Tradition mixes with love to feed canoe journey masses

One of the most critical components of the 2018 canoe journey was the food. It wasn’t just any food – it was nourishment and renewal for the tummy as well as the soul, providing a key source of healing medicine for all tribal people at protocol in a way that nothing else could. These were traditional foods that the ancestors ate as part of their daily diet, thus offering generational healing and a way to connect with Coast Salish culture going back thousands of years.

Top priority in the kitchen was to prepare everything with love. The buffalo chili, dried nettles, buffalo stew, clam fritters, clam chowder, salmon hash, seafood chowder, seared razor clams, halibut, crab, frybread, fire roasted salmon, swamp tea for the elders – everything was to be infused with love and good, clean thoughts. Kitchen co-managers and cooks Arthur (Art) Holguin and Dorothy Earl saw to that, overseeing the serving of breakfast and dinner every day of protocol.

I’m trying to keep negativity out of the kitchen so that we keep putting love in the food – and focus on elders first,” Dorothy Earl said in between cooking shifts on the sixth day of protocol. “The elders are our main focus. We’ve also reached out to feel our security and volunteers – we’re reaching out to everyone.”

Each day started out with a gathering of all the food preparation staff. “We’d all circle up at 6:00 in the morning and we’d smudge and I said, ‘I just want to say something to all of you. We don’t all have the same personalities or characters, but we’re not here for us. Put all the love and laughter in that kitchen that you possibly can. I don’t want any angry people in here, no negativity because that goes into the food and makes you sick. That’s how I grew up in Yakama and that’s how I do.”

Dorothy (affectionately known at Aunt Dot) has been cooking for the local tribal community for many years, and Art Holguin has good experience in this as well. He helped out at the casino in 2012 and in 2016 was asked to head up food preparation for Paddle to Nisqually, making him a perfect choice to bring his gifts and talents to the 2018 Power Paddle to Puyallup. When asked to help out in the kitchens this year, both said they were honored by the invitation. “I just love to cook,” Dorothy said. That’s just me. The most important part for me here has been tradition – the ingredients – the traditional northwest cooking that our ancestors did.

Judging by the sound of cheers and applause when the kitchen and grill staff were honored on the last day of protocol, their efforts were greatly appreciated. Grill masters Joe McCloud and Dale Varbel and their helpers were true rock stars manning the outdoor grills in the blazing summer heat.

In the kitchen, it was all done with about half as many people as originally signed up at the canoe journey job fair.

“Initially we planned for about 100 people for kitchen help and set-up and servers. We ended up with about 53 then lost about 10 after the first day,” Art said, also taking a quick break with Dorothy on protocol day six. That left about 40 individuals from the community – until staff from the Emerald Queen Casino came to help.

“It was their hand-picked people – the directors and managers,” Art said. “For them to come down here personally, that means a lot. The food has always been top line and made with love. It’s a very challenging job and I knew it was going to be, but we knew people were depending on us. We just hit a reset button and kept the machine going.”

The weather in the early part of protocol week made for challenges as well, with temperatures 90 degrees and higher. And wouldn’t ya know it – the ice machine failed. “We went out hunting for ice and loaded 650 pounds at WinCo in the back of my truck bag by bag and brought it back,” Dorothy said, laughing now at the predicament.

To say that feeding the people was a big job is a major understatement. In fact, the Chief Leschi kitchens weren’t even big enough so portable kitchen trailers were brought in, complete with convection ovens, cooktops, grills, deep fryers – everything you’d find in a standard kitchen but mobile.

All in all, Dorothy, Art and everyone who gave of their time to feed the canoe journey masses have much to be proud of in what they accomplished in the historic event that will bring back so many great memories to all who took part in 2018 Power Paddle to Puyallup.

As Art said, “I made a ton of memories here – I think my life has changed a little bit.”