November 29, 2023

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Art Napoleon (Cree), host of Moosemeat and Marmalade | Image source: The Social Agency

Popular food documentary series, Moosemeat and Marmalade returns to APTN this January 2018 with a focus on food security and sustainability. Hosts, Art Napoleon (Cree) a renowned musician, bush cook and activist; and Dan Hayes the chef/owner of The London Chef, travel from Vancouver Island to the U.K to explore the diverse food cuisines of each culture highlighting their impacts on this important subject that affects us all. On Moosemeat and Marmalade, Napoleon gives audiences insight into Indigenous traditional cooking techniques and the abundance of traditional Turtle Island food options. Before the show’s premiere, Art Napoleon spoke candidly with Erica Commanda from MUSKRAT Magazine about the show and Indigenous food history.

MM: You are a driving force in the Indigenous food sovereignty movement. What does food sovereignty look like to you in today’s society for Indigenous people?

AN: It’s all about the land and resources. We don’t even have a word for resource in Cree. “Gift of the land” is the closest thing or “what the Creator gave us.” It’s not exactly a resource, its not there for human exploitation. It’s for all other creatures too, for all of them to benefit from. In order for us to preserve and maintain our culture we need access to our own foods, plants and wildlife. It’s about the ability to access that, in order to access it, you have to protect it.

Certain Indigenous plants are already gone – they don’t exist anymore. There is no Indigenous seed bank for plant life which is sad. Salmon stocks are going down, moose numbers are really dwindling, caribou is on its last legs. We need to be able to preserve. The world is blind to it, they wanna bury their heads in the sand. Food sovereignty is one way to not let people bury their heads in the sand. This stuff is important. It’s going to be good for you and your future generations to.

MM: Is there any advice you would like to give to others looking to begin to decolonize their diet?

AN: A coffee enema works really good to decolonize! Not speaking from personal experience. My cousin tried it. [All joking aside]

I don’t think of it as decolonizing. I’m never going to stop eating foods I’m accustomed to. You could cut out some of the white stuff: the flour, the sugar and stick with pure maple syrup. I think its ok to eat all kinds of Indigenous foods from all over North America. People tend to forget potatoes, corn, beans, squash, turkey are all Indigenous foods. Pecans and hazelnuts grew wild, they were just smaller, but they have always been here. I don’t think it’s very hard. The closest thing would be paleo or low carb, it doesn’t mean you avoid vegetables that are in season. I would also up the berry content, when it comes to fruit, berries are some of the healthiest fruit out there.

MM: With your expertise, can you tell me more about some of the foods Indigenous people ate before colonization?

AN: We didn’t really have a lot of sugar for one thing. Maple was the closest thing we had. There was a maple sap tonic. We were drinking that stuff out of the tree at one time as a spring tonic. In certain cultures they boiled it down and turned it into sugars and maple syrup. It would have been a natural sugar with some nutrition in it and no by products. It wouldn’t have been used a lot because it took gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. It would have been treated as a treat, not a regular ongoing thing.

There was a lot of wild game, and an abundance of mooseberries. They are actually not really a cranberry, the centre is just a seed that’s filled with juice, its really refreshing. You can make really refreshing drinks out of that. Huckleberries, blueberries of every kind. We had wild raspberries and strawberries. There were lots of variety, we had highbush, lowbush, just lots. The list of wild berries goes on and on – each one was also considered medicinal.

Bark was medicinal, people suffering from cramps of any kind could make bark cramp tea. The cambium layer of the aspen trees in the spring time was also considered a tonic. I haven’t had that in a while, there’s something changing in nature. I think its climate change for sure. Every late May or early June, the young popular aspen trees would have a thick layer of cambium. You would peel the outside bark, and scrape along the tree and this noodle like consistency comes down, its really juicy and tastes likes watermelon.

There was also pemmican. Historically, this country was built on pemmican. The first Europeans had to hire our people to keep them alive and pemmican was one of the ways to do that. It wasn’t just about making hides and clothing for them, or showing them how to get around without dying off. We kept them alive and cured them when they were sick. Pemmican had such a big role in that because it was loaded with nutrition and protein. These guys worked so hard for 16 hours a day, paddling and portaging. They would have needed that energy. Pemmican would keep for days if stored properly in rawhide. That stuff didn’t go moldy for days and you could preserve it even in the summer months.

Watch Moosemeat and Marmalade Season 3 on APTN | Image source: The Social Agency
Watch Moosemeat and Marmalade Season 3 on APTN | Image source: The Social Agency

MM: How would you describe pemmican for people who are unaware of it?

AN: For pemmican, you cut up your moose, buffalo, deer or elk and smoke it over an open fire in the wind and sun- this speeds up the drying. There has to be a mixture of the elements, otherwise the meat would be too smokey, then just add salt. Once the meat is dried you turn it into a powder and you pour in some tallow. It’s the kind of lard that we make from certain body parts that turns much harder. Then you add dried berries, like dried saskatoon berries or chokeberries and press it down hard until you have these cakes. It’s very versatile. You can pull out pieces and eat it like a granola bar or you could make a stew out of it. Just boil some water from the river, heat it up over the fire and drop a big piece of it in there with whatever else you can find. It had lots of uses and kept a lot of tough people alive.

MM: With the show’s popularity, have you noticed a movement of people emerging looking to learn more about decolonizing their diet?

AN: Some of the comments we get in are from people who didn’t know about some of the things we ate or the methods we used for cooking, so they are fascinated. Some of the best comments are from people who are thankful for the opportunity to learn new things. At the same time, it opens up a lot of non-Native people’s eyes about all of the abundance there was. It’s more about people realizing that we had our own cuisine and methods and ways of cooking and preserving our food.

MM: Who are your favourite Chefs?

AN: There is Rich Francis, he’s all about decolonizing the diet. I also really respect Anthony Bourdain, just his whole attitude, it’s not just about the food, it’s about the history, culture and how food interacts with people. He’s not afraid of rolling up his sleeves and getting in there. He is in there and he mingles with the people and he gets into the culture so I admire that. When we go out on our filming adventures part of what I enjoy is meeting people and learning about them, what they do, what aspects of cultures are still alive and strong in that territory. I love learning that stuff.

Jack Fish Cakes | Image source: The Social Agency
Jack Fish Cakes | Image source: The Social Agency

ART’s JACKFISH CAKES Recipe (Moosemeat and Marmalade 3)

1 small jackfish boiled soft & deboned
2 large potatoes cubed, boiled & mashed
3 green onions chopped
½ small white onion minced
2 cloves minced garlic
1 large egg
½ cup cornmeal
2 T bear lard (butter is a perfect substitute)
2 T canola oil
½ cup flour
2 T grated parmesan
Spice Mix
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 cup moose crackling (pan fried small pieces of bacon will also do the trick, just make sure they are nice and crispy)
1 tsp fennel
4 juniper berries
salt & pepper
Chaga Coffee
1 T ground chaga
1 T ground coffee
1 mug boiling water
2 tsp maple syrup

Combine mashed potatoes with flaked cooked jackfish and mix together.
Stir in chopped onions, garlic & spice mix.
Add egg and stir mixture until the texture allows for shaping into patties. Add some of the flour and cornmeal if mixture will not form balls.
Shape into patties and fry over medium heat in mixture of bear lard (or butter) & canola oil until each side is golden brown. Finish off in hot oven if needed.
Serve with crackling fries & chaga coffee

Art’s Bio:

Art Napoleon is host and co-producer of APTN’s popular show Moosemeat & Marmalade, a food series that showcases indigenous foods, traditional knowledge and outdoor cooking techniques. This former chief is as comfortable on a big city stage or boardroom as he is skinning a moose in a hailstorm with a pocketknife. Art holds an MA degree from the University of Victoria, facilitates cultural awareness workshops, tours regularly as a musical performer and speaker and also serves as a juror on many arts and culture organizations across Canada.

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About The Author

Erica Commanda

Born in Toronto, Erica Commanda (Algonquin/Ojibwe) grew up in the small community of Pikwakanagan. From there she moved across Canada living in Ottawa, Vancouver and now Toronto, working in the bar/hospitality industry, mastering the art of listening to stories from her regulars while slinging and spilling drinks (at them or to them). And now through a series of random decisions and events in life she is on a journey discovering and mastering her own knack for storytelling as Associate Editor for MUSKRAT Magazine.

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