Lynne Cormier, Knowledge Keeper
An Ojibwe creation myth has the Creator cleaning the world of warring peoples by a great flood. Soil was to be brought from the bottom to start again and a muskrat worked in cooperation with a turtle to have soil brought to the surface on the turtle’s back. This reborn land was called Turtle island, a name used in aboriginal culture to mean North America before the Europeans arrived. Thanks to fascinating indigenous contributors like Lynne Cormier, what’s old is new again in the food culture of Northeast Ontario.
Lynne, an Anishinaabe Kwe (Ojibway woman) from Matachewan First Nation, is a Knowledge Keeper of the traditions from Turtle Island. Indigenous foods in a traditional sense lived for eons before the French first came to the region. Survival came from knowing the cycles of abundance and scarcity. She explains that “We were self-sufficient people, and many of us are learning to live that way again. The Indigenous culture was one of observing, being patient and acknowledging where certain plants grew and when the ideal time was to harvest them. Many people these days are slowing down enough to truly see these cycles and respect them as such, giving them the opportunity to harvest when the time is right.”
Slow food is really a revival, not a revolution. The culinary tourist is in luck when it comes to finding such authenticity, right here. An ambitious local Project dubbed “101 Experiences” is allowing Lynne “to share teachings on how to cook diverse wild meat and vegetables”. Fusion food also turns out to be an age old concept – this project teaches how the meeting of cultures kickstarted the blend of Turtle Island classic recipes with the “5 Whites”: flour, sugar, salt, milk, butter/lard/shortening. Bannock is a stalwart survivor of the first fusions.
Yet another Turtle Island tradition that has been ‘re-invented’ by modern foodies is the share plate. Lynne explains that ‘spirit plates’ were prepared for communal meals.
The plate was passed around as a nod to spirits past and present. Today, ‘share plates’ are an exciting way to share creativity and great tastes at home or at an evening out. Haileybury is the site of a hot new food scene in the Northeast and the flagship offering are these gourmet gathering samplers – “Steeped in tradition, but not bound by it, L’Autochone is a contemporary take on North American classics as seen through an Indigenous Lens.”
L’Autochone takes English meaning “From the earth, ground, soil, of a person, race, language, or the like. Autochthonous, native, indigenous, aboriginal or pertaining to indigenous peoples, or land occupied by them. Be sure to check out Wikwemikong Tourism for their summer Manitoulin Pow Wow Festival and year-round activities celebrating the Indigenous spirit.
The Northeast is most often experienced by the great outdoors types and the Indigenous spirit in the land and water can be carried through to the firepit. The traditional way of cooking was on open fires. Where we think of marshmallows, they thought of the sacred spirit of the fire as a life-giving force. Pulling away the cloak of twentieth century materialism, new visitors are really after the same thing – what is camping without fire? Gathering wood and companions for a meal and an evening of storytelling and laughter takes us to the real destination of any northern adventure.
Back to the 101 Experiences Project, a virtual or in-person session with Lynne Cormier and other experience leaders is about you discovering and recovering Indigenous use of herbs, spices and flavours. Who thought that common Sumac could be harvested for medicinal purposes and flavouring. Learn how sumac berries become a summer refresher like lemonade. Many other common plants and herbs were understood by tradition to promote health – we now talk about them as high antioxidant and vitamin rich!
Fishing and hunting are still the most popular activities in the Northeast. Learn how the Indigenous understood the cycles to hunt and fish at the ideal time of season, but more importantly, how to preserve the bounty for the following months to come. Smoked white fish was at one time a classic and is now a sustainable business success on Manitoulin Island.
Who eats a smoked fish all by themselves? It’s all about sharing!
Our Knowledge Keeper friend can deepen your Northern experience and send you home with a message you will learn firsthand. As she explains, “Indigenous people have many things that they are known for, and today many of those things are not so positive, but rest assured that many of us, including myself, are looking to not become a predominant statistic. We are instead looking to reconnect with our roots, including language and our traditional ways.” Now, you can too! Check out these locations to reconnect in Moosonee, the French River, and Temagami at the Ojibway Family Lodge.