Sunday October 08, 2017

'Food being used as a weapon': The lasting effects of colonialism on Indigenous food

Hundreds of Iqaluimmiut - Iqaluit residents - dig in at a seal meat feast, as well as taking food home for later.

Hundreds of Iqaluimmiut - Iqaluit residents - dig in at a seal meat feast, as well as taking food home for later. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

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Indigenous peoples across the country are beginning to tell their own stories through cuisine and traditional food. For decades, colonialism influenced the way they gathered, prepared, and ate food.

Dr. Lenore Newman is the Canada Research Chair for Food Security and Environment and author of Speaking in Tongues: A Canadian Culinary Journey

Lenore Newman

Lenore Newman, author of Speaking in Cod Tongues: A Canadian Culinary Journey. (Provided by Lenore Newman)

"If we look at the history of colonization, the first settlers really relied on Indigenous foods, and collaborating with Indigenous people to stay fed," she explained. "But when we get into the country-building period, we see food being used as a weapon."

Newman cited examples of settlers taking control of salmon distribution on the West Coast, or the Canadian government's move to wipe out the buffalo in hopes of starving First Nations across the prairies.

She also mentioned how Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald infamously "bragged" about using food as a weapon against Indigenous peoples.

Colonization not only deprived Indigenous people of food and ceremony, but traditional knowledge of food and its preparation were also lost along the way. Everything from the loss of teachings about wild plants, to the ongoing controversy around hunting and eating seal.

"It's very hypocritical, because people who will eat a chicken that's raised in a battery cage, won't even think of touching seal," she said. "You have to ask yourself where that's coming from."

On the subject of contemporary Indigenous food, such as the discussion about the true origin of the Indian taco, Newman offered, "There's no such thing as an authentic cuisine, because they're living. Like a language, they evolve. It's definitely a post-colonial food, we think. But it's a very well-established piece of Indigenous culture now."