As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

Clam Digging

I’d go out clam diggin’ with my grandparents. Whatever beach you were at, if you are at Harwood Island or anywhere where there’s clam beds – and you know, clams are pretty heavy in the shell, so you would have a whole lot of clams. And so a fire is just built on the beach, big fire. There’s lots of rocks, like the size of a watermelon or whatever, you know, that size. And those rocks are heated. A lot of hot fire going on. And when the rocks are thoroughly hot, hot, hot, then all of the debris would be pushed away, like the charred wood and that. And then the clams are dumped onto the hot rocks and then covered with whatever material you had on hand, whether it was, like, seaweed or anything that’s going to help steam the clams. And then you cover it more solid with other kinds of branches that added flavour to it as well. And it would just steam and open up. So when they were all cooked and steamed, then you took it and you put it on – thread it onto ironwood material. You threaded it and then you baked it around the fire. You barbecued it around the fire. And then when that’s done, then you take it home and you smoke it for as long as it took to get it really, really dry. You could eat it like that, or if you want to store it for later use, or trading, then you smoked it. ’Cause people didn’t have freezers back then, so that was the only way to preserve it. But people really liked it. ’Cause it was so chewy and tasty. Or you could soak it and then eat it. Or just eat it as it is just in a dry form. That was one way of preserving butter clams and cockles. People were so good at braiding. Sometimes they used three sticks, and you put the body here [gesturing] and you weave it around this one and you put the other end of the clam this way, and then you start on the other side and go the other way. It was really pretty. It was like a nice braided rug. Three sticks. And you’d cook it by the fire. It’s all, like, propped up by the fire.

“We don’t get clams in front of our community anymore because it’s all contaminated.”

We don’t get clams in front of our community anymore because it’s all contaminated. At one time, me and my grandfather would go down front of my place down the beach at the point there and dig clams for supper. Just enough for clam chowder. Now we go down there and the little clams are so black and – it’s not edible. So that’s how people gathered food. The ocean was their fridge. You know, you want fresh fish, you’re going to go out there and get a fresh fish. You want clams, you’re going to go down the beach and dig clams. So everything was fresh.

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