Ida Matthew displays 80 birch bark and cedar root baskets she had recently completed, on order for a Barriere matron. Matthew recalls an early life orchestrated to the rhythm of seasons of food cultivation, gathering and preservation. (Ann Piper photo)

Ida Matthew displays 80 birch bark and cedar root baskets she had recently completed, on order for a Barriere matron. Matthew recalls an early life orchestrated to the rhythm of seasons of food cultivation, gathering and preservation. (Ann Piper photo)

Elder says food is core of culture

“If you’re ambitious you’ll never go hungry – but you must take only what you need”…Ida Matthew

Food culture is our connection to food; in knowing what it takes to gather and produce food, in celebrating when food is abundant, and in helping one another when food is scarce. This article by editor Ann Piper ran in the June 17, 1991, issue of the Yellowhead Star (now the North Thompson Star/Journal) in regards to an interview with Simpcw First Nation Elder Ida Matthew.

Ida Matthew says every summer her housework “goes to heck”.

“I’d sooner be outside digging around than polishing floors,” she says.

Food – its harvest, preservation and preparation – is the core of any culture, a basic requirement for survival, the Chu Chua Elder points out.

And, she says, the yearly cycle of cultivation, harvest, preparation and preservation provided one of the strongest patterns in her life as a youngster.

“We lived with it, the gathering, the fishing, all those things,” Matthew explains.

Born Ida Eustache, she had older half-brothers and sisters, separated by some years from the nine children of her parents’ marriage. Of those nine, she was second oldest.

The family had a farm at Chinook Cove, on the east side of the North Thompson River.

“Dad did a little bit of everything,” Ida recalls, but had few modern tools to reduce the work load.

Matthew says when she looks back now, she realizes how important the business of providing food was to the family, “beginning when we lived down here – the wheat Dad raised, to be used for flour, and to feed our chickens…

“At the time I used to wonder why all the hardships,” she says.

As one of the older children she was depended upon to help at home, Matthew says. ”The three oldest at home learned the most. I watched Mom grind flour; Dad planted barley and then roasted it for coffee, during the depression, you know.

“The trains were here, but people still travelled by wagon to the picking grounds” to put by berries for winter she recalls.

“Raft River was where we went for fish, and we only took so much out for our food. Because not everybody could go away, we made sure we got some extra.”

“Not everybody did everything, you know,” she points out.

“Some where good hunters, and they went out and got lots of meat of all kinds… which they partially dried up there for easy packing,” she says.

Matthew says both her parents were quick to learn new techniques to simplify life’s tasks where possible. Her mother had already taken up canning before she left for residential school at age 11.

Her father had made friends with neighbours of German extraction, and had learned from them European techniques to preserve pork.

“Neither Mum or Dad went to school,” she states, “They didn’t read or write, but they learned be seeing and listening.

“They were progressive, always learning, “ Matthew says.

Her father cultivated “big fields” of grain and potatoes, while her mother took care of the growing of vegetables, she recalls, and also tanned hides and made such items as gloves, to exchange for things the family was unable to grow or reap from nature themselves.

When the family moved to another location for a time, they also found “a lot of wild rabbits,” the fur of which proved to be another source of revenue.

“If you’re ambitious you’ll never go hungry,” Matthew maintains, “but you must take only what you need.”

And, she says, the old ways have not been lost within her community. “A lot of people have that old way of gathering food,” she states; “but the tools there are now, it’s easier.”

Today, for Ida Matthew and husband Louis, the process of food production and harvest has stopped. On the day she was interviewed, Ida Matthew’s husband was fishing – and she was out digging in her garden until interrupted.

Big gardens are a necessity of life for many people, she says, “because of the joy of giving.