Thunder Bay

Red Rock Indian Band continues to work on food sovereignty with opening of its own butcher shop

Some four years in the making, the butcher shop project in Red Rock Indian Band is now open. It's helping increase access to wild game, and increasing the First Nation's food security.

First Nation held its opening event on first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Tim Ruth, one of the leads on the Red Rock Indian Band's butcher shop project, shows off some of the products made in the shop. Another 70 kilograms of ground moose meat sits in the freezer, ready to be further processed into sausages and pepperettes. (Logan Turner/CBC)

The pride is clear in Tim Ruth's voice as he walks through the newly opened butcher shop in Red Rock Indian Band, excitedly pointing out the new machinery.

Meat grinder, smoker, commercial grade dehydrator, bone saw, meat slicer — everything needed to process wild game.

But Ruth is adamant it's more than just a butcher shop.

Its name, Maamawitaawining, translates to "at the gathering place."

Some four years in the making, Ruth said the shop will improve food security in the First Nation, increase access to wild game, and create a place for the community to gather and share.

"To have wild game at your table is a big part to get back to our traditions and have healthier eating," Ruth said.

Tim Ruth of Red Rock Indian Band beams as he shows off all the new equipment in the First Nation's new butcher shop. (Logan Turner/CBC)

It will also allow the community to have more control over their own diets and food system.

The project is also having a ripple effect across the region, with other First Nations interested in building similar projects of their own.

"We were told that we are the trailblazers of having a facility like this," Ruth said.

Grand opening held on Sept. 30

The butcher shop had its grand opening on Sept. 30, Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Community members held a march, with the final stop at the butcher shop, where a large feast was prepared.

"It was overwhelming to see that many people here on the opening day," Ruth said. "The atmosphere was incredible, just so many smiling faces and everybody participating."

The moose hanger was installed at the Red Rock Indian Band in the fall of 2019, and can hold up to four moose at once. Tim Ruby says the First Nation will use it during their traditional fall harvest. (Logan Turner / CBC)

A group of younger people had a successful moose hunt and they were processing their meat on the day, with community members and elders helping them skin the moose and share traditional teachings.

Dozens of walleye were brought in, along with smokies and other treats.

"It was incredible," Ruth said with a big smile.

Butcher shop to host workshops in new year

Since then, the shop has been used to process seven moose harvested by community members.

The walk-in freezer still holds some of the walleye, and about 70 kilograms of ground moose meat.

Packages of meat sit in the walk-in freezer at the new butcher shop in Red Rock Indian Band, waiting to be distributed to community members. (Logan Turner/CBC)

But Ruth has a plan for that meat. He's hoping to bring in some butchers from the region who could lead workshops to teach community members how to make sausages and pepperettes, as well as how to use some of the new equipment like the smoker and dehydrator.

There are also conversations to host a tanning workshop, to share knowledge about how to tan and work with moose and deer hides.

Red Rock Indian Band's butcher shop had it's grand opening on Sept. 30. The facility is filled with industrial equipment, like a dehydrator, a smoker, meat slicer, and a walk-in fridge and freezer. (Logan Turner/CBC)

"We want to also get somebody in the shop trained properly to be a full-time butcher, within the five to six-year plan," Ruth said. 

"We are hoping that we might have a little deli here for the community, and a place where we could store meat."

Eventually, Ruth said they're working to make the butcher shop economically sustainable.

Other projects in northern Ontario looking to advance food sovereignty

Jess McLaughlin said the butcher shop is a prime example of the benefits that can come from empowering First Nations to take control of their own food systems.

She's a co-lead with Gaagige Zaagibigaa, a funding agency with a budget of about $1.9 million, focused on supporting Indigenous food sovereignty projects in northern Ontario.

The organization, which funded the butcher shop project, is one of just four similar groups across the whole country.

A painting hangs in the new butcher shop in Red Rock Indian Band. It carries the name of the building, Maamawiitaawin, which translates to "at the gathering place." (Logan Turner/CBC)

Most public dollars for food projects in Canada, McLaughlin said, are determined by immediate ability to generate economic benefits, or for emergency needs like food banks.

"It's either like, here take some Kraft dinner, or make a profit, or else you're not eligible for this funding."

Gaagige Zaagibigaa and the three similar organizations are trying to fill a gap, by providing money to build capacity in communities, she added.

McLaughlin said some of the other projects funded by the group include a large community garden in Sandy Lake First Nation, a reverse osmosis machine to help with maple sugar bushing, and building a smoke hut in a family's backyard to smoke fish and moose meat.

"It really puts the control back in the communities."

With files from Sean Vanderklis