Indigenous Insights: Decolonizing Our Plates

As we focus on food and entertainment in Fort McMurray, I thought we could look at food from an Indigenous perspective—and I don’t mean Indian Tacos and bannock; although if you get the chance, try them!

I am talking about food as medicine, as survival, as culture and ceremony.  Although we cannot make generalizations about all Indigenous Peoples, there are commonalities when it comes to food, whether it be hunting and gathering, preparation or seasonal practices.  As many Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island were nomadic people, they often followed migrations and ate based on the seasons.

Traditionally, food was a cultural expression passed on orally through proper use and stewardship of the Land.  As all food came from the Land, the life that was given was also honoured and nothing gets wasted.  Hunting and gathering must include respect for the Land and animals.  Take what you need for now and give thanks.

There were cultivation and land practices that ensured populations and the Land were not over-harvested and there was no such thing as mass farming or productions.  The relationship between People and the Land is sacred and should be honoured and respected.  When on the Land, whether hunting, fishing or on journeys, tobacco is laid, both as an offering and for gratitude.  This form of ceremony is still honoured today, offering tobacco for a safe trip, an invitation to share knowledge or giving thanks to Creator and the animal after a kill.

This stewardship also requires knowledge of seasonal practices, as there were no fridges, preservatives or Tupperware, rather, wisdom was passed on from Elders.  Drying fish or meat makes it last longer, withstanding climate and transportation.  The original jerky.  Pemmican—a high energy and high protein food made of animal fat, dried meat, and available berries could be stored for long periods of time; perfect for those long winters.  Both are still eaten and enjoyed today.

Within the North, caribou, deer, bison, moose, and fish (to name just a few) would have roamed the Lands and water, but today, populations have dwindled, as lands have been encroached, waters polluted and provincial regulations dictate who can hunt, where and how much.  As stewards of the Land since time immemorial, we can see the impacts of colonization in the inability for Indigenous Peoples to live their traditional lifestyles and live off of the Land.  These impacts reverberate in the poor health outcomes for many Indigenous Peoples, including diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Food today is mass produced and rooted in a market-based economy, whereas traditional foods gathered and hunted from the Land are important culturally, nutritionally, socially and spiritually; food as ceremony has been stolen.  There is something healing in getting together, sharing food and having a conversation with others—now imagine a whole community gathering!

Market-based food also lacks nutrition and community, while containing high levels of sodium and sugar (which equals poor health outcomes).  They are also cheaper, last longer and are usually easier to purchase than traditional or fresh food.  We can’t pronounce half of the ingredients and don’t know where it came from other than the sticker from the store.  Pre-contact, there were no grocery stores or markets.  The Land was our provider.

Today, through Reconciliation and Reclamation, we’re taking back what was stolen.  Sometimes it’s been reclaimed under a different name, like “organic” and “free run;” these are not new practices, but they are teaching us universal messages that can help us all be better relatives.

These messages are clear:  Let’s go back to our roots, to what is natural.  We have to be better stewards—of the Land and ourselves (no more sliced cheese that doesn’t melt).  We should only take what we need and leave some for the next seven generations.  And we need to take a look around us because Mother Earth always provides what we need.

To learn more about Indigenous food practices, traditions and how we’re reclaiming our culture, check out the following:

  • Red Chef Revival (Telus TV, Instagram)
  • Moosemeat and Marmalade (APTN)
  • Robertgrandjambe (Instagram)
  • Babygotbannock (Instagram and YEG Street Truck)
  • yawekon_foods (Instagram)