5 places to explore Canada’s Indigenous food culture

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Growing up in Toronto, my knowledge of Indigenous communities was limited to a few days of history class. In textbooks, the descriptions of the past were suspect, haloed with a now-familiar “White savior” rhetoric.

Canada’s Indigenous people have been attempting to reclaim their culture from the church and government for almost two centuries. The atrocities they faced range from Europeans usurping land to the forced removal of children from their homes to abusive residential schools.

Within the past few years, there has been a focus on reconciliation: land acknowledgments, improving education within Indigenous communities and an increase of Indigenous-led tourism, much of which focuses on food.

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Paul Natrall of the Squamish Nation is one of the people leading the Indigenous movement for culinary tourism. He is a chef, restaurant owner, TV presenter and part of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada. He is also the British Columbia representative for Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations, a chef-led organization that focuses on using food to influence Canada’s relationship with native culture.

At this year’s Cooks Camp, an annual celebration of Canadian cuisine organized by cooks, for cooks, Natrall hosted a special event that blended traditional Indigenous foods with European techniques. As he sees it, food is the perfect catalyst for people to connect and heal.

“Growing up, the kitchen was a place of bonding,” Natrall said with a smile. “Food was medicine and the time [together as a family] was nourishment.”

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He fondly reflected on the traditional cooking methods he learned from his grandmother: how he wind-dried salmon, roasted beets in the earth and grilled mussels pulled right from the sea. He felt a sense of pride, love and belonging when they cooked side by side. Unfortunately, these hunting, gathering and cooking practices were largely discouraged by a government that aimed to eliminate Indigenous culture nationwide.

“It’s important to keep our food culture alive,” he says. “In any city you can get so many styles of food: Chinese, Thai, Italian… but you never get Indigenous food. These traditional [cooking] methods have been around for thousands of years, and we need to showcase it — revive it — show the world our culture. We are finally starting to see more of that.”

Through educational meals and outdoor activities that involve traditional methods of gathering, preparing and cooking food, Canada’s Indigenous community offers tourists a way to better understand and connect with their culture.

Forage and grill with the Three Fires Confederacy in Ontario

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Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory is a First Nations reserve located on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, east of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Made up of the Three Fires Confederacy (Ojibwa, Odawa and Pottawatomi nations), Wikwemikong Tourism hosts and arranges outings including fishing trips, maple syrup harvesting, portaging, pow wows and theater.

They also offer culinary excursions such as hiking along the scenic Bebamikawe Memorial Trail while foraging for edibles and natural ingredients along the forest floor. Together with a First Nations guide, guests learn how to identify and harvest ingredients like mushrooms and berries and pair them with wild game, fish, birds and hot and cold teas made from herbs and plants. At the end of the day, guests will prepare their findings over an open fire.

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Visit the Nk’Mip winery in British Columbia

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Nk’Mip Cellars holds distinction as the first Indigenous winery in North America, owned and operated by the Osoyoos Indian Band. It is located in the Okanagan Valley, one of Canada’s prized wine regions. This picturesque winery is nestled between rolling hills and a sparkling lake, and proudly practices sustainable farming. Nk’Mip Cellars has also earned a vast array of accolades for its high-quality reds, buttery whites and crisp rosés.

Visitors to the winery can sample flights in the main tasting bar or indulge in a semiprivate tasting with chef-inspired pairings. For a more in-depth experience, guests can reserve the Four Chiefs Food Experience, which explores four key elements of Indigenous cuisine (bear, salmon, bitterroot and Saskatoon berry) with Nk’Mip wine pairings.

Recently, Nk’Mip Cellars launched a tasting experience at District Wine Village in Oliver, BC — Canada’s first wine village — which features 16 distinct Okanagan artisans and craft producers.

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Book a high-end meal at Naagan in Ontario

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Founded by Ojibwa chef Zach Keeshig, Naagan is an exclusive restaurant that only operates on weekends and sells out weeks in advance. Keeshig, who cooked in top Canadian restaurants such as Langdon Hall and Eigensinn Farm, creatively fuses modern cuisine with traditional Ojibwa fare. Limiting seating to only 13 guests means Keeshig can guide diners through the ingredients, cooking methods and cultural significance of every unique dish he plates.

Housed at the Owen Sound most in Southern Ontario, Naagan offers a nine-course tasting menu that incorporates foraged ingredients such as corn or peaches in the summer, and carrots or beets in the fall.

Keeshig also hosts foraging tours, cooking demonstrations and private dinners.

Attend an Algonquin festival near Ottawa

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Mādahòkì Farm was built on Algonquin Nation land near Canada’s capital city. Officially launched in 2021, the space is home to a series of year-round events celebrating Algonquin language and culture by season: Sīgwan (spring), Tagwàgi (autumn), Pibòn (winter) and the annual Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival.

Each event offers traditional Algonquin foods, music, pow wows and creative workshops where families can make dream catchers, play drums, take part in storytelling or participate in a pow wow.

This exciting event space and working farm also stables five endangered Ojibwe Spirit Horses and hosts a year-round Indigenous Marketplace that promotes products such as art, jewelry, coffee or soaps, made by local Indigenous artisans.

Fish and enjoy trails around Red Bank Lodge in New Brunswick

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Owned by the Red Bank Nation, Red Bank Lodge sits high on a hill overlooking the clear Miramichi River. The large cedar cabin nestled in a thick evergreen forest was built by the local Indigenous community. Wildlife quietly graze along the tranquil walking trails that wind through the trees and along the river.

River Bank Lodge is renowned for its Atlantic salmon fishing, drawing fishers from all over the globe. Its Culinary Fishing Experience — priced around $1,400 — includes accommodation, Indigenous-led fishing excursions and Mi’kmaq meals of smoked fish and shellfish, or boiled meats like venison or caribou. Fishing season runs from mid-April to October and these experiences book up months in advance.

For more information on Canada’s Indigenous tourism offerings, visit: https://Indigenoustourism.ca/

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