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Sharing the Table

Last week I had the pleasure of connecting with my friend, Len Pierre of Katzie First Nation, while sharing in a Fireside Chat hosted by the College of Physical Therapists of British Columbia. ​(Click here to watch the replay)​. During our conversation we discussed examples of how to be a good guest in First Nations communities, and specifically, the significance of food in First Nations culture.

This discussion prompted me to recall a workshop Culturally Committed hosted with Jared Qwustenuxun Williams of Quw'utsun, that echoed the sentiments Len was sharing. Jared had explained that in First Nations culture, food is so much more than sustenance. Rather, it is a connection to the land, to each other, and to skills and teachings. Jared went on to share that food was seen as a type of wealth -- the more food you had to give away, the richer you were. Following the call, he and I chatted about the relevance of these teachings to people like myself: non-Indigenous providers who work in community. Jared shared:

"In hwulmuhw [First Nations] culture it is custom to feed your guests before hosting any event. Elders often refer to this as 'sharing a table' and it is looked at as a connection, a link between people, a place where stories, lineage, and teachings are shared. The act of eating while listening is said to help the listener take in teachings or stories. So, the act of sharing a table is more than breaking bread, or eating together; it's the act of absorbing the stories and teachings of those around you, and the first step in joining the family. When an Elder invites you to share a table, they are asking you to share more than food; they are asking you to share in our way of life."

This conversation prompted me to recall a memorable experience I had while visiting a remote community. At the end of a long clinical day, an Elder invited me into her home to drink tea, visit, and share soup together. As someone who worked in private practice for a decade, the experience of being invited into someone's home was very foreign. When I walked in her door, there were photos and carvings literally covering the walls of her cozy home, from floor to ceiling. It was a library of the history of her family, and she took me through her entire collection. We sat under the light of her kitchen table, which was carefully set with china cups and dishes, and shared in conversation that stretched for hours. I was grateful to hear many stories about her life and culture. It was an evening I'll never forget, and I recognize what a privilege it was.

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