If you opened your Skip the Dishes app you would find a plethora of international cuisines to choose from. You could find anything from Japanese, Cantonese, American, Ethiopian, Ukrainian, Italian etc. However, you would find it very difficult to find an option for Indigenous Cuisine. It may seem surprising that Indigenous Cuisine is underrepresented, but when the Colonial past of Canada is examined it begins to make sense.
In order to deal with the “indian problem,” Indigenous people’s were moved off their lands; away from their traditional food sources and practices. This made Indigenous people’s reliant upon the government issued rations, which were lacking in nutrients. The Canadian government used food to control the Indigenous populations. In his book Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, James Daschuk provides a detailed outline of how food or the lack of food was used to perpetuate the colonial agenda, mainly that of assimilation and cultural genocide.
We are in a time where our Indigenous neighbours are reclaiming their culture, and one way that this is being done is through food. Indigenous chefs are serving up food that their families and tribes have enjoyed for years, and are reclaiming traditional ways of finding and preparing these foods. Different chefs have different opinions on the “right” way to do this. Some chefs such as Andrew George Jr, author of multiple cookbooks, head chef at the Four Host First Nations pavilion at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and David Wolfman, author of Cooking with the Wolfman, culinary arts professor and host of the television show Cooking with the Wolfman, seem to view a fusion of European and Indigenous foods and techniques as a way forward. David Wolfman coined the term “Indigenous Fusion” which he describes as meaning “My recipes are about taking the essence of indigenous ingredients and putting it under the spotlight. I blend the traditional with modern tastes and ingredients that are generally available in stores these days. This is the style of cooking that I call Indigenous Fusion“.
However, other chefs such as Sean Sherman, author of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen and founder of the Sioux Chef view “Decolonizing the Diet” as a way forward. For Sherman this means “us[ing] no European staples such as wheat flour, dairy products, sugar, and domestic pork and beef” and instead uses “indigenous American fruits and vegetables, wild and foraged grains, game, and fish. Locally sourced, seasonal, ‘clean’ ingredients and nose-to-tail cooking”
Over the next couple weeks I will be exploring Indigenous Cuisine, by trying recipes the selection of cookbooks mentioned above. I have categorized these recipes into three categories: “Popular Preconceptions”, “Indigenous Fusion” and “Decolonizing the Diet”. I will be going through recipes in this order, so that we can start by demystifying any myths about Indigenous cuisine through the “Popular Preconceptions” and then move to a middle ground with the “Indigenous Fusion” and then to the most traditional and authentic recipes with “Decolonizing the Diet”.
I am embarking on this adventure to learn more about a culture that I do not know enough about. I am accepting the generous invitations that these cookbooks and chef’s have offered me, and I hope to learn about my own diet and food practices through this experience. I am challenging myself to be open minded and try new things. In the process I hope to be inspired, and to continue to be inspired after this project is completed. This is where my final category of “Indigenous Inspired” comes in, I will be sharing recipes under this category where I have been inspired by Indigenous techniques and flavours. I hope to continue to add to this category well after this project is complete.