Culture and cuisine bring people together at elders celebration
In the Athabascan Ceremonial House kitchen, Yaari Walker prepared for a potluck.
The smell hit you when you walked in the door: the kind of dishes you could only find at an Alaska get-together.
“Right now I’m making walrus soup,” she said.
The food she’s making will feed community members at the Alaska Native Heritage Center’s Honoring Our Elders Celebration. Her walrus soup, along with salmon dip, bowhead muktuk and seal stew all topped the menu.
Walker grew up living a subsistence life on St. Lawrence Island. Walrus and seal were everyday staples for her family. The seal for the dinner was one she skinned herself at the heritage center a few weeks ago.
“I’d rather eat this than something from KFC,” she laughed.
She slowly stripped the skin away from the blubber and told stories of eating walrus as a child.
“We’d put them in the frying pan and make walrus oil,” she said. “When I was growing up we’d call them Eskimo popcorn and eat the fried blubber.”
Her mother taught her the best way to make walrus: Boil it for a few hours before it goes into a soup.
“You have to cut the opposite direction of the grain because it makes it easier to chew on,” Walker explained.
Elders in Anchorage don’t have easy access to Native foods.
“Ain’t going to find walrus here,” she chuckled.
Walker said she enjoys her time in the kitchen because it’s her way to say thank you to elders for their guidance.
“Knowing you’re about to feed them after all they do for you, after all they teach us — it’s an amazing feeling when you’re feeding them,” she said.
For Walker, the dinner is about getting back to traditions and the food is just a small part of that.
“Us young people, it’s our job to learn and listen to the elders and pass down the things we learn from them or they’ll be lost forever,” she said.
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