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Video: Combining Traditional Skills and Practical Uses of Pottery

While participating in the Great Lakes Food Summit, attendees could also participate in traditional skills workshops, like pottery.
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The Great Lakes Intertribal Food Summit was about more than food sovereignty; it was also a way to share traditional skills, like pottery.

Among the hands-on workshops and skill sharing circles was one offered by Erik Vosteen and Natasha Smoke-Santiago, who shared their traditional skills in pottery.

Vosteen is a cookware specialist and Smoke-Santiago is an artist who works with clay. In the video, Vosteen explains how he and Smoke-Santiago combined their efforts and expertise to “put a traditional aspect and a practical cooking aspect” into the workshop.

“Most of this pottery from ancient times is in fact cookware; it’s the best cookware that you can make from the local environment,” Vosteen says in the video. “And really that’s our focus here is food, so we’re working on making things that we can cook with.”

Even though pots may look artistic, they have always been functional as well, and Vosteen agrees. “Most of what we call decoration was either incidental to the manufacturer or functional, it’s just that we haven’t discovered all of those functions,” he says.

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During the traditional skills workshop, Vosteen talks to the group about how to clean clay pots, which he says the only way to clean them is to put them into the fire until everything burns off. The process sterilizes the pots better than simply cleaning them. “You’ll see that black burnt crust from fire cleaning,” in archaeological examples Vosteen explains to the group as they make their clay pots.

Just cleaning them with soap and water will leave behind food and bacteria that will eventually lead to the growth of mold, Vosteen explains in the video how mold can actually grow out the sides of the vessel.

“The only way that I have found to effectively clean this stuff… is fire cleaning,” he says.

Watch the full video below: