My last IACP panel of the day was like cultural dinner theater, filled with song and dance.
Historical Food Practices of the Quinault Indian Nation started out like any highly informative slide-show presentation, but once the Quinault Drummers and Dancers Group got started, the room rocked. Men sang and chanted while children performed ritual dances celebrating elk and whale hunts.
A Quinault tribal leader described his people’s historic protein-based diet thusly:
Breakfast –- smoked clams and smoked fish.
Lunch –- elk … and smoked fish.
Dinner –- bear … and smoked fish.
The repeated smoked fish references elicited respectful chuckles all around.
When samples of smoked razor clams and steelhead were passed around, my mouth was too full of alder-scented goodness to do anything else but chew, especially on the razor clams, which had a deliciously leathery-fatty texture.
To wash it down, we were served rusty Labrador tea, brewed from the Ledum groelandicum shrub, a member of the heath family that grows in western Washington bogs.
One woman in the audience implored Quinault tribal members to market the tea commercially. I’ll drink to that. Rusty Labrador tea had sweet wooliness and delicate astringency. I’d like to drink it like some Quinault like it, spiked with dried evergreen huckleberries or fireweed blossoms.