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Honoring the First Foods

Mar 7, 2023

Salmon are just one of the sacred First Foods. As spring nears, members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Tribes (Umatilla) prepare for their season of feasts. Latit latit (Lomatium grayi, Indian celery) is one of the first plants harvested each spring by the Plateau tribes. Last Friday, traditional gatherers from the Umatilla Tribes travelled to a traditional location in the foothills of the Blue Mountains to harvest latit latit. After a day of digging, led by lead cook for the occasion Trish McMichael, they took it to the Mission Longhouse to prepare it to be served and honored during the annual Celery Feast, held on Sunday. The feast started with a traditional Washat, or seven drum ceremony, followed by lunch.

The gatherers were joined by photojournalist Annie Warren and reporter Anna King from Northwest Public Broadcasting. The elders generously shared with them why this First Food is a sacred gift to the Plateau tribes and why it should be protected by everyone who calls this place home.

All photos by Jill-Marie Gavin, CRITFC Public Information Specialist.

Abigayle McIntosh, left, is followed down the hill by sister Lisa Faye Gavin-McIntosh, right, after clearing a patch of latit latit on the top of the hill. The First Food is known to grow on the side of hills in between large rocks. Diggers use kapins, large curved metal spikes with handles, to loosen the roots of harvested plants from the earth without harming the plant or surrounding ground.

Latit latit, or “Indian Celery.” (Lomatium greyi). It both resembles and tastes like celery, and is in the same plant family as celery and carrots. It is harvested by Plateau Tribes in late winter/early spring of each year. It is the First Food that begins the season of traditional feasts honoring harvested foods.

Gatherers stopped for a lunch break at the traditional latit latit harvesting ground. The 16 women and girls who made it out to prepare for the feast lined up from oldest to youngest and started their lunch with a taste of each traditional First Food of the Umatilla Tribe followed by a drink of water. Each traditional meal of the Plateau Tribes both begins and ends with cuus, or water, to signify the important part it plays in the life of everything on the planet. The women enjoy their meal before heading back up the hill to dig for the rest of the day. From left are Leanne Alexander, Trish McMichael, Trinette Minthorn and Beth Looney.

After their first dig, the harvester holds a giveaway and gifts their first dug roots or plant to a member of the community in honor of this important time in a young person’s life. Trish McMichael, left, holds out a bag as Sequoia Tias, center, holds her wapas (woven basket used by gatherers to hold their harvested First Foods) and transfers latit latit to later be given away. Sallymae Wilson, right, helps Sequoia keep her latit latit separate from the other plants gathered for the feast.

On the day of the feast, cooks gathered in the Mission Longhouse kitchen at 7 a.m. to begin preparation. From left is Jolie Wendt, Trish McMichael, Anna King, and Annie Warren. Warren and King met McMichael, head cook for the feast, at the longhouse at 6 a.m. McMichael arrived an hour earlier than the rest of the cook crew to begin making fry bread dough for 120 attendees.