Prince Albert Herald (paherald.com)
For Philip Morin and his staff of cooks and volunteers, the Saskatchewan First Nations Winter Games aren’t just for athletics.
It’s also a chance to celebrate culture, and for Morin, that means food.
“It’s very important. It actually surpasses any event because for them to compete they have to have food, and they have good food,” Morin says.
As the cultural camp co-ordinator it’s Morin’s job to oversee a vast network of traditional cooks who try to keep older methods of cooking alive. That includes not only rare types of food you won’t often find on supermarket shelves, like moose meat and caribou, but the way it’s cooked.
“A lot of people came through and it was fun,” cook Rita Morin says. “They were interested mainly in the making of the dry meat and stuff. People want to know how to make it and how long it takes to make it, so a lot of people came to just find out how it’s made.”
Rita and her fellow cooks like to bake over open fires and can make a wide variety of dishes. Duck soup, goose stew and bannock are just some of the menu items that are singed and cooked in a variety of ways.
“A lot of people don’t get to eat wild stuff in the traditional way,” cook Veronique Tsannie says. “We usually do our cooking and they just love it.”
It’s also a time of fellowship. Cooks from across the north gather to share some laughs and swap tips.
“There’s a lot of people to meet, different people to work with, and I get different ideas from the other cooks,” fish fryer Natalie Henderson says. “It’s pretty unique.”
While feeding the crowds is a priority the staff is also concerned about keeping traditions alive for the next generation, and that’s not as easy as it seems.
“Unfortunately many of them (young people) are not practicing their culture,” Philip says. “They’ve lost their languages. They’ve lost their way of life, but it’s not dead by any means. Many, many, many of them still know those things, and this is a reminder of the importance of the cultures, the language, traditions and the stories.”
While they did have large crowds of people for the event, both Philip and his cooks say they would like to see more people come out. They say it’s open to everyone, whether they want to learn about traditional cooking or just enjoy a good meal.
“I would like to see more of the local people come out here. Residents, non-first nations people, they’re welcome to come down,” he says with a laugh. “We still have one moose to cook. That’s a lot of meat.”