Cree Elders to Teach Food Preparation and Host a Feast


What has become a bit of a tradition at Trent will continue as four Cree Elders will be visiting on November 4 and 5 to teach students and staff how to prepare wild game, and to share in a feast with them.

“It’ll be four women from Eastmain, Québec. This’ll be their third visit,” explained Sandra Tomatuk of the First Peoples House of Learning, the organizers behind this event. “Three of them are sisters and what they’ll be doing is on the Monday we’ll be setting up the tipi in preparation to cook the food – the wild meat and whatever else they’ll be cooking.” Tomatuk said the women would be bringing goose, probably beaver, and moose meat to share with students. “When they’ve been here in the past they’ve brought smoked fish and rabbit, but rabbit’s more of a winter food.”

Tomatuk is personally excited to see the Cree community and teachings represented at Trent, saying, “I’m Cree and I was born and grew up in Moose Factory, Northern Ontario, and my father’s family is from the East Coast around James Bay. The people up North still continue the traditional hunting and harvesting. This is the way they’ve been preparing the wild meat forever. It’s still practised. They still cook that way.”

The First Peoples House of Learning has been teaching food preparation for a while now.

“I suggested one of the things we start doing is cooking bannock in the tipi,” said Tomatuk, who grew up making bannock, a type of bread. “So I was telling [the department head] how else we cook other foods in the tipi … So I contacted my sister up in Eastmain and she contacted these three sisters.”

The purpose of the women’s visit is to “share Cree cultures and traditions of cooking in the tipi,” although they plan to share more than just delicious food with the Trent.

“They bring their own wood: it’s a special type of wood that they use. It’s wood that’s been burnt in a forest fire and then is harvested two or three years later,” Tomatuk explained, also mentioning that they planned to potentially bring “boughs to lay on the tipi floor.”

The two days are a hands-on experience, where students assist in tasks such as “preparing the geese to be hung over the fire. It’s called sagubon: that’s what they call when they hang the geese from the poles and they roast it over the fire.”

Tomatuk also added, “The last time the women came, they brought geese that still had the feathers … [so] students learnt how to pluck them.”

The schedule for events is that on “Monday, we’ll prepare the tipi … and there will be tea and bannock as well.” Unlike a lecture, “it’s more like come out, watch, and learn.” The women will also “answer any questions.”

“For Tuesday, we’re planning the feast for 4pm. It’s a bit early, but as we’re moving later in the year, it gets too dark. The meal will be in the Gathering Space,” reported Tomatuk.
Of course, meat is not the only thing on the menu!

“Last time we did it, we also had mashed potatoes, rice, and vegetables, just to balance out the meal. All students across campus are welcome. We’ve had vegetarians – they’ll take a little piece of meat just to sample it.”

The event is also a joining of “old world” and “new world,” with the continuation of teachings from the past in the now. “Here you have these women that are sharing their traditions and culture with us on the one hand, and it’s something that goes so far back, but on the other hand, they have their Blackberries with them,” Tomatuk laughed. “And they’re very funny. A lot of joking goes on out there.”

“Eastmain is a small community of about 700 people at most … There are some programs in the community for youth where they … I believe they go out on fishing trips or moose or goose hunting. I believe the youth chief has put a request in to come down south for the weekend, and there’s a spot nearby where they’d like to hunt geese,” explained Tomatuk.

The group of six males and six females hope to come down to Peterborough the Sunday before the event and provide “geese for the feast and to take back to the community”.

“And they are square dancers,” added Tomatuk.

“What they want to do is have a social. They want to show their square dancing skills to the Trent community. So if their funding requests get approved, then Tuesday after the feast, there’ll be a square dance in the Gathering Space.”

For this year, Tomatuk wants to see “a lot more people come out. It seems every time we do it more and more people come out.”

Once again, the event runs from Monday, November 4, preparing the space, plus tea and bannock in the tipi next to Gzowski, to Tuesday, November 5, continuing cooking in the tipi, then the feast in the Gathering Space starting at 4pm. So don’t miss it!

As Tomatuk said, “Everyone’s welcome to come out, participate, ask questions, and enjoy some good company and amazing food!”

About Simon Semchuk 51 Articles
Simon Semchuk writes primarily on the arts and queer issues. A third-year English major, he is also interested in theatre, literature, and fluffy animals.