“Giishpin waanda kendamaawnen gegoo, aabideg ntam g’gagwejikendaan maanda/ If you want to learn something, first you must learn this.”Ogimaa Mikana Project
Though, as Jesse Wente reminded us recently, it was never really alive to begin with. Reconciliation was lip service, a hollow promise, a carrot that the settler state waved in hopes that it would distract from the reality: they were intent, as always, on maintaining their control over Indigenous land and peoples.
As blockades spring up around Canada, each spark lighting more blazes around the country, and as Canadians are faced with the truths they never intended or wanted to face, I am struck by the question: how do you write about food in a time like this? How do you write in a way that doesn’t evade, ignore, or minimize what is happening? How do you write into your food the anger, the fear, the cynicism, and the hope? How do you write about your privilege, your power, and your place? This is a lot to ask of food or food writing.
To prattle on about recipes and ingredients seems insignificant, swallowed by the demanding intensity of the blockades and the Indigenous lives that are facing down the state to protect their land and their sovereignty. How do we write about food in a time when our Indigenous friends are manning blockades, unable to escape the violence the state endlessly spawns into their lives?
For those who don’t know, blockades have been springing up across Canada in support of the Wet’suwet’en nation and their insistence that a Coastal GasLink pipeline not be built through their territories. They are fighting for their land, for their water, and for their sovereignty. The Wet’suwet’en have been resisting this pipeline for years, but things have changed recently as the pipeline plans advance and as the Canadian government, believing it is their right to decide what happens on these Indigenous territories, has sent the RCMP (our national police force) to ensure that the pipeline is built. This has led to arrests of Wet’suwet’en leaders who have physically put themselves in the way of the incoming pipeline, insisting that it is their decision what happens on their lands and they do not want the pipeline.
In response to the arrests, to the ongoing denial of Indigenous sovereignty over their lands, and to the RCMP imposing their violence on Wet’suwet’en territories, other Indigenous nations have been blockading train routes, highways, and ports in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. This has led to other arrests, which has led to more blockades.
This is the background to what has led to Indigenous people around Canada, from the youth to highest levels of Indigenous government, to declare that reconciliation, a supposed priority of the Canadian government, is dead.
So let us begin there, recognizing the truths that our Indigenous friends speak. Reconciliation is dead, if it ever really existed in the first place. Let us disregard it and never think of it again. Much like the original treaties signed between settlers and Indigenous nations, settlers never intended to honor our promise. Let us begin somewhere else.
If reconciliation is dead, this has a deep impact for us who are settlers in this place because reconciliation was for us, a gift offered to us by our Indigenous neighbors. It was the chance at a new relationship, a chance to fix the past and the broken relationship with Indigenous peoples. It was a gift. Much like a partner who agrees to go to mediation with an abusive ex, it was a generous act of relationality, a chance for us to make things right and change the relationship.
But, we didn’t see it as a gift. Instead we saw it as a negotiation, maybe we even thought we were giving Indigenous people a gift. We also once thought residential schools were a gift to Indigenous peoples… We mistook the fig leaf for a white flag. We disrespected the gesture of kindness.
In Western philosophies, gifts are often understood within economies of exchange but Rauna Kuakkanen (a Sámi scholar who I had the privilege of teaching with one semester) writes that Indigenous understandings of gifts exceed our understandings of economy and exchange.
“The gift is a reflection of a particular worldview characterized by a perception of the natural environment as a living entity which gives its gifts and abundance to people if it is treated with respect and gratitude… The gift is the manifestation of reciprocity with the natural environment, reflecting the bond of dependance and respect to the natural world. From this bond, certain responsibilities emerge.”
Let us begin there, with the gift. Let us begin with the land, with the place where we are. Let us begin with its bounty and with the responsibilities that emerge from understanding the gifts that the land gives. This is where this writing and this recipe will begin.
“Giishpin waanda kendamaawnen gegoo, aabideg ntam g’gagwejikendaan maanda/ If you want to learn something, first you must learn this.”
I currently live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and, as my friend Terri Monture reminds me, “all of these [Toronto, Ontario & Canada] are Mohawk words. You speak Mohawk whenever you name this place as your home. You speak it and you don’t even know that you do.”
This place has had many names and many people who have lived here and still live here. There are people who have lived here for tens of thousands of years. This is Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, Wendat, and Mississauga territory. It has a long, complex history of residency but this broad statement is true: This is Indigenous land. And, this land is governed by Indigenous law.
Before the European settlers came, this place was governed by an agreement between the Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee peoples, a treaty. It, in English, is called the Dish with One Spoon Treaty and it is signified, as many Haudenosaunee treaties are, by a wampum belt on which the bowl is represented.
Loosely, this treaty recognizes that we all eat from the same bowl (that is, the land) and that this bowl and its good gifts must be protected so that we can all continue to eat from it. At this bowl, as we learn to share, there is only a spoon – we must put away our knives. There is also only one spoon; we must all learn to share with each other, so that we all get enough to eat from the bowl.
This bowl, this law, this land: it is a gift. The bowl embodies a different way of looking at the world, a different way of looking at our relationships with one another and with the bounty, the food, that comes from the land. This is what we need to learn first.
Settlers, it’s up to us to see this gift, to put down the weapons we’ve brought with us, and to understand the ways in which we can enter into a new way of understanding our lives with each other and with this land, a way that respects Indigenous life and land. Let us begin there.
This recipe is a traditional Haudenosaunee dish, using two of the three famed ‘Three Sisters’ ingredients (corn, beans, and squash) that were the centre of their agricultural practices. It has been adapted from a published recipe shared by Tea-N-Bannock, an Indigenous cafe in Toronto. The chef, Hugh Williams, is Anishinaabe from Aamjiwnaang First Nation and tracks the recipe back to Tim Peltier of Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island. A Mohawk soup with Anishinaabe lineage; this is a truly Tkaronto soup, Dish with One Spoon soup. It might not be ‘authentic’ or true to some ‘original’ version of this soup, but that’s not what matters; it is a soup with a history, a set of relationships that have brought it here, and a soup that is offered as a gift. Serve it in a bowl, share a spoon if you’d like, and don’t bring any knives to the table.
I have more information about what it means to live and cook on Dish with One Spoon Treaty territory in my land acknowledgement.
Haudenosaunee Hominy Soup, Tkaronto Version
This is a traditional Haudenosaunee soup that has a deep connection to their agricultural practices, lifeways, and worldviews. While it originates with the Haudenosaunee, it has been adopted and spread throughout North America and you will often find a version of this served at pow wows and other gatherings. It was traditionally made with smoked fish as the flavor base, but more commonly today pork is used - this recipe uses a smoked pork hock for extra flavor. It is a starch heavy soup, and part of its appeal is how well it fills you up - it's hearty and comforting at the same time. It is also a simple recipe, so use the highest quality ingredients you can to let each element shine; the simpler the recipe, the more each ingredient is amplified.
- 1 large smoked pork hock (about 2-3 pounds)
- 3 cups (750 mL) peeled, chopped white potatoes (about 2 large)
- 2 large yellow onions, diced
- 3.5 cups of cooked hominy (approximately 1-1.25 cups dried hominy)
- 2 cups of cooked Iroquois red cranberry beans, about 1 pound of dried beans (red kidney beans are a common substitute)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Kosher salt
The recipe has multiple stages that are best done the day before - so plan ahead!
This recipe begins with cooking the dried beans and hominy. Soaking overnight will help speed up the process, especially if the beans and hominy are older. Place both beans and hominy in separate pots, filling with water so that the beans and hominy are covered by at least an inch. Bring to a hard boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cook covered until the beans and hominy are soft (the time of this will vary depending on the age of your ingredients). Drain and rinse the beans. Drain and rinse the hominy, reserving one cup of the hominy broth for the recipe.
In a large stock pot, place the smoked pork hock and fill the pot with water. At the end of this we'll need 9 cups of broth, so make sure you have at least that much water in the pot, also recognizing that some will boil off as we cook. More is ok too, as you'll have some leftover broth to use for other recipes! Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and gently boil under meat is very tender and starting to come off bone, about 2 to 3 hours.
Transfer the hock to a cutting board to cool. Discard any skin, fat or bone. Chop or shred meat into bite-size pieces and refrigerate until you are ready to use.
Transfer the pot to fridge to cool completely overnight. Discard the white layer of fat that will form on the surface of your chilled broth. Reserve 9 cups of stock for the soup. You can refrigerate or freeze the remainder for another use, or discard.
In large pot, combine the reserved 9 cups of pork stock, the 1 cup of corn broth, shredded pork hock meat, potatoes and onion. Bring to boil over high heat. Cook until potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes depending on size. Add the cooked hominy and beans. Cook until until warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.