People and programs 06/25/2021
At Natoaganeg Community Food Centre on Natoaganeg First Nation in New Brunswick, programs are about so much more than accessing food.

Every community kitchen, food skills workshop, and garden program is about connecting to and respecting the land, water, and all beings. The point is to pass on teachings, and practice culture.

“Traditional teachings are interwoven into our programs, strengthening the Indigenous relationship to land and traditional ways,” says Trish MacDonald, Interim Manager of the Community Food Centre.

“Our bear grease and rabbit snaring workshops, hunting, fishing, harvesting—they all help teach valuable traditional food skills. Our Elders also share valuable knowledge in our programs. From cooking, preserving moose meat and picking wild berries, to passing on culture and traditions through storytelling.”

Creating an inclusive, culturally relevant space for women and families

Recently, Program Coordinator Shalyn Ward started offering a cultural workshop at Natoaganeg CFC. Staff saw a need to create a space for women in the community to gather and practice their culture. A group of women now come to the Community Food Centre every Thursday to learn beading, singing, and fancy shawl dancing.

Shalyn noticed some of the women mentioned finding a babysitter in order to attend. But she abides by the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. “This is a program that engages the community, and children are part of the community,” she explains.

“One of the women in the program brings her two sons. And they just light up the room. We’ll be talking about your moon time, or different methods of being, and the kids just add to it. They're running up and down the hallways, bringing a little spark to the environment.” 

Shalyn says it means a lot to have a space like the Community Food Centre where people can connect and share.

“I love seeing people engage in their cultural activities. You'll notice a change in people. [...] They'll start opening up and [the program] becomes more of a sharing circle."

“It brings the community together—physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Land-based programs a way to build relationship to culture and food

Natoaganeg CFC’s land-based programs are another expression and celebration of Indigenous ways of knowing.

The programs include a start-to-finish way of teaching, because the whole process is interconnected and of equal importance. 

When Program Coordinator Jeff Larry leads his fiddlehead workshop, he takes care to demonstrate everything from how to pick them, to how to clean them in the river, to how to blanch them just right—so that even after freezing and thawing, the fiddleheads maintain their vibrant green colour and satisfying crunch.

When he takes a group of kids out bass fishing or rabbit snaring, it’s the same thing. He shares every step of the process—from how to look for trails and find the right spot to how to skin the animal and cook the meat.

Passing down this knowledge to the younger generation is important for preserving traditions. And it means kids feel a stronger connection to their culture and to their food. 

“I feel [wild game hunting] should be taught in schools,” Shalyn explains. “You have to know what to catch, what you're able to catch, when's the best time to catch it. There’s so much to learn.”

For Shalyn, it’s amazing to witness that experience through a child’s eyes. “For me, the best part was when one of the little girls said: ‘I can't believe we caught this and we're gonna eat it!’ She was so fascinated.”