Reviving traditional Coast Salish food knowledge

Photo: Elise Krohn
Photo: Elise Krohn
September 14, 2013 | Burke Museum

This is an excerpt from the Salish Bounty exhibit created by the Burke Museum in 2012.

Dispossession and Struggle

Enormous changes came to Coast Salish diet and culture beginning in the 1850s. Non-Indian settlers rapidly altered ecosystems and restricted access to lands and waters, making it increasingly hard for Coast Salish people to collect traditional foods.

The reservation system was supposed to replace this loss, but instead it imposed new foods poorly suited to Native people’s nutritional and cultural needs. Coast Salish people struggled to adapt and keep alive the cultural values that have always guided how and what is good to eat. That struggle continues to this day.

Reviving Traditional Food Knowledge

Today, Native peoples are overcoming barriers to revitalize their relationship to traditional foods. The barriers are many—polluted shellfish beds, depleted or extinct fish runs, loss of access to land for hunting or gathering wild plant foods, forgotten recipes, the lure of fast food, and lifestyles that leave little time for food preparation and community feasts.

Many Coast Salish tribes, schools, and community groups are now working to revitalize the knowledge and values that have guided them for generations.

The core cultural values around food include:

  • Food is the center of culture
  • Honor the food chain
  • Eat with the seasons
  • Eat a variety of foods

Stories of Food and Cultural Values 

We sat down with local tribal members and experts to discuss the traditions, special preparations, and greater meaning of food in their culture. Listen to their stories below:

Warren KingGeorge
Muckleshoot/Upper Skagit Indian Tribes

George Swanaset, Sr.
Nooksack/Laq'á:mel Tribes

Elizabeth Swanaset
Nooksack/Cowichan/Laq'á:mel Tribes

Elise Krohn
Traditional foods specialist, Northwest Indian College

Traditional Coast Salish Foods

Stories from the ancestors and the archeological record agree: Native Coast Salish peoples had an incredibly diverse knowledge about the food plants and animals of this region.

Archaeological sites around Puget Sound have found more than 280 plants, birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, shellfish and other marine life used as traditional Coast Salish cuisine. Testimony and knowledge from Coast Salish Elders, hunters, fishermen, and gatherers has confirmed and added many more foods to that list.


Salish Bounty