Letitia Rampane participated in the first Digital Harvest and then went on to become one of the program’s leaders.

Digital Harvest – Setting the table for health

Initiative that brings together Aboriginal elders and youth to engage in learning about the food, land and culture of Vancouver Island

In celebration of National Aboriginal Day on Friday June 21, Vancouver Island Health Authority is sharing this story about Digital Harvest, a program for Aboriginal youth, facilitated by the health authority’s Community Nutritionist for Aboriginal Health.

Digital Harvest is a community-based initiative that brings together Aboriginal elders and youth to engage in learning about the food, land and culture of Vancouver Island. Over a weekend, elders share their cultural knowledge and practices around traditional foods. Youth then return home and, using digital cameras, create their own stories inspired by these lessons. The digital stories are shared locally and internationally, expanding the education to other youth and communities.

“I grew up eating indigenous foods and took them for granted— it had a huge impact on me to see how urban First Nations people live and to learn that they don’t have access to the foods I know so well,” says Letitia Rampane, a participant in the first workshop who went on to become one of the program’s youth leaders.

She captured her experience in a video that can be viewed here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBYNaufoYOo.

Keenan Jules, an Aboriginal youth researcher from Kyquot working at the conference brought his perspective.

“Some of the kids participating aren’t used to eating foods like salmon and moose. They eat more McDonalds and drink lots of pop,” he said.

Jules added that it’s important to remember where you come from.

“I thought I knew a lot about traditional foods before I came to the workshop, but talking about it inspired me to cut out sugary drinks and limit how many times I go for fast food,” he said.

“This is about setting the table for a healthy lifestyle, creating positive relationships to the food, land and culture of Aboriginal people,” said Fiona Devereaux, VIHA’s Community Nutritionist for Aboriginal Health. “We see an erosion in the transfer of knowledge between generations, leaving many young people without the knowledge or skills for cooking and eating— not only traditional foods, but today’s healthy foods.”

Combining the teaching of the elders with digital storytelling by youth is a powerful solution.

“We found a way to connect today’s youth, who are passionate about technology, with the teaching of the elders and ancestors,” added Devereaux. “These videos bring the voices of the elders and the youth together in a way that connects the old ways of teaching with the learners of today.”

Elder Barbara Whyte from Comox attended the Digital Harvest. She found it to be a powerful opportunity for elders to share their knowledge and connect with youth.

“It’s important for us to hand down this information, to see our traditions and knowledge carried on to the next generation,” said Whyte. “It’s empowering for Elders to be heard.”

The first Digital Harvest program came together in February 2010, facilitated by a group that included nutritionists from Vancouver Island Health’s Aboriginal Health program. Youth and elders gathered in Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where elders shared their knowledge while traditional foods like mussels, crab, rock stickers, sea urchins and oolichan were served, many of which the youth had never tried before. The second Digital Harvest program took place earlier this year.

“In my ten years of working in Aboriginal communities, this project has been one of the most satisfying,” said Devereaux. “As organizers, we all worked hard to get people there, have healthy foods and engaging learning activities. However, the magic really happened when space was created for youth and elders to learn from one another and feed off each other’s energy.”

The Digital Harvest workshop is part of Prevention and Preservation, a project led by Vancouver Island University’s Office for Community Partnerships in Health Research and generously funded by the Vancouver Foundation. Other partners include Vancouver Island Health, Aboriginal Health, Vancouver Island Coastal Communities Indigenous Food Network, and Canadian Diabetes Association.

This project aims to celebrate First Nations cultural practices and preserve cultural knowledge digitally while increasing community research capacity. Aboriginal youth will compile elders’ knowledge of healthy life ways, health foods and community history, and transmit this knowledge to other youth through the medium of digital photo stories.

The project will enhance intergenerational knowledge-sharing and connection to community while promoting healthy lifestyles.

The long-term goal is to reduce the disproportionate number of individuals in First Nations communities suffering from diabetes and other chronic diseases.