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Clam Harvesting: A Winter Tradition

In the Gitga'at community, a time-honoured winter tradition thrives—clam harvesting. This practice sustains the community and forms a crucial part of Gitga'at culture. 

Clam harvesting connects current generations to their ancestral roots. It shows that caring for the surrounding land and waters brings a bounty of food in return.

Harvest is a Time to Learn from Gitga'at Elders

Clam harvesting extends beyond a food source. Traditional food harvesting is a way of life. During harvest—whether shellfish, seaweed, salmon, or others—community Elders impart their wisdom to the younger generations. 

Members take ancestral routes to go to seasonal harvesting sites like Clamstown in the Southern part of the territory. Elders sharing their knowledge helps preserve Gitga'at culture, language, and tradition. Practices like clam harvesting bring members closer together.

Gitga'at people in Hartley Bay gather and harvest about 90 percent of their food from the land and marine environment. Living in harmony with the territory is something special, and having Elders pass on their wisdom keeps this relationship going.

Shellfish Harvesting in the Dark

In and around Hartley Bay, you can find some of the best clam beds on the coast. In Clamstown, the low tides expose clams for harvest. These low-low tides happen at night during winter, so clam digging often occurs in the dark. The winter months offer optimal conditions for clam digging, with low tides occurring during the new and full moons. 

Sm'algya̱x Words for Clam Harvesting

Harvest is a time of celebrating Gitga'at culture. What better way to dive into tradition than using the traditional Gitga'at language during clam harvest? Here are some Sm'algya̱x words that may come in handy:

  • ts’a̱’a̱x – clam

  • sa'mx - butter clam

  • g̱a̱boox – cockles

Safe Practices When Harvesting Shellfish

It's no secret that bivalves, like clams, have a risk of causing shellfish poisoning. In Gitga'at territory, there are several programs in place with groups that sustainably monitor, manage, and protect the territory's waters. Stewardship groups take shellfish samples to ensure biotoxin levels are safe.

In warm weather, there is more risk when digging for shellfish because algae bloom may make clams too toxic to eat. During cold winter clam digging, algae are not likely to grow and cause algae bloom—which makes it a great time to harvest clam meat.

Enjoying Tradition and the Meals that Follow

As winter unfolds in Hartley Bay, clam harvesting is one outdoor activity many look forward to. This timeless practice is an excellent example of how culture and tradition bind generations together.

After digging and shucking clams, the best part follows: enjoying a meal together.

Want some help getting to the clam meat? Find a step-by-step butter clam shucking tutorial here


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