Indigenous Culinary Affairs

Todays blog investigates the history of indigenous foods, culture and people. Kind of a sensitive topic in the wake of the disclosures of recent. Even with these horrible revelations, I still feel the need to share this beautiful, resilient cultures past, present and future. Being a small part indigenous myself, I have always felt an affinity to these people. The other part of me, the Scottish part, is really not that far removed from native tribal culture. So, lets have a look at the beginnings, our current situation, and what the future may hold.

Notwithstanding Canada’s location within the Americas, the term Native American is not used in Canada as it is typically used solely to describe the Indigenous peoples within the boundaries of the present-day United States. Native Canadians was often used in Canada to differentiate this American term until the 1980s.

In contrast to the more-specific Aboriginal, one of the issues with the term native is its general applicability: in certain contexts, it could be used in reference to non-Indigenous peoples in regards to an individual place of origin/birth. For instance, people who were born or grew up in Calgary may call themselves “Calgary natives,” as in they are native to that city. With this in mind, even the term native American, as another example, may very well indicate someone who is native to America rather than a person who is ethnically Indigenous to the boundaries of the present-day United States. In this sense, “native” may encompass a broad range of populations and is therefore not recommended.

First Nations peoples had settled and established trade routes across what is now Canada by 500 BCE – 1,000 CE. Communities developed each with its own culture, customs, and character. In the northwest were the AthapaskanSlaveyDogribTutchone, and Tlingit. Along the Pacific coast were the Tsimshian; Haida; SalishKwakiutlHeiltsukNootkaNisga’aSenakw and Gitxsan. In the plains were the NiisitapiKáínawaTsuutʼina; and Piikáni. In the northern woodlands were the Nēhiyawak and Chipewyan. Around the Great Lakes were the AnishinaabeAlgonquinHaudenosaunee and Wendat. Along the Atlantic coast were the BeothukWəlastəkwewiyikInnuAbenaki and Mi’kmaq.

Many First Nations civilizations established characteristics and hallmarks that included permanent urban settlements or cities, agriculture, civic and monumental architecture, and complex societal hierarchies. These cultures had evolved and changed by the time of the first permanent European arrivals (c. late 15th–early 16th centuries), and have been brought forward through archeologic investigations.

There are indications of contact made before Christopher Columbus between the first peoples and those from other continents. Aboriginal people in Canada first interacted with Europeans around 1000 CE, but prolonged contact came after Europeans established permanent settlements in the 17th and 18th centuries. European written accounts generally recorded friendliness of the First Nations, who profited in trade with Europeans. Such trade generally strengthened the more organized political entities such as the Iroquois Confederation. Throughout the 16th century, European fleets made almost annual visits to the eastern shores of Canada to cultivate the fishing opportunities. A sideline industry emerged in the un-organized traffic of furs overseen by the Indian Department.

Prominent First Nations people include Joe Capilano, who met with King of the United Kingdom, Edward VII, to speak of the need to settle land claims and Ovide Mercredi, a leader at both the Meech Lake Accord constitutional reform discussions and Oka Crisis.

Inuit are the descendants of what anthropologists call the Thule culture, which emerged from western Alaska around 1,000 CE and spread eastward across the Arctic, displacing the Dorset culture (in Inuktitut, the Tuniit). Inuit historically referred to the Tuniit as “giants”, or “dwarfs”, who were taller and stronger than the Inuit. Researchers hypothesize that the Dorset culture lacked dogs, larger weapons and other technologies used by the expanding Inuit society.  By 1300, the Inuit had settled in west Greenland, and finally moved into east Greenland over the following century. The Inuit had trade routes with more southern cultures. Boundary disputes were common and led to aggressive actions. Inuk in a kayak, c. 1908–1914

Warfare was common among Inuit groups with sufficient population density. Inuit, such as the Nunatamiut (Uummarmiut) who inhabited the Mackenzie River delta area, often engaged in common warfare. The Central Arctic Inuit lacked the population density to engage in warfare. In the 13th century, the Thule culture began arriving in Greenland from what is now Canada. Norse accounts are scant. Norse-made items from Inuit campsites in Greenland were obtained by either trade or plunder. One account, Ívar Bárðarson, speaks of “small people” with whom the Norsemen fought. 14th-century accounts relate that a western settlement, one of the two Norse settlements, was taken over by the Skræling.

After the disappearance of the Norse colonies in Greenland, the Inuit had no contact with Europeans for at least a century. By the mid-16th century, Basque fishers were already working the Labrador coast and had established whaling stations on land, such as those excavated at Red Bay.  The Inuit appear not to have interfered with their operations, but they did raid the stations in winter for tools, and particularly worked iron, which they adapted to native needs.[99]

Notable among the Inuit are Abraham Ulrikab and family who became a zoo exhibit in Hamburg, Germany, and Tanya Tagaq, a traditional throat singer.  Abe Okpik was instrumental in helping Inuit obtain surnames rather than disc numbers and Kiviaq (David Ward) won the legal right to use his single-word Inuktituk name.

The Métis are people descended from marriages between Europeans (mainly French) and Cree, Ojibway, Algonquin, SaulteauxMenominee, Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and other First Nations. Their history dates to the mid-17th century. When Europeans first arrived to Canada they relied on Aboriginal peoples for fur trading skills and survival. To ensure alliances, relationships between European fur traders and Aboriginal women were often consolidated through marriage. The Métis homeland consists of the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario, as well as the Northwest Territories (NWT).

Forced assimilation, Christianization, Sedentary living, reserves, and ‘gradual civilization’ and the Residential system brought into place in 1847, and lasted with much sadness until 1996! There is so much to be grateful to these people for, unfortunately we chose a poor path to express it. let’s have a look at the wonderful things these Canadians have shared with us. Just one side note before looking at the cuisine. The novel titled Secret Path, was written by Gord Downie, illustrated by Jeff Lemire, and published by Simon & Schuster. Released on October 18, 2016, it follows Chanie Wenjack, a young Anishinaabe boy from the Marten Falls First Nation who died in 1966 while trying to return home after escaping from an Indian residential school. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. Here is a link to purchase it on Amazon.

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the peoples of Canada had a very healthy and respectfully relationship with food. Respect for everything that was provided by mother earth.

The traditional Indigenous cuisine of Canada was based on a mixture of wild game, foraged foods, and farmed agricultural products. Each region of Canada with its own First Nations and Inuit people used their local resources and own food preparation techniques for their cuisines.

Maple syrup was first collected and used by aboriginal people of Eastern Canada and North Eastern US. Canada is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup. The origins of maple syrup production are not clear though the first syrups were made by repeatedly freezing the collected maple sap and removing the ice to concentrate the sugar in the remaining sap. Maple syrup is one of the most commonly consumed Canadian foods of Aboriginal origins.

Dried meat products such as pânsâwân and pemmican are commonly consumed by the indigenous peoples of the plains. In particular, the former was a predecessor for North American style beef jerky, with the processing methods adapted for beef.

In most of the Canadian West Coast and Pacific Northwest, Pacific salmon was an important food resource to the First Nations peoples, along with certain marine mammals. Salmon were consumed fresh when spawning or smoked dry to create a jerky-like food that could be stored year-round. The latter food is commonly known and sold as “salmon jerky”.

Whipped Soapberry, known as sxusem (sk-HOO-shum, “Indian ice cream”) in the Interior Salish languages of British Columbia, is consumed similarly to ice cream or as a cranberry-cocktail-like drink. It is known for being a kidney tonic, which are called agutak in Arctic Canada (with animal/fish fat).Sliced and prepared muktuk

In the Arctic, Inuit traditionally survived on a diet consisting of land and marine mammals, fish, and foraged plant products. Meats were consumed fresh but also often prepared, cached, and allowed to ferment into igunaq or kiviak. These fermented meats have the consistency and smell of certain soft aged cheeses. Snacks such as muktuk, which consist of whale skin and blubber is eaten plain, though sometimes dipped in soy sauce. Chunks of muktuk are sliced with an ulu prior to or during consumption.

Fish are eaten boiled, fried, and prior to today’s settlements, often in dried forms. The so-called “Eskimo potato” (Inuit: oak-kukClaytonia tuberosa) and other “mousefoods” are some of the plants consumed in the arctic.

Foods such as “bannock“, popular with First Nations and Inuit, reflect the historic exchange of these cultures with French fur traders, who brought with them new ingredients and foods.


We can’t undo the past of our forefathers, but moving forward we need to embrace forgiveness and reconciliation. It has to be a top priority in light of recent revelations. If your not part of the solution, your part of the problem, please get involved, every voice counts! Let’s embrace our brothers and sisters and rejoice in the gifts and magic they can share with us. it only takes a few people to make a change, be one of those people. Cheers, and have a wonderful day!