Healthy Indigenous living at core of ‘Indurance’ project

All strength requires a core to draw from, and Mitch Huguenin wants to reintroduce the Indigenous community to theirs on a historic, cultural and athletic level.

Indurance is the creation of Huguenin, who lives in Peterborough and works as an education developer of Indigenous Pedagogy at Trent University. Although launched this year, Huguenin had been working through the concept of an Indigenous-centred framework of cultural nutrition and health of mind and body for quite some time prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The concept for Indurance cemented when a back injury prompted him to look for a weightlifting belt, and seeing his Métis sash hanging in his home.

“Historically, the Métis sash was used almost like a weightlifting belt during the fur trade,” Huguenin explained. “I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we had some modern version of the sash that was intended for people actually doing training?’

“Wouldn’t it be really cool if there were pieces of athletic wear and various accessories created by Indigenous people with some Indigenous artists behind the designs?” he asked.

Upon applying for a small grant from the Métis Nation of Ontario, Huguenin set forward in creating a website for Indurance; a presence focused on the interconnectivity of Indigenous culture, ancestry, beliefs and endurance.

Huguenin described the project as being in its infancy, although several pages of the website are flush with detail. The nutrition page detailed traditional foodways while various savoury recipes – including his favourite, the hominy with egg whites and wild leeks vegetarian dish – are offered for readers.

His growing up in Penetanguishene and previous employment with Huronia Historical Parks also extended onto the pages of the site, primarily seen in the physical culture section which highlighted and emphasized the Voyageurs associated with colonial Jesuits in the 17th Century within North Simcoe.

“Growing up where I did,” he said of his personal observations, “there were years and perhaps several generations of cultural repression; people like my mom who knew who they were but for various different reasons they felt they had to keep their culture – their Indigeneity – under wraps.” Huguenin added a quote from musician Robbie Robertson whose own mother advised, ‘Be proud you're an Indian, but be careful who you tell.’

“I think previous generations were brought up that way. In our area (of North Simcoe)… I think there were some generations who kept their Métis heritage on the down-low. My upbringing was very different from that. I was encouraged to celebrate and get involved with my heritage in various different ways.

“I thought: ‘We have such a rich history in this community, I’d love to find ways to tell that story in the best way that I can.’ The ways that I’m doing that now are through education, but I also see Indurance as a pathway for those stories,” Huguenin said.

As per the 94 Calls for Action within the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report, Huguenin noted that many of Indurance’s mission statement and core values were aligned with the sections for both health and for sports and reconciliation.

“Calls for celebrating Indigenous athletic achievements, for educating about Indigenous histories, the contribution to Canada as we know it made by Indigenous peoples, and promoting health across our communities and our well-being,” said Huguenin.

Realizing that there was a lack of athletic wear associated with orange shirts, Indurance created and sold such items in 2022 with resulting proceeds donated directly to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society charity, selling quickly out of stock upon announcement.

Indurance was borne of an athletic need Huguenin saw lacking in the community, even as he worked professionally at Trent University on other projects. Tentatively scheduled for initialization in February, a virtual learning system is being developed by Huguenin and others.

“It would be an open course that’s focused on Indigenous physical activity and health,” he shared, “one of the first offered in Canada, at least, for being an open resource for people to engage with.

“I’m very excited (to be) involved with that course with a team of curriculum and content developers from Trent and other institutions.”

Due to his involvement with the university project, Indurance was loosely scheduled for full completion of its grand opening in late 2023, but Huguenin laughed while revealing the fullness of his official workload.

As for its future, Huguenin projected that someday he would like to see Indurance branded and packed with enough materials for seasonal boxes, to be comparable to the Raven Reads book boxes sent to Indigenous communities across North America.

“Putting these gift boxes together filled with Indurance products like shirts and caps, but also things like little protein powders or electrolyte drinks or healthy snacks,” mused Huguenin. “I’m thinking in the future it’d be really cool to partner with those companies that are creating those kinds of things; but have yet to do any of that partnership.”

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca