Alaska Native youth preserve traditions by preserving traditional food at Elders and Youth Conference

Tutuutux ux (Nadia Dushkin) and Madilyn Nageak, students from Mount Edgecumbe High in Sitka, pack coho salmon into jars for pickling at the Elders and Youth Conference in Anchorage Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Young people from around the state learned how to filet and prepare salmon in a series of workshops at the Elders and Youth Conference in Anchorage Monday and Tuesday. 

The workshop organizers were from Tlingit and Haida Central Council in Southeast Alaska. 

Ralph Wolfe, director of their Indigenous stewardship program, said the aim was to teach young people how to process salmon and deer so the methods will be passed on. He said they taught young people how to harvest and pickle salmon, how to pickle herring eggs and how to quarter deer and bone meat. 

“There’s some kids who you can see have done it lots of times,” Wolfe said. “And there’s some kids where you can see this is the very first time and the excitement that they get in just seeing how they react to touching a fish.” 

Hilangaay Young serves himself some salmon. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

This is the 40th year of the annual conference organized by First Alaskans Institute, which brings youth and elders from around the state in the lead up to the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. It was an opportunity for sharing skills and knowledge. 

Wolfe said he showed youth how to filet fish the way that he learned to process them in Southeast Alaska. 

“Every region, even in our region, has different ways of cutting salmon,” Wolfe said. “So part of our message, we say, ‘This isn’t the only way. This is just how we do it.’” 

Hayden Grace Marie Blair and Connie Hedrick hold up salmon and pickled salmon they harvested and processed at the conference. (Matt Faubion/AKPM)

Hayden Grace Marie Blair, 15, said in Seward she fished with her aunties and her grandmother every summer. But she hadn’t cleaned fish in a while so it was a good refresher. 

“You really have to get in there and you have to feel around inside the fish to feel the balance to know where you’re cutting,” said Blair. “It was a little disturbing and overwhelming, but it was fun.” 

Kids lined up to wait for their turn to pack chunks of coho salmon into jars. Then they added onions, ginger, pickling spice and vinegar. Wolfe said after a week of curing, the elders and youth who packed jars with fish can taste it. 

Javon Stewart-Foster, 14, packed salmon in a jar to pickle. He said he’d never learned how to filet a fish before. He said he thought he did a pretty good job, but not perfect. And he said he would bring the pickled fish home to his grandmother in Anchorage. 

RELATED: Talk of Alaska: AFN’s 2023 convention

Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Rachel here.

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