A Hamilton man's quest to educate on First Nations culture with food

Josh Dockstator hopes to teach Hamilton about aboriginal traditions with The Big Chief, the city's newest food truck.
Josh Dockstator's truck is named Reta, after his grandmother, who inspired him to cook. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

Josh Dockstator learned the correlation between love and food from his grandmother. He's keeping that  lesson close as he starts his new business, a food truck offering a contemporary spin on traditional First Nations cuisine.

Dockstator is just weeks away from hitting the road with The Big Chief, Hamilton's latest addition to a growing food truck culture.

"I thought I'd combine [my culture] with my love of cooking," he said. "I had two strong matriarchs in my family — my grandmother and my mother — I was always the little boy on the [kitchen] counter watching."

On his truck, he plans to use "food as a vehicle to educate people" about First Nations culture and spirituality.

"[The menu] is a couple of things you'd see at a pow-wow, with a spin," Dockstator describes.

He used his trips to Six Nations - where his grandmother is from - and reserves in Northern Ontario, along with family recipes passed down as inspiration.

Smoked trout chowder, bison burgers, pulled moose sandwiches

Expect to see smoked trout chowder with wild boar bacon, bison burgers, pulled moose sandwiches and Indian tacos with venison chili moving through the window of The Big Chief truck to eaters.

"I love seeing people's faces when they enjoy my food," he said. "You can see it - their eyes open up more and it's a good feeling. It makes me pleasure."

Around the same time Dockstator's grandmother passed away, the former coordinator for Nya Weh, a program for at-risk aboriginal youth with Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, was looking for a change of pace.

"Part of my grieving process was to find ways to honour her," the 33-year-old said, pausing to keep tears away.

Dockstator recalls the date - Nov. 26, 2012 - on which he decided to embark on a business venture both to keep his grandmother's spirit alive and connect with his Haudenosaunee roots.

Dockstator  says like many First Nations people his age, he had his cultural heritage taken away from him when he was young. His grandparents both went through the residential school system.

"They were taught and beaten, and sexually, emotionally and physically abused," he said. "They were told they were wrong for practicing their culture."

Dockstator uses this example to describe what he means: several years ago when his grandfather passed away, an elder visited to perform a pipe ceremony. Out of embarrassment, his grandmother made everyone else leave the house.

"This is the essence of really what happened to our culture and our family," he said.

A family business

The fact that his culture was suppressed made Dockstator more interested in learning about it. He was on the fast track to become a police officer but switch career paths on his professor uncle's advice, enrolling in Trent University's Native Studies program.

Now as a father, Dockstator and his wife are raising them to have pride in their aboriginal background. Their daughter Grace, 6, speaks Mohawk and son Barrett, 4, speaks Ojibway. He does a smudge ceremony with them each morning to drive bad spirits away.

Dockstator is awaiting a health inspection before he can get on the road. He's excited to be serving from his truck Reta, named after his grandmother, in the next few weeks.

"I wanted to start this business because I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but also so the spirit of my grandma, my Nana, would be in the forefront," he said.