaska Native peoples because of their unique geographical location. The first part of the book explores the historical, environmental, and socioeconomic factors that have led to an increased reliance on store-bought foods and the development of barriers to utilizing native foods. Helping younger generations understand this story and the choices we make about what we eat is an important part of healing generational trauma. Environmental contaminants and food-borne illnesses are also covered along with useful recommendations for safe food handling and preparation.
The second part of the book details over 60 types of marine mammals, fish, birds, caribou and reindeer, plants, and tidal foods. Seasonal harvest diagrams offer a visual representation of foods eaten throughout the year. Methods for harvesting and preparing, nutrient information, and recipes are included. Easyto- read charts compare the nutrient density of native foods verses contemporary foods. For example, just three ounces of seal meat provides the same amount of iron as 24 hotdogs or 68 chicken nuggets! While you may not need to know how to butcher caribou or harvest nagoonberries, many of the featured foods are found throughout Alaska, British Columbia, and the United States.
Qaqamiigux is a testament to the gifts of the Unangan people, and it will serve to perpetuate their cultural wealth into the future. The community-based model used to develop the book, along with the beautiful format, will help other Native communities create their own successful traditional food resources. I recommend this book for students pursuing studies in Native science, nutrition, community health, and tribal food sovereignty.
Elise Krohn, M.Ed., is a fellow in ethnobotany and ethnonutrition at the Center for World Indigenous Studies, and author of Feeding the People, Feeding the Spirit.