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Hunting the Elusive Wapato

Women are leading a revival of First Nations' staple foods. To get lucky, you have to get mucky. With my feet twisting in the mud of a frigid river, I have already lost the festive socks that were a Christmas gift from my mom. Now the river bottom is turning to quicksand beneath my bare feet. I sink slowly at first, then slip swiftly from waist-deep until the water is nearly at my neck. The water is so cold that it is crusted with ice along the shore, and I know I can't last much longer. Beside me, Roma Leon of the Katzie First Nation seems to be settling in for the long haul, her feet roiling up clouds of silt.

We are hunting wapato -- unsuccessfully, so far. We're in an experimental test plot, and the number of wapato (pronounced WAH-pah-toe) tubers that might be hidden in the muck here is unknown. It's all part of a dawning revival of the staple foods of First Nations in B.C.