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Miichim program honours hunters with feast

Thursday December 19, 2013
Bryan Phelan/Wawatay News

Elders Isiah Kanate of North Caribou Lake, Damin Crowe of Sandy Lake, and Andy Lac Seul from the First Nation of Lac Seul line up for traditional food at the Meechim Hunters Feast hosted Dec. 12 by Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre.

The hunting season so far hadn’t gone well for the people of Slate Falls First Nation. The weather wasn’t co-operating and no one was having any luck in shooting a moose.

Until now.

Near the head of the rapids, Ryan Loon nailed one of his traps to a tree when a cow moose walked towards him. Ryan’s gun sat in his boat about 30 feet away. He hesitated at first, unsure what to do, then dashed for the boat and got a shot off with his gun before the moose could run away.

Kathy Loon, Ryan’s aunt, tells this story from a couple of years ago to illustrate her nephew’s hunting prowess. She’s speaking to about 40 people gathered for the second annual Miichim Hunters Feast at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre. The feast, held Dec. 12 in the health centre’s Josias Fiddler Conference Centre, honours Ryan and others who contributed to health centre’s Miichim (Traditional Foods) program over the past year.

Kathy is the manager of traditional programs at Meno Ya Win, including the Miichim program.

“This boy has been hunting since he was a little guy … running around after his grandfather,” she says of Ryan. “He’s often gone for long periods of time from home, just wandering the bush, checking his traps, hunting.”

And when Ryan gets back from the bush, he shares what he has harvested.

“In Slate Falls, he singlehandedly feeds all the Elders and keeps their freezers full, as well as some of the Elders here (in Sioux Lookout) at Patricia Plaza,” Kathy says. “And now he’s starting to donate to the hospital. So I’m very proud of my nephew here.”

Dick Bramer, general manager of support services for Aramark, the company that provides food services for Meno Ya Win, presented Ryan with a gift to show appreciation for the fish he has donated to the Miichim program. Others received recognition and gifts for contributing geese, venison, moose, grouse, caribou, and blueberries.

“Without your generous donations and commitment, the program would not exist,” says Dean Osmond, Meno Ya Win’s vice-president of corporate services and chief operating officer.

“Providing traditional foods to our clients is an essential part of providing culturally-appropriate care.”

Traditional foods are offered to Meno Ya Win patients once a week. A selection of pre-made, frozen Miichim meals are also prepared for patients who want to stay with their traditional diets on a daily basis. And boiling fish and moose can accommodate those on special diets requiring nutritional fluids.

“It’s very, very important,” Kathy Loon says of the Miichim program. “Some of these Elders, they’ve lived on this food for 80 years and then it’s food from a different culture. They’re just not used to it. For them to get a traditional meal once a week means a lot to them.”

Joan Winter of Wapekeka First Nation, in Sioux Lookout for Meno Ya Win Elders Council meetings, agrees.

“When Elders are taken out of their community and brought here, some won’t want to eat anything unless it’s traditional food,” she says at the Miichim feast, which included roast moose, baked walleye, wild rice casserole and bannock. “It’s always good when they feed us traditional food when we’re here because it’s healthy.”

Art Weir, the Miichim cook, on average prepares 150 meals per week for Meno Ya Win, the adjacent Jeremiah McKay Kabayshewekamik hostel, and the William George Extended Care facility not far away.

The traditional food is stored and prepared in a small kitchen separate from the main Meno Ya Win kitchen to comply with health and safety regulations, notes Michelle Beaulne, the health centre’s director of environmental services.

Meno Ya Win would eventually like to offer traditional food to its patients more often but that will depend on the amount of food donated, she says.

“Last year the snow was high up North, so the hunting was pretty hard and our freezers were a little low,” says Loon. “This year it’s good; we had a good fall.” Loon should know, having contributed moose, caribou and partridge she hunted herself.

Donations to the Miichim program come from across the region served by Meno Ya Win, with big game usually from communities accessible by road, while ducks and geese are more easily shipped from remote northern communities.

“It is a little hard to ship a whole moose on a plane,” Loon explains, although airlines have been supportive of the program.

“I’m really glad we get to recognize the hunters who have contributed to this program and ask people to continue donating,” she says after the feast.

Adds Winter: “I’m just hoping the program will keep going, so the patients can get food some of them are longing to eat when they’re brought out here.”

Donations to the Miichim (Traditional Foods) program can be arranged by calling Kathy Loon at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre, 807-737-6561.

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