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2019 Great Lakes Intertribal Food Summit

This year’s Great Lakes Intertribal Food Summit was held in Dowagiac Michigan April 25–28 2019. The summit was hosted by the Pokagan Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Intertribal Agriculture Council and the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance.

For the past 6 years Indigenous people from across Turtle Island have converged onto this travelling summit to regain knowledge on Indigenous food, harvesting and processing. Attendees participated in cooking over open fires, seed saving, baby food making, animal butchering, pottery making, wooden tool making and even business entrepreneurship workshops.

With an astounding 712 participants registered (up from 350 last year!), we were prepared to feed an army! I was honouredto be on the chef coordinating team that would be feed hundreds every day for every meal. Chefs were given the opportunity to showcase food from our specific areas and tribes. As a Kanyen’keha:ka woman it was important to me to serve some flavours of Haudenosaunee territory.

This year summit hosted approximately 30 Indigenous chefs and 40 chef mentees wanting to share knowledge and expand their Indigenous culinary knowledge. We were given the best ingredients Indian country has to offer from local trappers Indigenous farmers and producers. This is one of my personal favorite parts; collecting amazing products to bring home and use in my own catering with beautiful authentic ingredients I can serve proudly. Over the years I have met so many great people from across Indian country that events like this is often a reunion of sorts with my favourite food warriors across North America.

There was a main kitchen with an attach pavilion that was perfect for the event. A beautiful outdoor kitchen area was built with two cooking lodges constructed by the “everything birch bark” man himself, Kevin Finney. I have gotten to know Kevin over the years and as a teacher he never ceases to amaze me with this beautiful woodworking skills. The wooden and canvas structures were extended teepees; cozy and warm to be in. Outside there was an open fire pit with three huge copper pots kept full all weekend with teas, soups, stews, corn mush and lyeing corn. One cooking lodge was used as a smoke house where whitefish and nixtamalized corn spent their time drying.

The dried corn was used to make fresh masa for corn bread, leaf bread tamales and roasted corn mush.

The other lodge housed a fire where beavers were suspended from stings the heat naturally made them rotate making a perfect rotisserie. Many of the beaver were cooked in a traditional Anishnaabe style; stuffed with fruit, sewn up and hung fireside.

Also hung were two huge elk legs covered with ramps to finish and smoked this was done by Chef Joseph Shawana of Ku Kum Kitchen in Toronto and came out beautifully. The cooking lodge even hosted a workshop on making maple sugar in clay pottery. Natasha Smoke Santiago of The Storytellers House brought beautiful pots made with Micaceous clay from the southwest. She explained what was happening while watching over the boiling maple syrup. There was even a point where the lodge broke out into a mini social singing session with many songs being herd across the fire and the entire grounds.

Just before the summit, big game was harvested by local tribal members and Chefs were invited to be part of processing them. As chefs we took the time to thank the bison and elk for giving themselves to be a teaching tool for us to learn. The sheer size of these big game animals allowed for them to feed the entire summit, and no part was wasted.

On Friday morning I found myself at the helm of our breakfast meal. One of the beautiful things that happens with these events is the many participants reaching out to each other beforehand. I asked some Haudenosaunee cooks and chefs that were going to be there to help me put out this massive meal that fed approximately 400 people. Chef Dave Smoke- McCluskey and Curtis Lazore of Akwesasne were my biggest supporters in making this breakfast come to fruition!

On The Menu

Roasted Corn Mush with Oneida white corn topped with sliced strawberries and a drizzle of maple syrup served with a fresh maple strawberry jam.

Black and Blue Sun Hash lyed Haudenausee sweet black corn, roasted purple potatoes and sweet potatos seasoned with sunflower oil dried stinging nettle hot red chili powder and sea salt, grilled sliced sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) and onions.

Wild boar and White Corn Hoecakes with a savory roasted pumpkin pipian sauce

Scrambled eggs

Fresh fruit platter

Strawberry juice made with iced sumac tea and sweetened with maple

Hot stinging nettle and Rose hip tea

We were proud to showcase our Haudenosaunee foods. The main kitchen was tight quarters with the many chefs & cooks helping out, so much that we Haudenosaunee chefs took our plan outside and turned a wooded camping spot into a makeshift forest kitchen! The weather was perfect for the event; cool sunny spring days around cozy campfires with friends. The memory won’t disappear soon for me, seeing participants from southern tribes in the USA wake up on Friday morning to the first snow fall they have ever seen in their lives!

My personal mission for this trip was to learn to cook with beaver. There were 16 of them brought in for us to learn with. I teamed up with Chef Dave to create a dish for the Taste of the Tribes luncheon. We came up with beaver leaf or husk breads. These are a Haudenosaunee version of tamales of the southwest. First, we used a beautiful spice rub made by Chef Dave to coat the beavers and smoked them all night until they were fall off the bone tender. We blistered the tails over the fire to help peel them. We then pressure cooked them to render the tail fat to add to the corn. We used beautiful Oneida white corn masa flour made by Chef Arlie Doxtator. We mixed the beaver fat meat and corn together to get a flavorful mixture we then put into the husks to cook. Beaver tail is a delicacy to the Haudenosaunee as our diet was very low in fat. Beavers store their fat in their tails there is no muscle meat in them other them along the spine. Beaver tail stew is said to be the meal eaten during the creation of the Dish With One Spoon wampum belt. I was proud to have my sister Dakota, a wampum belt maker, give an eloquent explanation of the Dish With One Spoon belt as it was originally created among tribes in the Great Lakes area and is to this day one of the oldest declarations on the rights of the environment in the world.

The taste of the tribes is a luncheon event where summit attendees are welcome to walk around eat and chat with chefs and cooks about sample sized dishes inspired by their home nations. This is where the beaver meat leaf bread was given out. I also made my hazelnut milk and wild rice panna cotta as a sweet treat. As a dessert lover I always make sure to include something sweet! I made this for the kids as so many savory foods can be hard for them. I topped the panna cotta with fresh blueberries and a drizzle of maple syrup and they disappeared quick! There were dishes of all kinds from bison tartare to smoked Canada goose breast to sunbutter cookies and even chef Yusuf’s Jive turkey with African spices and toasted watermelon seeds (which are delicious by the way). It was nice to finally get a taste of Yusuf’s African cooking as he has been working with aboriginal organizations for years now and has been inspired to help co-found Trade Roots an African foods initiative.

Throughout the weekend there were manu opportunities to attend foraging walks in the Pokagan forest. I was happy to catch part of one with my beautiful friend Linda Black Elk. At last year’s summit Linda taught me to make kimchi out of wild ramps, I wasn’t going to miss the chance to forage with her this time! I got to laugh as I seen Kaya DeerInWater, with his 6’7” frame, tower over the group of kindergarteners on a foraging walk. Ethnobotanists have become an invaluable resource to Indigenous Chefs in our cultural knowledge revitalization effort throughout North America. There were also in-house Indigenous seed gurus like Rowan White and Steve McComber sharing their seed keeping knowledge and like garden fairies leaving beautiful seeds everywhere they go.

By far the best thing for me was having my family attend this event with me this year. It warmed my heart to be able to have my sons, niece & nephews attending and learning so much about our food during the summit. As a family we live by the seasons and harvest throughout the year; something my mother instilled in us from a young age. Watching my son and niece help clean beavertails and play in the dried corn was a proud mother moment for me among all the hustle and bustle of the summit. My mother Terrylynn attended as well, helping with the babies. She was also able to share her vast knowledge on Haudenosaunee gardening with those who asked. Both her and my sister Jesse were asked to speak during the maternal care and baby food making workshops. My mother shared traditional knowledge on how we raised our children and reminded the crowd that we don’t need modern western views on child care we have our own. Jesse did a great job on sharing how she has raised her children totally on homemade Indigenous babyfood and inspiring young moms to start their own babyfood making journeys.

Last but not lease I have to share how proud I was of my chef bestie, Chef Elena Terry! Her long hours organizing the kitchen, the mentees, and the food orders for the event was a tremendous effort and she did with style. Dan Cornelius, what can I say about this man; he does it all without him this event wouldn’t be what is it without him and he dose it with a baby on his back! There are just so many amazing people and things going on it is impossible for me to capture it all. To my fellow Indigenous Food and garden warriors you are creating ripples that are becoming waves of food sovereignty initiatives spanning the continent. Thankfully we had Elizabeth Hoover madly dashing around capturing it all. Can’t wait for next year!

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Ilsay Ston
Ilsay Ston
25 feb 2023

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