Food is medicine: Six Nations chef fights colonization with cooking

Six Nations chef Aicha Smith-Belghaba incorporates Haudenosaunee foods into her daily life and encourages others to do the same. For her, this is an act of resiliency - a way to bring back part of their culture, lost during colonization.

An act of resiliency; Aicha Smith-Belghaba encourages pre-colonization diet

(Hayley Zimak/CBC)

Chef Aicha Smith-Belghaba's open concept kitchen allows her the space she needs to create. Surrounded by pottery and artwork from Six Nations and Algeria, her mother and father's cultural influences often make it into her dishes.

Food has always been a source of comfort and pride for Smith-Belghaba, who owns the local catering company Esha's Eats. 

"We need to incorporate these foods as a part of resiliency and bringing back our culture. Eating our traditional foods was taken away from us as a part of colonization, as a way to eliminate us. That's when white sugars and flours and heavy lards were introduced to us," she says.

It will be an ongoing battle - just to normalize our food - but it will happen. It is happening, just not as much as it should be.- Aicha Smith-Belghaba

She says that only 10 years ago, she had no idea what Haudenosaunee foods were. Readily available foods include the 'The Three sisters'  — corn, beans and squash. Other traditional items include fiddleheads, pumpkin, wild strawberries, maple syrup and venison. 

"Food is medicine, and I fully believe that. That's why I like to have discussions with people and have cooking classes about incorporating these ingredients back into their diet, so it's not scary anymore."

For Smith-Belghaba, this Sunday will be much more sombre than in years past. Under COVID-19 restrictions, National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 will not be marked by powwows and community gatherings. Instead, she's planning to spend the day at home in her wood cabin, cooking for her mom, grandma and aunt.

Here, Smith-Belghaba shares a simple recipe for her traditional mixed berry salad: