As an Anishinaabekwe I have heard our old people, our experts, talk over and over again about the importance of eating in a traditional way in order to maintain individual and community health and well-being. Our traditional foods are of higher nutritious value than processed foods and the process of gathering, gardening, fishing, trapping and hunting bring about a cultural, emotional and spiritual wellness a trip to the local grocery store cannot. Harvesting of Traditional Foods was a significant part of our traditional economies in pre-conquest times. Self-sufficiency, sharing and trading all flowed from ones ability to feed their extended family and contribute to the workings of our Nations. Even in contemporary times, Traditional Foods make substantial contributions to traditional economies. Many Indigenous Peoples living around the Great Lakes as well as other areas of North American continue to hunt, fish, pick rice, fruit and berries, harvest plants and participate in traditional forms of agriculture in order to meet their needs. But traditional Foods are important for more than just economic reasons. Elders and western scientists agree that Traditional Foods are often of higher nutritional value than commercially produced food items (MacDonald 1997; Kuhnlein 1993). From a social perspective, being out on the land strengthens our relationship to our extended families and deepens our spiritual understanding of life and our place in it.
Consuming traditional foods revitalizes our cultures, our languages and our ceremonies and it reinforces our sovereignty within our families, communities and Nations. Gathering rice, berries, and plants requires our people to remember or seek out Traditional Knowledge in order to understand how to harvest these items in a respectful and traditional way. Judy Da Silva an Anishinaabekwe from Asubpeechoseewagong Netum Anishinabek in north west Ontario explains:
When a hunter kills a moose, there is a certain part of the moose that the hunter takes off (a little tiny piece of the moose) and leaves it in the forest, and with that the hunter will say a few words to the moose to thank him for providing food for his family. Other animals are the same, but you put a different part of a certain animal in the forest. My brother said our grandmother told him you do not get an animal because you are a good hunter, but because the animal feels sorry for you and gives himself to you to feed your family. This is why when our people hunt, those thoughts are ingrained in their mind and heart and they have a great respect for the animals they get. (Da Silva 2003).
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