RR With Food Episode 2 - Joely BigEagle Kequatooway
7:23PM Oct 18, 2021
Hello, welcome to Righting Our Relations with Food, a podcast series where we meet with guests from across the country to discuss food security and food sovereignty and how we can make changes to our food system with a focus on Canada. Righting Relations is a national network of adult educators and community organizers working for radical social change, and this series is part of a larger project on food sovereignty and the sustainability development goals. So, if you're interested in learning more, please check out our YouTube channel and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Today's guest is an interdisciplinary Nakota/Cree/Saulteaux artist who comes from a long line of Buffalo hunters. She is a fashion and textile designer, visual artist, beader, storyteller, and co-founder of the Buffalo People Arts Institute. She has a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Calgary and other in Mathematics from First Nation University of Canada. She loves to incorporate mathematics and geometry in her artwork, and is inspired by a perfect cemetry and nature. Joely, welcome and I'm honored to have you here today. Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your work?
So thank you, my name is Joely BigEagle Kequahtooway. I'm an artist and co founder of Buffalo People Arts Institute, and our mission is to bring back the buffalo mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, mainly through offering traditional Indigenous arts programs workshops with the focus around of course Buffalo and as well as doing some buffalo hide tanning workshops. So yeah, I think I've been working
on on rediscovering, you know, my, my identity as not just an Indigenous person, but a Nakota/Cree/Saulteaux person. I'm from White BearFirst Nations, it's a First Nations that's in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan. So I think there is has been a, you know, a real disconnect between, you know, especially if you're urban indigenous and I identify as an urban indigenous person. So for me, you know, now that I'm, you know, just over half a century, I've been really wanting to know, "Okay, what what does it mean like, because it's become common to when you introduce yourself, you say, you know, this is where I'm from, my territory; if you're fortunate enough to have a clan you would say, um, this is the clan that I'm from, this is my identity. A lot of people, it seems to me, they have that connection to the land through that identity. And so a big part of some of the work that we do and that I've been doing is to to find that connection to that identity and what it means. Who am I? What does being Nakota, what does being Cree, what does being Saulteaux or Ojibwe mean? And everything points back to buffalo. We are part of the Buffalo Nation, you know it hasn't been that long ago that we lived with the buffalo, we hunted buffalo, we, uh, everything that we needed we got from the buffalo, you know, our spiritual connection, our land connection - in order to live in this land, we were dependent on the Buffalo. And I heard this, especially when I started going to university, they'd say "education is the new buffalo." And so, what is that? So okay, what - who are these Buffalo? And, and there was a real disconnect. Right? Because nobody I knew ate buffalo meat. Nobody I knew ever hunted a buffalo. No, nobody I knew had buffalo leather. Nobody wore buffalo jewelry. You know? So it was like okay, what, what's this buffalo thing? You know, and what does it mean? And if that's my identity as a Nakota/Cree/Saulteaux person, then I've got to find out. It's helped me identify this resilient gene, or this resilient DNA inside of me, so that I can address the trauma that also exists within me as a intergenerational residential school survivor. I think that we, many of us, have been brainwashed to believe we're inferior. You can't deny it though, when you start to do the research, that, you know, not only were our ancestors brilliant as buffalo hunters, but they have this immense knowledge on how to, to not just hunt buffalo, but also how to how to honor the buffalo so that it was sustainable. So that's the connection with food sovereignty: what happened to that way of living? And I think that the world is, is stuck on a cycle of capitalism, you know, including myself, I'm not immune to that. Nowadays if you if you want to be a traditional person and eat buffalo all the time, and eat traditional foods like wild rice and, and corn and squash and all the different foods of the Americas, it's expensive, right? Like I think buffalo meat is probably one of the more expensive meats you know, so now what do we do as indigenous people? You know, cuz I don't hunt. And I nobody I know really hunts buffalo. So you know, we have to adapt. And does that mean that we become buffalo keepers? But how how do you do that? And there's no manual for that. Because we've never in any of our past lives, you know, really kept buffalo. We liked our meat wild. Yes. So think that kind of gives you a good idea of of the work that I do.
Yeah, it does. I'm just kind of curious to know like, what do you mean by like buffalo keepers?
So I think there's some best practices out there. In terms of, of how to best manage a buffalo/bison herd. There's manuals, there are booklets that have been created by the Canadian and the US Bison Associations on how to manage a herd using cattle industry practices. Right? And treating buffalo like they were cattle. But there are other best practices from an Indigenous viewpoint. How do you look after buffalo so that they remain wild? And I don't think there is a standard out there at this moment. There are organizations like the buffalo treaty, that are doing their best to gather information and to send it out so that the people can see what others are doing in different communities. But there's no kind of understanding from, from these Indigenous-based ranching organizations on how to raise buffalo. This is a new phenomenon. Like, I think that when you look at the history of what's happened to the buffalo, they, you know, they were almost wiped out, right? To, I've read, anywhere between 500 to 2000. And some of the numbers that they were at, they say 60 million to 125 million. That's, I think that's the definition of on the verge of extinction. Right? So, you know, as Indigenous people, you're instantly put on reservations, the pass system, residential schools, we really, in our history, as Indigenous people, we never had time to mourn the loss of the buffalo. When, when we look at the state of affairs our communities are in: the high suicide rates, the high level of infant deaths, for me, for myself, I can pinpoint it, you know, back to that moment when the buffalo were killed off. Yeah, you know, I understand that when you when you go through trauma, and you're not able to talk about it or deal with it; some way, we've been able to find a way to manage that. But when you look at those statistics, you know, that I said about the high suicide rate, the high rate of diabetes, the high rate of incarceration - you know, for me, it's, it's like this, unidentifed trauma related to the mourning the loss of the Buffalo. Why, why aren't people so obsessed around buffalo like I am? Yes, that's my question. And, and I think it's you know, tied back to what I just said about being brainwashed. And, you know, and there's different levels of brainwashing that have happened, depending on how you're really able to, I guess, live. Right? And whether you've adopted, you know, a colonial life 100%. You know, right now I'm at this point in my life where, where I have achieved those educational milestones, I've gotten engineering degree, I've gotten a mathematics degree. But I think because of different kinds of situations in my life, I took a step back from that and, and to me right now that the question that I asked myself and I also asked others is, what is the definition of success? How do you know you're successful? How do you know when you you've made it? What is that now if we're revisiting capitalism, right? And so what is success? Is success family? Is success having food on your table, a roof over your head, and your health? Is that success? I think, and you know and I can tie that back to food sovereignty: I think nowadays, some of the wealthiest people are people who know how to, to garden, who know how to live off the land, who know how to hunt. Unfortunately, I don't know any of those. And so now here I am, and I'm like, I got my degrees. You know, I'm successful by a colonial viewpoint. But I'm, like I said, I'm half a century old and I have I have all these questions. And I have all this, this living to do. Right? Right. So I'm, I really preach that maybe education isn't the new buffalo. Maybe buffalo is the buffalo and we've just go back to that way. We do our best: we'll we eat buffalo now, I mean, my family, we buy buffalo. We eat more wild rice, I pay the extra expensive amount. And, you know, I thought, well, maybe I could go harvesting wild rice one day, you know, to have that experience. Right? And then understanding what are the traditional foods. And for me, I think when I think about food sovereignty, I also think, well, where's bannock in all of this?
That's a big question I have, and I have discussions around it. Because, you know, because of the treaties, we didn't have buffalo, we're so we are given the pork, the the sugar, salt, you know, flour. And then you know, our Scottish relatives, they taught us how to make bannock. And then we are able, now we didn't have that buffalo pemmican, to eat that bannock. During those cold winters, it replaced our natural food source. So it saved us in that time period when we needed food. Right? And so we can't just shove it aside. We can't just say, you know, you're not our traditional food. I had - this, this is a tough discussion where you're talking food sovereignty, because I think bannock - you know, that's how my Scottish friend says it now - but that's really tied into this food sovereignty. Where does bannock fit in all of this as a traditional food, it's something that was that was, from what I understand, given to us so that we can survive those winters so that we could survive those, those periods of, not just the starvation period, but the periods were also we were like, this is our, became our traditional food. Right? So I guess if there was a first, second, third place, you know, where's bannock? And this it's a good conversation to have when we talk about food sovereignty because it it still feeds our people today. It's still present in our feasts. So you know, when when we serve a traditional meal, you know, we'll do the buffalo meat, wild rice, some vegetables, and bannock. Right. And so, yeah, I think that, you know, food sovereignty and talking about how buffalo play important role in that, you know, is there's a lot of good discussions that can be had.
Yeah, yes, I agree. Yeah, I guess just for one closing question, like, then how should we approach righting our relations with food?
Yeah, and you know, that's, that's also really important because at my age, I know that I was diagnosed with diabetes, just recently my my brothers - two of my brothers have diabetes, my biological dad and my dad who raised me has it, so now people are dying from it, right? And they're literally dying from diabetes and I think that's, you know, become one of the the highest rates of of death within our communities you know and so a lot of it is tied to food like bannock, right? And so, it's like, well it's, it's changing the way we we do things traditionally. For me, food sovereignty is talking about, well it's our - it's our culture but it's our beliefs and it's our, you know, it's just our way of living. And even all these - every single thing that, how we, our gatherings, our business conferences, our political conferences, or any kind of gatherings or conferences you know, we should be considering having, you know, traditional foods as a priority. And who who knows? Like, it's become a popular way of cooking around the world that some of these, I dunno, the Michelin chefs, they they'll go and they'll forage for food in their backyard or their back alleys. Right, and getting those foods that are local. So you know, that's, you know, what we should be doing in our community. What happened to all our back alleys that used to be full of rhubarb and, and crab apple trees? You know, one of our good friends said well, you know, why don't we have buffaloberry trees in the cities? Right, we should bring back we should do some guerilla gardening and, and plant buffaloberry trees in our cities as as an act of resistance as an act of bringing back traditional foods. It's so it's, it's, it's, it's research, it's finding out like, what is a buffaloberry tree? And how do we plant it? And how do we bring back some of these traditional foods that can be accessible, not just to urban people, but people who live in rural areas. And, and when when are people going to, to want to, you know, find their way back to eating traditionally? And I think for the time being, we're gonna have to combine the best of both worlds.
Thank you for listening to this month's episode of Righting Our Relations with Food. If you would like to thank our wonderful guests for sharing their knowledge and their insights with us. And from everyone here at Righting Relations Canada. We would like to thank our partner, the John Humphrey Center for Peace and Human Rights. And of course, our funders, the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, and Employment and Social Development Canada, for making this project possible. We hope you'll join us again next month!