Over 100 delegates were welcomed to Thunder Bay, ON for the 4th annual Nishnawbe Aski Nation Food Symposium which took place at the Nor’Wester Hotel between July 23-25.
The diverse mix of people brought together for the food conference include both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, local and international visitors and a range of ages from youth to Elders.
For the first time ever, the symposium featured a film festival which showed five short documentaries and one feature film at the Paramount Theatre.
The NAN Food Symposium aims to connect those living across NAN territory so that they can address the region’s food system challenges while developing community-based solutions.
Joseph LeBlanc, who organized the symposium, emphasized that the conference is about much more than learning how to cook. It’s about learning how to use local resources, improving the cost and availability of products in our communities, and connecting with others to share ideas and solutions.
“They communicate best practices and discuss what’s been learned in an attempt to change the food system,” said LeBlanc. “People are excited to reconnect on an annual basis.”
During a session that discussed The Northern Store, delegates from different communities were able to share their experiences and ideas regarding the transportation, arrival and sales of food to northern communities.
Roy Kakegamic of Sandy Lake First Nation shared that his First Nation built their own building that Northern now leases from the community. Delegates from Fort Albany expressed interest and appreciation for the idea.
Simon Frogg, an attendee from Wawakapewin First Nation, agreed that communication and networking are key to the ongoing success of the symposium. Delegates are given the opportunity to share unique ideas and opinions.
“The value is meeting people who have similar interests,” Frogg said of coming to the conference year after year. “You forget that young people have different ideas. From the perspective of young people, you learn.”
Frogg said that his interest in food began as a youth who had left the residential school system.
“I grew up with food,” Frogg said. “I was part of a residential school. When I left and began community development activities a lot were traditional and surrounded by food. Harvesting, processing and protecting.”
Frogg has continued his involvement in further developing the food system by creating a program for youth.
“For the past six or seven years we’ve been involved in developing an education program utilizing a land based system which involves teaching children traditional ways of working with food,” Frogg explains. “NAN got involved in the food sovereignty issues and we were invited to become part of the process.”
Frogg now attends the conference primarily to share.
“I help them do what they do,” Frogg said. “I lend my knowledge and expertise.”
Frogg said that learning is key to the NAN Food Symposium.
“A lot more people become knowledgeable – it’s not as simple as knowing about traditional foods. It’s more. People become aware.”
One new initiative that aimed to help build awareness was the conference’s Sharing Our Stories Film Festival, held at the Paramount Theatre.
Attendees had the opportunity to watch five short documentaries – two made by students in Confederation College’s Film Production program and three made by Powerline Films.
Films made by Powerline Films are part of a province-wide project called Growing Good Food Ideas being done by Sustain Ontario in hopes of educating Ontario residents on food-related ideas and projects happening around them.
Bannock, by Jason Hunter, and Keeping Part of My Tradition by Henry Beardy, which follows a father and son hunting for Canadian geese, were also shown at the festival.
“This is great! A nice time to relax,” said an attendee who was happy to cool down after a busy first day which involved many discussions as well as sessions on traditional medicines and foods.
In addition to opportunities to share, connect and learn during round-table sessions, delegates have also had the opportunity to attend skill-building workshops on skills such as the preservation of food by canning. Academics from Lakehead University also came in as guest speakers to share and further develop research. Additionally, the symposium featured sessions led by NAN community members and provided delegates with a delicious feast featuring some modern spins on traditional methods of cooking.
Traditionally, I was told that life was without dysfunction and all peoples embraced their individual, family and community moments, with language and...