Food for the frontlines — honouring Indigenous ingenuity during a colonial holiday

·5 min read

Canadians getting ready to cozy up with family over the Thanksgiving weekend should question exactly what they’re celebrating, says Secwépemc hereditary matriarch Miranda Dick.

In May, Tk’emlups te Secwépemc leadership shared that 215 unmarked graves had been uncovered on the former grounds of a church-run institution known as Kamloops Indian Residential School.

This painful revelation kicked off a series of announcements from other nations across the country that are doing the work of revealing unmarked graves at former church and government-run institutions, so-called “schools” for Indigenous children.

“The acts of genocide is the elephant in the room,” Dick says, and it’s “still going on.”

She wants people to remember that many Indigenous Peoples still don’t have access to clean water, that they’re still fighting against the exploitation of their lands and for the revitalization of their languages.

“Every extractive industry, you name it, [has] impacted Indigenous communities.”

Indigenous Peoples were “saving these people from near starvation,” she says. “Where we are at now is a total flip of the script. We never would have thought of this occurring to our Indigenous Peoples.”

That said, there is something to celebrate this weekend, she says.

And that’s the food security and sovereignty we enjoy today as a result of Ancestors like Dick’s late grandfather, Secwépemc Elder William Jones “Wolverine” Ignace — who fed frontline land defenders from his garden.

Wolverine and his wife Flora Sampson, also known as Ke7e Flo, started their garden decades ago on C’yele in Secwépemc territory outside of Chase, B.C., about 57-km east of Tk’emlups [Kamloops].

It came to be well known as a means of food for land defenders as the couple travelled all over Turtle Island bringing food to the frontlines — long before the 1995 Gustafsen Lake standoff really put Wolverine’s garden on the map.

According to research compiled on the University of British Columbia’s Indigenous Foundations website, the standoff, involving the B.C. RCMP, was sparked by a title conflict between a rancher who claimed the land for grazing his cattle and Sundancers who assembled “every summer at a specific site near Gustafsen Lake” as “part of a multi-year period cycle of ceremonial commitment.”

Ts’Peten defenders maintained that the land was never signed, ceded, or surrendered — and it held deep ceremonial purpose. Wolverine fought to defend the land and he spent time in prison for it, as reported by APTN.

In 2016, Wolverine moved onto the Spirit World, however the seeds he planted decades ago continue to feed the people.

Dick says her grandfather envisioned a garden that would support a healthy, autonomous community, providing “food sovereignty and food security.”

In sqilxw culture, it is an act of love to feed the people.

In most sqilxw ceremonies and traditions, there is a time for feast and a time for fasting, but when people come together food is almost always at the center. It’s important to pour teachings over food prepared through laughter and prayer. And it’s important food is harvested by the hands of people who do it for the love of others.

Wolverine was inspired by his trips to Chiapas, Mexico, Dick says.

“[He] met with the land defenders there — where they had created their own autonomous community,” she shares. “He wanted to develop some of that from their role modelling.”

Today Wolverine’s garden is a bit smaller than the original garden he nurtured, due to irrigation issues, but Dick estimates it’s fed thousands of sqilxw people and land defenders to date.

Anushka Azadi, a friend and lawyer for the family, met some of Wolverine’s family on the frontlines in various places and was told to go and see Wolverine. She did, returning to the gardens multiple times, before eventually making it her home for five seasons now.

She took on the task of maintaining the gardens, alongside Ke7e Flo.

“Before coming to Secwépemc territory and meeting Miranda and Gwa [Miranda’s sister] and the family, I didn’t know what it meant to live,” Azadi says.

“I think as a Canadian living in society you quickly get pigeonholed into life and work in the city. Then you get stuck in a cycle of paying for life to live in the city, and you’re not well.” She says Wolverine gave her a place to ground and come back to.

“The garden became such an important thing because doing activism and rallies is one thing, but then engaging in ceremony and sacred fires and engaging with seeds and the actual land is something totally separate and is medicine for everyone,” she says.

Dick says she values the role Azadi plays today in feeding the frontlines across many territories — and carrying on her grandfather’s teachings.

“You are feeding everyone,” says Azadi. “Everyone is eating together, you’re giving away so much food, you’re canning … That’s the motivation … your will to live.”

This weekend, Dick says she and her family will enjoy a traditional feast gathered from their lands. They call it “No thanks, no giving” — and it’s a tradition they started a few years ago as a way to celebrate food sovereignty and sustainability.

“We still have all the food from the garden, salmon, we have deer, we have everything. But no thanks, no giving … because we’re not going to do it anymore. Why would we sit at the same table and act as though there’s nothing wrong with how Canada has treated our own people?”

It’s about “get[ting] down in our own way,” she says.

It’s about honouring our own abundance as a people who have received “no thanks,” and it’s about “no giving” to the country that continues to ignore the Indigenous Peoples, she says.

Kelsie Kilawna, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse

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