Noojmowin Teg program supports Island Indigenous food sovereignty

Turtle Island Roots program

AUNDECK OMNI KANING—Noojmowin Teg Health Centre has been steadily expanding its Turtle Island Roots program throughout 2018 and organizers hope to continue the program after its initial three-year trial.

“We promote Indigenous foods and practices that focus on fishing, hunting and foraging for wild edibles. We coordinate lots of workshops that are related to that,” says Courtney Kurek, Indigenous foods coordinator at Noojmowin Teg.

This is the first program dedicated to Indigenous food sovereignty in the region, says Ms. Kurek. It is an all-ages program that aims to “bridge youth to elders, to ensure knowledge is being preserved and passed down to the next generation,” according to Ms. Kurek.

Workshops through the program are chosen based on the time of year. Over the summer, participants enjoyed canoe fishing and foraging for edibles in the forest. This fall, the Turtle Island Roots program will offer cooking demonstration sessions and other activities such as making sumac strawberry lemonade.

In recent editions of this newspaper, Turtle Island Roots has ran a full page ad of its black and white logo turned into a colouring contest for a wide age range. Ms. Kurek says that while looking for a logo for the program, this sketch had been created by local artist Karleigh Kurek. People had expressed interest in colouring the design, so the contest was born as a way to help market the program.

Ms. Kurek says this is her first time running a program that touches upon Indigenous foods, but she comes from a strong background of cultural knowledge and regularly consults with elders and knowledge keepers.

“I gather the information and make sure it’s not being exploited, and used in good ways,” she says.

This first year of the program, which started at the beginning of 2018, has been heavily focused on community outreach and spreading awareness of the program.

“The main part is building trusting relationships, especially with elders. They have the knowledge and won’t share it with just anybody,” says Ms. Kurek.

The Turtle Island Roots program is part of the Manitoulin Community Fresh Food Initiative (MCFFI), also run by Noojmowin Teg. MCFFI supports community gardeners and hosts workshops and forums of its own. The initiative also supports food sovereignty and aims to improve fresh food access—Turtle Island Roots acts as a perfect complement to those goals.

The program has big impacts on the people it serves.

“Our trauma is deep-rooted in everything, including our food. When colonization happened, we lost access to our traditional lands with traditional foods,” she says, noting that popular powwow staples like bannock and scone are not actually traditional food—their ingredients never existed in pre-colonial times.

Ms. Kurek says the demand for this type of food and knowledge is mounting.

“There’s a lot of Native chefs in Toronto right now that are really pushing to serve more Indigenous food and wild meats in restaurants,” says Ms. Kurek. Currently, it is against the law to sell or serve uninspected meats in restaurants. That includes traditional meats such as venison and moose.

Through this program, individuals are able to donate their wild meat to a community food pool, which can be used to distribute food to community members. Since nothing is being bought or sold, the community pools can bypass the restrictions on wild game. A similar program called Hunt for Hunger already exists in Saskatoon.

Turtle Island Roots is partnering with an annual fall hunt camp to run a cooking session, feeding the estimated 80-100 attendees a venison meal. Ms. Kurek hopes to involve as many as 5,000 people in the all-ages program over its life.

The three-year trial has been sponsored by the Local Poverty Reduction Fund from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Ms. Kurek says she hopes to renew the funding if the program expansion continues to go well. Manitoulin Island Roots and its parent MCFFI are guided by Noojmowin Teg’s Child Poverty Task Force Committee that encourages children, families and communities to embrace a healthy, economically secure self-sustaining life.