Wiikwemkoong receives $49,500 Indigenous agri-tourism support

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OTTAWA – Colonialism and its impact on Indigenous culture and traditions is widely recognized as pervasive, as can be vividly illustrated by the concept of bannock and “Indian” tacos (now often labelled as the less provocative “Anishnaabe” tacos) as being “traditional” Indigenous foods. A new initiative of Enaadmaagehjik, Wikwemikong Development Commission, is looking to take back the Indigenous menu with an outdoor kitchen. 

Parliamentary secretary to the minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Neil Ellis announced $49,500 in funding to plan and design a physical space in Wiikwemkoong that will support Indigenous agri-tourism. The innovative space, located on a two-acre parcel of land located above Wikwemikong High School, will be adjacent to the new greenhouse. 

The new space, essentially proposed as an outdoor kitchen area, seeks to promote and enhance local products, foster knowledge transfer of Indigenous agricultural and culinary practices and increase support for Indigenous farmers, harvesters and producers on Manitoulin Island.

The announcement was part of a $2.1 million transfer under the Indigenous Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative going to support three new community-led Indigenous agriculture and food initiatives.

“Ontario Agriculture Week is a great opportunity to celebrate the good things that are grown and produced in our province and the hard-working people who provide it to us,” said Parliamentary Secretary Ellis in making the announcement. “It is also an opportunity to recognize the work being done through initiatives like these to build and grow opportunities for Indigenous women, men and youth – from farming to community gardens to food entrepreneurs.”

“Enaadmaagehjik is grateful for the contribution to support Wikwemikong Tourism’s goal to develop quality Indigenous culinary tourism experiences in the Manitoulin Island and Killarney region,” said Luke Wassegijig, tourism manager with Enaadmaagehjik’s Wikwemikong Tourism.

Mr. Wassegijig noted that the funding will be utilized to complete a feasibility study and site plan for the new facility. “We are very excited,” he said. “This will be the first of its kind in Canada and will complement the existing greenhouse to provide a farm-to-plate operation.”

From an Indigenous tourism perspective, the new facility will help Wikwemikong Tourism train its cultural tour guides and support numerous programs aimed at the revitalization of and training in truly Indigenous cuisine and cooking methods.

The new facility will help with land-based learning, supporting the teaching of “pre-colonial cooking methods and to get away from colonial-based culinary traditions,” noted Mr. Wassegijig. Those cooking methods will incorporate traditional foods such as wild meat, fish and, of course, the Three Sisters: corn, squash and beans, along with a host of foodstuffs that made up an Indigenous diet before contact.

The project has also received funding from FedNor.

Other funding recipients include the Indian Agricultural Program of Ontario (IAPO), based in Stirling, Ontario, which will receive up to $999,900 to “provide comprehensive, culturally relevant agricultural extension and business advisory services in Ontario and three Western provinces (Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta).” That project aims to “engage and to develop skills among First Nations communities in primary agriculture through agricultural extension and business advisory services, to support awareness of and engagement in programs offered through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.” 

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) will receive just over $1 million for a three-year pilot project, growing traditional Indigenous plants and foods in a community garden as well as in a year-round winterized greenhouse. The greenhouse will be located on the rooftop of NWAC’s new head offices in Gatineau, Quebec and will ensure a supply of medicines, herbs, fruits and vegetables year-round for NWAC’s commercial kitchen. That kitchen caters NWAC training and workshops, offers training to Indigenous women in the culinary field and supplies NWAC’s café where profits generated from sales go back in to supporting NWAC’s operations.

“The Indian Agricultural Program of Ontario, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Wikwemikong Development Commission work hard to support Indigenous communities and entrepreneurs,” said the Honourable Marc Miller, minister of Indigenous Services. “With support from the federal Strategic Partnerships Initiative, these organizations’ projects will develop valuable skills, offer practical training and transfer traditional knowledge. Our government is pleased to support these projects today and continue this important work with partners to support Indigenous economic development opportunities.”

Parliamentary Secretary Ellis explained that the objective of federal Strategic Partnerships Initiative and the Indigenous Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative is to increase economic development opportunities of Indigenous Peoples and communities in Canada. He noted that this initiative will support Indigenous communities and entrepreneurs who are ready to launch agriculture and food systems projects and others who want to build their capacity to participate in the Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector.

“Our government greatly appreciates the Indigenous farmers and food entrepreneurs who are stepping up to support their communities during the current pandemic crisis,” said the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of Agriculture and Agri-food in a release following the announcement. “In the spirit of respect and partnership, we will continue to make investments and help create equal opportunities for Indigenous peoples in the agriculture sector.”

“Through the Indigenous Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, AAFC has taken an important step forward to support First Nation communities and producers in the Canadian agriculture sector,” said Amanda Ioannou, chair of the Indian Agriculture Program of Ontario. “Working with our western counterparts, the funding will provide for the delivery of agriculture extension and business advisory services, as well as, CAP (The Canadian Agricultural Partnership , a five-year, $3 billion investment by federal, provincial and territorial governments to strengthen the agriculture and agri-food sector) related initiatives, critical components to increasing First Nations agriculture opportunities and participation.”