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Eskasoni First Nation, N.S.


My culinary journey goes back to when I was about eight years old. My mother wasn’t in the picture when I was a child so my grandmother Malia’n (the Mi’kmaw word for Maryann) Marshall took a big part in filling that role and making food for family. Taking care of people was all that she knew. She loved to bake and cook, and I wanted to emulate her. She was such a focal point for my entire clan.

We come from the lineage of the Mi’kmaw Grand Council. My great-great-grandfather Gabriel Syliboy was the first elected Mi’kmaw Grand Chief, in the early 1900s. He was the Grand Captain of the Mi’kmaw Nation at that time. The Nation went for an election amongst their people, and he was chosen unanimously by his colleagues to be the first elected Grand Chief.

My grandmother was a hereditary grandmother and a descendant of this legacy. Grandmothers are held in very high esteem in our culture — the ones who teach everyone.

As a child I asked my parents if I could start cooking. They told me that they didn’t think I could cook at the age of eight and they said that when I could reach the top shelf of the cupboard then I could start cooking. A couple of years later I went to Walmart to buy a stool my father needed to put in the bathroom. That stool never saw the bathroom. It went straight the kitchen and I reached for the top cupboard, and they said I guess you can cook now!

The first thing I made was spaghetti and pork chops. My stepmother was Italian, so we had plenty of spaghetti growing up and I still love cooking Italian food.

There have been adaptions to all kinds of cuisine and as food got colonized it changed. Mi’kmaw food is all about ingredient utilization. Originally my ancestors would have spent their summers by the coast living off lobster, fish, clams, mussels, and oysters. At this time, they lived a very healthy rich lifestyle. People who eat these foods now are typically affluent when it was once just an everyday cuisine for my people. This is what the definition of what a moderate livelihood was. It was having these resources available and not having to pay anyone for them. The colonial mindset is that you owe someone, and we didn’t think this way. Our food culture was about sharing. If I hunted a moose and brought it back home, I would share it with my family and community and the person who was very good with agriculture shared what they had.

Today, many of my people have lost the taste for these types of foods and eat a lot of what people call poverty foods or survival foods. We might not be able to save this generation of people living on processed foods, but we might be able to teach their children and grandchildren.

I have never worked outside of my community other than teaching an introductory language course at Cape Breton University for two years. I have always worked for the people in my community in education and administration. I have been great at providing for my community but not providing for myself. In realizing this
I knew it was time to go to cooking school. This spring I will be graduating from the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, P.E.I. I am 31 years old. I have been cooking for 20 years and now I understand the bigger picture and where I fit in and that is taking part in the revitalization of our cuisine and take it back home.

There was no Mi’kmaw food represented at culinary school so I asked if I could develop a standardized recipe for our traditional brown bread. Now when other Mi’kmaw students go there they will see their brown bread recipe.

I am interested in bringing my cuisine back to my people so that it will never be lost. I am passionate about promoting my language, our culture, our cuisine. We are just at the tip of ... this renaissance of discovery and sharing Indigenous cuisine. I think we are ready to learn what it is to truly be Mi’kmaq.

I went to culinary school for myself, and it helped me heal but, in the end, I am doing this for my people. When I am done on this earth, I will be able to say I am proud of what I have done, and I will leave a legacy for people to utilize and finish what I have started. That is the goal. 

Four-Cent Ke’k


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