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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

"Teaching Our Many Grandchildren"




Gathering, Traditions & Nutrition of our Food

 Nora David, Lorna David, Angel Joseph, Jeanette John & baby D'anjelo clean moose stomach at Batzulnetas, '99.
© Bill Hess
Nora David, Lorna David, Angel Joseph, Jeanette John & baby D'anjelo clean moose stomach at Batzulnetas, '99.


English/Language Arts

D. A student should be able to think logically and reflectively in order to present and explain positions based on relevant and reliable information.

E. A student should understand and respect the perspectives of others in order to communicate effectively.


B. A student should possess and understand the skills of scientific inquiry.


C. A student should develop the skills and processes of historical inquiry.

D. A student should be able to integrate historical knowledge with historical skill to effectively participate as a citizen and as a lifelong learner.

Skills For A Healthy Lifestyle

A. A student should be able to acquire a core knowledge related to well-being.


D. A student should be able to recognize beauty and meaning through the arts in the student's life.

World Languages

B. A student should expand the student's knowledge of peoples and cultures through language study.


A. Culturally-knowledgeable students are well grounded in the cultural heritage and traditions of their community.

C. Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to actively participate in various cultural environments.

D. Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to engage effectively in learning activities that are based on traditional ways of knowing and learning.

E. Culturally-knowledgeable students demonstrate an awareness and appreciation of the relationships and processes of interaction of all elements in the world around them.

National Institute of Nutrition
Alaska Native Knowledge Network
Subsistence board game and curriculum
Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative
South Central Foundation
Alaska Native Health Board
Association of American Indian Physicians
National Diabetes Education Program, a joint program of NIH and CDC ,
Institute of Social and Economic Research
University of Alaska Anchorage, 3211
Providence Drive, Anchorage, AK 99508
Fish and Wildlife service project where kids partake in the harvest

Mathews,Donna. Unangam Hitnisangisl Aleut A Region-Based Plant Curriculum for Grades 4-6. Pilot Edition. Alaska Native Knowledge Network


Students will:

1. gain a better understanding of the traditional gathering and preparations of the traditional food chain.

2. interact with Elders and knowledgeable community members to gain pertinent information.

3. develop group skills.

4. compare and contrast nutrients in local foods.

5. develop language skills.

6. learn about germs and how to keep food safe from spoiling.

Teacher Note:

Observation is a very powerful tool traditionally used in teaching children how to be self-sufficient and resourceful. Whenever possible, make time for the lessons to be located in a setting most fitted for the sharing to take place.

Wildlife toxicology is a recent focus of concern and research in the Arctic and Subarctic regions of the world. Due to the increase in toxicity as contaminants climb the food chain, more research is being done on toxins in traditional foods. Many communities throughout these regions have noticed changes in the condition of their food for many years. The research will help us understand to what extent these toxins are affecting the traditional food sources and how they may affect the communities that rely on these traditional foods for subsistence and cultural integrity. For information, visit The Alaska Action on Toxics website


Mentasta students Dawn Marie Rice, Genevie Goodlataw, Jodi Chinuhuk and Challista Sabon gather raspberries for use in various traditional foods.
Courtesy of Megan Holloway
Mentasta students Dawn Marie Rice, Genevie Goodlataw, Jodi Chinuhuk and Challista Sabon gather raspberries for use in various traditional foods.





GATHERING Nilkenazila

1. Ask the students to consider all the foods that your community members gather throughout the year. As a class, expand on the chart from the previous chapter by including the following categories:

* What is used in preparation of these foods?

* What time of year is the food gathered?

* How is the food prepared for different seasons, Potlatch and events?

* Who gathers the food? Who prepares it for different seasons?

* There are specific people that have different roles in gathering and preparing food? Who are they and what are the different roles?

* What do you know about eating or not eating specific foods at specific times? Are there special foods for the Elders? What are they?

2. Ask for an Elder to speak to the students about gathering food and preparing food. How does one gain a sense of pride and respect for the water, land and animals? What are the customs in the outdoors? Are there foods you should eat or should not eat at certain times? Is there a certain way to be and to act? Should these practices be part of every day? How can the students learn these ways? Guide the students to write down some of the guidelines for further discussion as a class.

3. Ask for an Elder and/or community member to teach students how to set up a snare. Make enough time to include finding signs of animal activity in the snow, such as tracks, caches or trails. Return to the snare later and continue per tradition.

4. Ask the students to consider any relationships they know of between animals. Are there stories that help them to understand these relationships? Are there ways of listening or watching that can help to find a moose during hunting season? If so, what are they? What animals and birds help "tell" us about other animals, birds or fish? For example, Raven has two ways of talking, or two songs. One song let's us know about bear and the other lets us know about moose. Other birds have songs or calls that help us know something. What are they?

Food iconTeacher Note:

Students may have a lot of questions about the historical and current practices. Guide the students to write down any questions they have and discuss the answers with Elders and community members.

There are very strong beliefs associated with what is done and what is not done that are included when teaching or sharing information. We expect for these "codes" to be included in this discussion with an Elder.

Berries poster


Food iconTeacher Note:

Vitamin C is essential for maintaining a strong immune system, helping the body absorb iron and keeping the teeth and gums healthy. Berries have always been an important subsistence food stored for winter and are recognized as a necessary part of the diet. Small amounts of rose hips and berries provide 100% of the recommended daily Vitamin C intake. Wild Potato or "roots" contain Vitamin C and are an important source of energy available in the spring and fall.

Calcium is found in traditionally prepared fish and game, leafy green vegetables and dairy products. It is an important part of the diet for supporting growth of the skeletal system and teeth. Young women should include calcium in their diet to prevent osteoporosis as they get older. Calcium also helps general physiological systems. It is a vital part of muscle function, helps maintain a healthy nervous system and helps maintain normal blood clotting.

Moose play a very important role in our lives. Moose meat is very good for us and helps us maintain our traditions. The moose eats leaves and grasses in the summer and primarily willow branches in the winter. Moose fat is leaner than store-bought cattle meat and has essential fatty acids that are good for us and important for long-term health. These essential fatty acids are lacking in store-bought beef. Beef is usually fatty due to the cattle's concentrated diet of corn, a substance unfitted for their four-stomach anatomy. Most cows are fed a combination of hay and corn. Cows fed only grasses have much leaner meat that contains the same healthy fatty acids as the moose meat contains. Many cows are also induced with hormones to stimulate their growth.

Students should understand that fat is an essential part of their diet. Fat stored in our bodies is used for insulation, connective tissues and as energy when needed. Fat is also always around the heart and vital organs. It helps insulate our muscles and forms a portion of our brains. Simple carbohydrates such as candy and soda can be quickly turned into fat and stored for future energy use. Intake of too many simple carbohydrates in a diet can be hard to your system and has been shown to be a cause of obesity and late-onset diabetes.

The Alaska Food Guide Pyramid contains foods commonly available for Alaskans in rural areas. The food guide pyramid is organized to promote the same dietary guidelines for every American. According to the health department, the pyramid is a way to help Americans maintain a healthy diet that includes all the necessary nutrients. These guidelines are possibly unfitting for Native Alaskans whose primary subsistence foods are meat and plant roots, greens and berries. In discussing the pyramid, it may be helpful to refer to the chart from the "Gathering 1" section to help the students consider what foods are traditionally part of their diet in the greatest proportions. You may want to have the students brainstorm another way to draw a chart to help them organize a healthy diet for themselves and their community. They should, of course, include foods that are available from local stores and that are a part of their current diet.

NUTRITION C'aans gheli y'aan

Research the nutrients that are found in local foods. Refer to the Alaska Native Science Commission data on traditional foods for students to do comparative analyses at:

For additional resources or information, contact:

Alaska Native Science Commission
3211 Providence Drive, Anchorage, AK 99508
Ph. 907-286-7702

  1. Which berries do you eat most? How much vitamin C do they have? Why is vitamin C important?
  2. What traditional foods are high in calcium? Why is calcium an important part of your diet?
  3. Take a short walk to find and talk about the plants moose eat. How does this compare to what cattle eat? Why is it important to know what the food you eat, eats? Referring to the nutrient tables for the moose and cattle, discuss the role of fat in our diet. Why is fat important? Where is it stored? How is the moose fat different than the cattle fat?
  4. Refer to the Alaska Food Guide Pyramid at the end of the chapter. Discuss the pros and cons of the Food Guide Pyramid as a resource. Is it a good resource to follow? Does it fit your community needs?
Moose poster

 Elders Laura Hancock, Lena Charley, Ruby Sinyon and Johnny Nicolai at a Potlatch in Chistochina, 2002.
 Elders Laura Hancock, Lena Charley, Ruby Sinyon and Johnny Nicolai at a Potlatch in Chistochina, 2002.
Courtesy of Doyle Traw

Food iconTeacher Note: 

Bacteria are unicellular microorganisms with many diverse environments. They pose a threat to human populations when a harmful strain of bacteria is introduced to the right conditions for growth. Food placed in plastic containers needs to be cooled quickly because closed plastic containers provide the optimal conditions for bacterial growth.

Bacteria also live in our mouths. Some of the bacteria form a sticky coating of plaque that helps them to adhere to our teeth. These bacteria help cause cavities by eating the sugars left on our teeth after a snack or meal. They then produce an acid that is potent enough to dissolve the hard enamel that covers our teeth.

The same bacteria found in yogurt live in our intestines and are very important for us to have in our bodies. They help us break down food so we can absorb the nutrients for important physiological functions.

Viruses are parasitic and cannot be controlled or treated with antibiotics. They too can cause serious illnesses that our bodies must fight with its own defenses.

Bacteria websites for further research:

TAKE CARE OF FOOD C'aan k'ahl taa'

Germs are everywhere! Introduce the subject by explaining the difference between bacteria and viruses. Bacteria and viruses are in our bodies, on our bodies, in the air and on every surface we touch. Some bacteria are helpful and some bacteria can make us really sick. Given the right conditions of warmth and moisture, bacteria will grow and divide very quickly.

  1. Brainstorm with students various conditions in the Village that are moist and warm where bacteria might live and reproduce. What is food poisoning? Do you know anyone who has ever had "food poisoning"? What happened? Complete the Bacteria Productivity activity with the students.
  2. What were some of the traditional storage methods for storing food? Talk to an Elder or a knowledgeable community member about preparing food for winter. Have the practices changed? If so, how have they changed? Consider, especially, the use of smoke and salt for drying and curing meats. What role does salt have in keeping food healthy?
  3. Ask what happens to the leftover food at community dinners, Potlatches and celebrations. What storage containers were used in the past and what containers are used now? How might this affect bacterial growth?
  4. Ask students if bacteria are ever used to make food taste good. Talk about how yogurt is made by growing bacteria in milk. Where does helpful bacteria live? Why is it important to us? "Stinkhead" is another food made with bacterial help. How is it made?
  5. Ask for an Elder or community member to show the kids how to make fish oil.
  6. How did your Elders keep their teeth healthy? How did their diet help keep their teeth healthy? Are there plants that help keep teeth clean? Did eating dry meat and dry fish help?


Using Skittles or any variation of colored candy, show the students the rater of division of bacteria. For this example, the bacteria divide every 15-20 minutes. Place candy in separate bags according to the table below.

Bag #

Candy #















Combine all the bags to show the final number of 1024 bacteria. Have students do the math to figure out how the bacteria are dividing.

Food iconTeacher Note:

Salt concentration on food reduces the availability of a moist environment for bacterial growth, thereby curing the meat for long-term storage. Salt helps to kill bacteria and keep it from growing through the process of osmosis. Smoking helps to keep flies from laying eggs and dries the meat more quickly.

Fermented foods have been a staple food for many societies. The peoples of the Upper Copper River fermented many different foods, including stinkhead, which is fermented salmon head.

Zach Martin shows off his teeth at the 2001 Health Fair.
Zach Martin shows off his teeth at the 2001 Health Fair.
Courtesy of Megan Holloway


Carol Evans and Alexander at the 2001 Health Fair.
Carol Evans and Alexander at the 2001 Health Fair.


Potlatch poster


  1. Develop a community calendar using recipes, harvest times and practices, stories (anecdotal or traditional), and information that Elders have told them. Have students break into groups, or individually choose a month and a food to represent. What would they eat and or harvest at that time of year? Encourage the students to learn the words, in their traditional language (where relevant) and include these words on the calendar.
  2. Guide the students to create a diagram of an animal or plant. What parts are eaten? What parts are non-edible but used to make something important for the community? Have the students learn the words, in their traditional language, for parts of an animal and phrases that describe interactions with the animal. Use the student knowledge and community help to cook a meal for Elders and/or prepare a gift with a local plant or animal resource.

For grades 5-12:

Make a listening station on the computer with the words spoken in the language and in English or make posters including a diagram of the animal with words and phrases.
  1. Develop a Bingo game or a similar game using the traditional language and local foods. Include pictures so that Elders and non-reading community members may also participate. Have the caller say the words in the traditional language. Also, refer to the website listed in the "Teacher note" at the beginning of the chapter for other game options.
  2. Prepare a traditional food that the students may not have tasted or made before.

Discussion Ideas:

  1. Why is it important to follow the guidelines of our Elders when you go hunting? Have the circumstances changed for hunting/fishing/snaring/trapping traditional foods? If so, how have circumstances changed?
  2. What are some of the events you have that include local food?
  3. How might a diet in local foods help with common illnesses that are only recently problems for people? How might the practices of harvesting these foods that you discussed with an Elder help prevent some of these illnesses? (Diabetes, heart disease, malnutrition, etc.)
  4. How did your Elders learn how to harvest food? Discuss the role of science in making tools, preparing food, and knowing how to travel on land and in water. Also, discuss spirituality, sharing, interactions with the natural world, and celebrations. What do these values and activities have to do with harvesting food?
  5. With the guidance of an Elder, explore with students what elements have been catalysts for change away from the traditional storage practices?


Teryn Pence draws local plants after taking a walk at the Chistochina school.
Teryn Pence draws local plants after taking a walk at the Chistochina school.
Courtesy of Megan Holloway


Food Guide Pyramid

Food Pyramid 



Use the Food Guide Pyramid to help you eat better every day... the Dietary Guidelines way. Start with plenty of Breads, Cereals, Rice and Pasta; Vegetables; and Fruits. Add two to three serving from the Milk group and two to three servings from the meat group.

Each of these food groups provides some, but not all of the nutrients you need. No one food group is more important than another - for good health you need them all. Go easy on fats, oils, and sweets, the foods in the small tip of the Food Guide Pyramid.


Bread, Cereals, Rice, and Noodles
1 slice of bread
1 piece of pilot bread
1/2 cup of cooked cereal
1 ounce of cold cereal
1/2 cup of cooked rice
1/2 cup of cooked noodles

Milk, Yogurt, Cheese, and Calcium Foods
1 cup of milk
1 cup of yogurt
1 1/2 to 2 ounces of cheese
1 bowl of fish head soup

1/2 cup of chopped raw or cooked vegetables
1 cup of leafy raw vegetables

Meat, Birds, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs and, Nuts
3 ounces of cooked lean meat
3 ounces of cooked bird
3 ounces of cooked fish
1-6 inch strip of dried fish
Count 1/2 cup of cooked beans, or 1 egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter as 1 ounce of lean meat (about 1/3 serving)

1 cup of berries
1 piece of fruit
1 wedge melon
3/4 cup 100% real fruit juice
1/2 cup canned fruit
1/4 cup of dried fruit

Fats, Oils, and Sweets
LIMIT CALORIES FROM THESE FOODS especially if you need to lose weight

How many servings to you need each day?

Women & some older adults

Children, teen girls, active women, most men

Teen boys & active men

Calorie level

about 1,600

about 2.200

about 2.800


Bread group







Vegetable group


Fruit group


Milk group


Meat group

5 ounces
6 ounces
7 ounces

* These are the calorie amounts if you choose low fat, lean foods from the 5 major food groups and use foods from the fats, oils and sweets group sparingly.

** Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, teenagers, and young adults to age 24 need 3 servings.

Handout revised by 1998-1999 AP4 Dietetic Interns; Artwork done by Jenny Biggs

Approved by Nutrition Education Materials Coordinating Committee (NEMCC) 6/8/99- AK FGP
The information in this handbook was adapted from the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid,
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Information Services, 1992.


MSTC Mission Statement



In A Sacred Manner, by Wilson Justin

Learn & Serve Focus Groups

People icon



Interview of Elders

Clans of Chistochina & Mentasta

Why Are We Here?

Who We Are

Land icon


Our Way of Life

Mapping the Village

What A Waste

Raw Materials

Our Natural Resources


Water icon


Water, Water

Our Watershed

Food icon


Where Does Our Food Come From?

Gathering, Traditions and Nutrition of our Food

Keeping Ourselves Healthy

A Student Led Health Fair

Assessment & Performance Evaluation


Learn & Serve Program

Sources, Resources

Thank You


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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
Questions or comments?
Last modified August 17, 2006