Our Food is Our Medicine

As Native people, we are taught to respect our foods, honor them, and pray for their return. Plants or animals, these foods feed the body and the spirit, providing a powerful connection to the land and sense of self.

“We are taught that without these foods, we cease to exist,” says Valerie Segrest, tribal cook and Native foods educator for Northwest Indian College and the Muckleshoot Tribe. “When our foods go away – the traditional foods, the first foods – we as people case to exist. We may still breathe and walk on this land, but we will be nobody and cease to exist.”

Through its Traditional Plants and Foods program, Northwest Indian College Cooperative Extension promotes self-sufficiency and wellness for indigenous people through culturally grounded, multi-generational, holistic classes related to Native foods and medicines. Its main campus is at Lummi Nation near Bellingham, Washington, and has six other extended campuses, including one on Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho.  Aside from college courses, NWIC offers community education programs.

  • Works with tribes to provide programs on diabetes prevention, wellness, medicine making and traditional foods. Nearly all of Washington’s 29 tribes have hosted NWIC workshops.
  • Hosts community gatherings and its first national convening, our Food is Our Medicine, in 2012.
  • Offers Train the Trainer courses about using traditional plants to prevent diabetes, making medicinal salves and teas, and how to create healing and vegetable gardens
  • Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project helps increase the understanding of local food sources through hands-on workshops and community feasts. A community mapping project helped identify local food sources. 
  • Runs Traditional Foods and Medicines program at Northwest Indian Treatment Center, a residential treatment program that infuses natural foods education with recovery through a healing garden, hands-on workshops and cultural teachings.  Patients earn a certificate of traditional foods and medicines. Read more here.
The Plants are Our Teachers
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On a chilly winter day, Elise Krohn and Stephanie Tompkins spot one lone raspberry still hanging on a bush that earlier in the year provided patients at the Northwest Indian Treatment Center (NWITC) an abundance of fresh berries. Behind the treatment center, run by the Squaxin Island Tribe, are healing gardens filled with traditional plants that serve as an integral part of patients’ recovery.