Long-time Fall Harvest volunteer Willie Yerxa has seen a “tremendous change” over the years in the students’ knowledge of traditional harvesting techniques.
“They know how to roast the rice, they know how to dance on the rice,” Yerxa said during the 2010 Fall Harvest, held Sept. 21-23 at the Fort William Historical Park near Thunder Bay. “Now they’re getting bigger. Down in Fort Frances they know right away and come in and get involved.”
Yerxa has been helping out with the wild rice processing at the Seven Generations Education Institute’s Fort Frances Fall Harvest since it began about 10 years ago and with the Thunder Bay Fall Harvest since it began about five years ago.
“This takes the water content out of the wild rice,” Yerxa said about the wild rice roasting process he was sharing with the students, which involves stirring the wild rice with a paddle in a metal tub over a fire. “It has to be roasted slowly and with the right kind of wood. Poplar wood is better than any other kind.”
Yerxa said the proper roasting technique allows the husk to come off easier during the dancing process.
“That’s where it gets the flavour, from the smoke,” Yerxa said. “Dry poplar wood has that good flavour in it. It’s a slow process, they always told me there is no fast way of doing it. You have to do it slowly, that’s the key.”
Seven Generations Education Institute’s Mark Sault started up the Fall Harvest in Thunder Bay five years ago after other groups had heard about the Fort Frances Fall Harvest and asked for a similar event in Thunder Bay.
“The first two years Seven Generations did sponsor it here,” Sault said, explaining the school boards began their involvement with the Fall Harvest during the second year. “After that the school board jumped in and kicked in some cash.”
The 2010 Fall Harvest was organized by the Community Coalition Unified for the Protection of our Children and Youth (CCUPCY) and funded by the Ontario Arts Council.
“Students will have a very unique and practical experience when they attend this very special event at Fort William Historical Park,” said Carolyn Chukra, Aboriginal community liaison with Lakehead Public Schools and partnership officer and chairwoman of CCUPCY. “The Fall Harvest will provide a learning perspective on the Aboriginal traditional way of life where everyone will learn from Elders on traditional fall harvesting activities.”
During the event, the students learned how to process wild rice, prepare meats and fish, tan a deer hide, cook traditional foods and prepare bannock. Students also participated in arts and crafts, drumming and storytelling activities. Each student was also provided with a Fall Harvest learning booklet to take notes and answer questions while learning and participating in the various interactive activities.
Gloria Hendrick-Laliberte, the native access program co-ordinator at Lakehead University, shared her knowledge of traditional corn soup at the Fall Harvest.
“You bring the water and ashes to a boil, and the ashes act as a traditional lye,” Hendrick-Laliberte said. “You add the corn, the corn turns a bright orange, bright yellow colour. So you boil it hard for an hour, an hour and a half, then you wash and rinse it.”
Hendrick-Laliberte said the corn turns bright orange-yellow when the husks are coming off.
“It’s an all-day process, so you continually boil an hour, an hour and a half at a time, then you wash and rinse it until the corn is clean, the husks are removed and the eyes,” Hendrick-Laliberte said. “Then you add it into clean water and you can add kidney beans and salt pork.”
Hendrick-Laliberte said they use a broad, white corn from southern Ontario to make corn soup.
“I grew up knowing of it as Indian corn,” Hendrick-Laliberte said. “It’s white, it’s broader, it’s flatter than sweet corn.”
Elementary and secondary students from Lakehead Public Schools and Thunder Bay District Catholic School Board took part in the Fall Harvest.
“It’s vital that we understand our connection to the land and the history that people in this country and continent have fought over for thousands and thousands of years,” said Jojo Guillet, Aboriginal education resource teacher at the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board. “When we talk to Elders it is important for them because it brings them back to a spiritual place where they had deep connections with the land and they learned from their Elders in the traditional oral sense.”
Guillet said it is vital to pass the traditional knowledge on to the children who are now growing up in the community.
“It is important for the teachers as educators to find ways that they can connect and integrate Aboriginal curriculum and culture into the classroom curriculum to make it meaningful for the students, all students, Aboriginal and non-aboriginal,” Guillet said. “And it is important for the students to see the connection that people do have to the land and how that has brought us forward over the centuries, as well as gain a respect of the work that goes into survival on the land.
“It also teaches them some techniques that they might want to carry over or use in their own lives to enrich their place on this planet.”
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