Native Youth Leadership Alliance

(Mariana Harvey & Johnny Buck) Our Foods Are Our Leaders!


Nahme nateetyte kwatat eewa payu atow

Our Indian foods are very important

“Our foods are our leaders; we follow our foods. Our most important ceremony honors our first foods and up until that point we are preparing for that time, so that we’re ready to honor the foods and we’re ready to gather and process them. Our lives are dependent upon our foods. There is a promise that was made when our people were created; our foods stood up for our life… the salmon, water, roots and berries. In return we made a promise to take care of them. We’re interdependent on each other’s wellbeing.” Johnny Buck (Wanapum/Yakama) founding NYLA member speaks on the teachings from our Native foods.

Our Native foods empower us as leaders through the gifts of their teachings, values, medicine and personal wellness. Our leadership is connected to our foods. One of my favorite spring plants is the celebrated, ‘Stinging Nettle’ (scientific name is ‘Urtica Dioica’); it is food, fiber and medicine. Over the last year I have been training under NW Native Plants and Foods Collective, learning & experiencing the power of our Northwest Native foods & medicines, and have especially soaked up the power of Nettles.

When I think of our foods as our teachers and leaders, I think of the teachings shown in the story from Johnny that illustrates their courage, humbleness, generosity and beauty; true models of leadership.

Freshly gathered Nettles!

Another story about our plant leaders is from Roger Fernandes (Lower Elwah S’Klallam) ‘How Nettle Saved the People’, in the story, the Nettles helps a fearful people and shares how to use its medicine to empower themselves; offers wisdom, strength, encouragement, and compassion. These are all key leadership values.

The medicine within a cup of Nettle tea can help bring your body back into a state of balance.

Our foods take care of us, so we can care for them and our communities.

Papanuknuweesha – Taking care of each other

“We are reminded of our teachings, how we gather, make our traditional tools and process; our culture is active.  They help us build relationships with each other; the foods they bring us together.

Now that there’s a growth in population, food gathering areas are being encroached upon, keeping our cultural ways is vital.  When you see how we’re dressed in the longhouse in our traditional clothing, all our foods lined up, the way we gather them, process them, our culture is still alive daily lifestyles it all survived colonization…that is due to our resilience. It’s through standing strong to our beliefs to collect and harvest, we are occupying that space continually and consistency. It’s being a voice for our foods, our salmon, deer, elk, and plants being a voice to advocate for them to be protected and preserved. That continued resilience, doing all those things our elders did, we still do so our grandchildren can enjoy them. There is pollution and lack of access, and that’s our fault. We do everything it takes and strive to keep it the same, to ensure nothing less for our future generations the same way our grandparents did; it just looks different because it’s a different time.” Johnny Buck