Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Knowledge Keeper Eugene Ross was at the All Nations Sharing Circle Tuesday, bestowing stories on traditional foods and diets as part of Brandon’s Truth and Reconciliation Week celebrations.
Ross, whose Dakota name is Born in the Wind, said his interactive talk, “Food and Wellbeing the Traditional Way,” was focused on sharing generational knowledge, educating people and celebrating the beauty of Dakota culture.
“We’re land-based teachers. We are the keepers of our culture. We are keepers of the stories,” Ross said. “It’s so important to share and tell that story so that other people may have an understanding of our people. We are the keepers of the land.”
As story keepers, there has been a tradition of passing on knowledge about the foods from the Earth for generations beyond memory, he said. These actions are important because it allows different generations to stay connected and ensure teachings are not lost.
“I also encourage them [the next generation] that this belongs to you. This is who you are. When you look at how rich our culture is, the knowledge that’s sitting here today … They knew because they were keepers of the land, they researched that land,” Ross said.
He added it’s essential to educate both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to create an understanding of the traditions and teachings that have been carried on by Dakota for time immemorial. These interactions can help impart and honour the vital knowledge nation members carry.
“It’s so important. Don’t pass judgment on our people … They have their struggles, but you don’t know the gifts that they carry,” Ross said. “Our people are gifted. Look at the stories we have to share and the knowledge that we keep.”
Ross uses every opportunity possible to visit schools and other organizations to pass on these stories and impart the essential need to connect with nature.
“All of this [food and herbs] is found in our backyard. We just have to be educated, somebody has to show us,” Ross said.
For the teachings on Indigenous food practices, Ross created an interactive exhibit at the All Nations Sharing Circle. During his talk, guests could walk along the sharing circle, learning about Indigenous foods, herbs, tools and traditions.
Each item is special in its own way, he said, and featured stories that have been carried forward for thousands of years. The circle was designed to showcase the different activities Dakota people would have traditionally participated in over the course of four seasons.
A highlight of the exhibition was honouring the importance of buffalo, also known as bison in Manitoba. The animal is used in 175 ways by Dakota people and the entire animal has been used and recycled for centuries in Indigenous communities.
Ross also provided a demonstration of the traditional fall activity of crushing chokecherries. The cherries are carefully ground three at a time to impart the teaching of patience.
The cherries are crushed using granite rocks found across the Prairies that serve as mortar and pestle.
“The fall was a very busy time, they were getting ready for winter,” Ross said. “Crushing cherries were part of their diet. My grandmother said she would crush cherries from the time the sun came up to the time the sun went down. You were picking, cleaning, crushing constantly.”
He added for special ceremonies, six 100-pound bags would be crushed.
The crushed cherries were then combined to create hard, dried patties that could be stored in bags and kept over the winter. Water is later added to the patties creating a pudding-like meal.
“They were used daily in their diet, it was used for ceremony and it was used for sharing with family,” Ross said.
He added that prior to contact with settlers, the Indigenous diet did not include sugar, tea, salt or tobacco. Trading with the settlers brought these items into Indigenous communities, along with different types of metal.
“It became part of our culture and who we are,” Ross said.
It is powerful being able to showcase his culture, and Ross appreciates those who took the opportunity to learn about Dakota culture and teachings.
He hopes those that visited the All Nations Sharing Circle walked away with a better understanding and appreciation for the Dakota traditions and teachings that have been carried forward over thousands of years.
He encouraged those who attended to find different ways to stay connected and learn more about the culture from elders, knowledge keepers and others in Indigenous communities.
“These stories are still being shared and being shown,” Ross said. “The thing is people need to listen. It’s our turn to tell our stories. Listen to us now. We have something to share.”
Tristen Munroe and Princeton Wood stopped by the All Nations Sharing Circle after learning about the showcase through their work at the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corp. As a team, they visited the site to take part in the events for Truth and Reconciliation Week.
It was interesting learning about Indigenous food, Munroe said, and they were able to learn a lot. He added the different uses of buffalo was one of his biggest takeaways from the circle.
“I always heard about our people using a lot of buffalo things, but to actually see them — it’s mind-blowing,” Munroe said with a grin.
Wood agreed. The duo said they would recommend learning more to others, so they can enhance their awareness about the past and Indigenous teachings.
“Nowadays, a lot of people don’t really know about these plants and herbs. It’s kind of, like, a dying thing. A lot of our elders are also passing, and that’s a lot of knowledge that goes with them,” Wood said. “Young people need to take it seriously.”
Brandon Truth and Reconciliation Week events will be taking place until Friday. For more information, visit events.brandon.ca/MasterCalendar.aspx.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun