Reclaiming our stories through food

Through oppressive colonization practices, many traditional Indigenous ingredients and techniques were locked away or forgotten. Today, Indigenous Peoples across our land are unearthing ancestral knowledge and learning about traditional methods for gathering, hunting and preservation from Elders. They are merging this traditional knowledge with modern-day techniques and recipes, and forging a path for Indigenous cuisine to take its rightful place at the Canadian culinary table.

The land is our grocery store and pantry

The vast and diverse landscape in Canada traditionally shaped and formed Indigenous land and food systems. The land, air, water, soil, and animal and fungi species sustained Indigenous Peoples for millennia. Traditional food sources varied from region to region and included game, seafood, birds, plants and berries. From the whale meat and cloudberries of the Far North to the halibut and salmon of the West Coast and the wild rice native to wetlands from modern-day Manitoba all the way to the Atlantic, the nutritional diversity available to Indigenous communities was as expansive as the land itself.

Food as part of an interdependent ecosystem

Traditional food sources were seen as part of a healthy and interdependent ecosystem. Indigenous Peoples traditionally only harvested, hunted or gathered what they needed to survive, and endeavoured to not let anything go to waste. In communities with abundant fish, for example, every edible part of the fish was eaten, including the head, eyes, offal and eggs.

Inedible animal or plant material was often ingeniously repurposed for practical use. Animal bones could be used for tools, tanned hides and furs could be used for shelter and clothing, rawhide could be used for snowshoes, fishing nets or drum covers, and intestines or bladders could be used for cooking vessels or water storage. Plant materials, like spruce root or birch bark, could also be used for food storage.

The Three Sisters

Traditional Indigenous food was primarily cultivated, harvested and consumed based on values of interdependency, respect for the environment, and ecological sensibility. For example, the Haudenosaunee cultivatedThree Sister” crops side by side to facilitate interdependent growth. These sisters — beans, corn and squash — are very different, but rely on one another for nutrients and protection. Beans absorb nitrogen from the air to keep the other sisters healthy. Corn grows tall stalks for the beans to climb, wrapping the plants together. Squash grows wide, ground-covering leaves that keep the ground moist and weeds at bay. Together, these three crops are a nutritional powerhouse

Healthy, delicious, local

Indigenous communities from coast to coast to coast are reclaiming our traditional ingredients and cooking techniques and transforming them into mouth-watering treats that delight modern palates. Highly trained Indigenous chefs run successful restaurants across the country and win prestigious awards, revelling in the fact that “there’s no better way to pay homage to the past and our heritage.”