For the indigenous peoples of the Cascadia region, First Foods (also referred to as Traditional or Cultural Foods) are plant and animal species that have long been a central part of their diets as well as culture. First Foods are species that indigenous peoples have relied on for generations for subsistence, medicines, and cultural ceremonies. These foods are often specific to particular lands – lands where generation after generation has precisely identified gathering and hunting sites, learned where and how to find the plants and animals they need for a healthy diet, spiritual and physical well-being through ceremonies and medicine, and tools and ornaments for ceremonies and their everyday lives. For many First Nations and Tribes, treaty rights often provide access to first foods and traditional foods in areas they would otherwise not be allowed to hunt, fish, or gather.

Huckleberry, a regionally important first food. Credit: US Forest Service

First Foods are an integral part of Indigenous Knowledge, which refers to holistic, evolving practices and beliefs about the interconnections and relationships between people and the environment. Indigenous Knowledge (also known as Traditional Knowledge or Traditional Ecological Knowledge) is passed down from generation to generation, adapting slowly over time based on local, generational, and spiritual changes. It includes knowledge key to the tribe’s subsistence over generations, specific to their historical land, as indigenous people’s have observed and learned animal migration and spawning patterns and how to hunt them, the seasons and gathering spots where berries are most abundant, and where to find life-saving medicinal plants and how to use them.

Because Indigenous Knowledge and First Foods are based on an accumulation of place-based practices and knowledge developed and adapted over generations, the impacts from a rapidly changing region are significant.  In general some key threats to First Foods and traditional gathering sites include invasive species, land conversion, pollution, changes in access, and range shifts due to a changing climate.  Specific threats are best understood when looking at a particular species of importance.  Some species are common traditional foods to many tribes and First Nations across the region such as water, salmon, wild game (such as deer), roots, and berries (such as huckleberry).  While some species are unique to people with histories and connection to a particular place.

The Cascadia Partner Forum recognizes the importance of First Foods to our region, and aims to use this webpage to link relevant information and resources on this topic.  Additionally we aim to work with our partners in First Nations, Tribes, and research to support discussions and analyses to increase our understanding of the impacts of climate on regionally important and common First Foods while also identifying the integration of First Foods with our other priority issues.

First Food Resources

Click here for further information on Tribes and First Nations in the Cascadia region.

First Food stories around Cascadia:

Camas is a lily-like plant whose bulb can be fire-baked to make a sweet and nutritious staple. It is a highly valued root crop. Credit: William & Wilma Follette @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS