Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations (ICAN) is extending its Indigenous Feast Boxes campaign throughout the holiday season.
Due to overwhelming interest and the support of many generous donations across the country, ICAN is closer to reaching its goal to feed up to 1,700 families (approximately 8,500 people) and is confident it can reach its target of $60,000. People now have until Jan. 10, 2021, to donate to the campaign aimed at supporting Indigenous chefs and their teams across Canada and providing meal kits to Indigenous families and community members in need.
Spearheaded by Executive Chef Christa Bruneau-Guenther, owner of Feast Café Bistro from Peguis First Nation and ICAN Board member, the idea to help support Indigenous-owned restaurants and catering services and to give back to the Indigenous community came to life after a successful distribution of summer meal kits out of her restaurant in Winnipeg.
Once ICAN’s Taste of the Nations events were cancelled due to COVID-19, the organization redirected those efforts by funding $25,000 towards Indigenous Feast Boxes.
To share the diverse tastes and recipes of Indigenous cuisine across Canada, ICAN enlisted the help of top Indigenous chefs in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto, Quebec, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Iqaluit.
Executive Chef Christa Bruneau-Guenther said: “As the effects of COVID-19 continue to devastate the Indigenous culinary industry, this campaign is aimed not only to help Indigenous families in need but also help secure jobs and get those employees in participating restaurants and establishments back to work.”
Bruneau-Guenther continued: “Many businesses have had to close their doors and this is now a lifeline for operations like ours that employ 12 staff, all of whom are Indigenous and rely on their jobs for their livelihood. The reaction to the campaign has been overwhelming and we are so grateful for the support of those who have already contributed.”
And she noted that: “Just recently, we received a sizeable donation from the Canada Employment and Immigration Union (CEIU) in the amount of $10,000 when their First Nations / Inuit / Metis representatives to the National Human Rights & Race Relations (HRRR) committee decided to direct their charitable funds this year to our campaign. We’re so grateful for their donation and thrilled the word is getting out and people see this as the holiday gift that gives back.”
Each participating region has a local chef assembling the boxes with their own creative flair and hints of their heritage behind the recipes.
The chefs also handpicked local Indigenous community groups to partner with to distribute the Feast Boxes to those most in need.
Promoted through GoFundMe, a $50.00 donation can feed families of up to six people with one Feast Box.
Families will receive these boxes partially or fully prepared with recipes and cooking instructions detailing the significance of the ingredients chosen that reflect the unique culture and personality of each local chef.
In Winnipeg, the Feast Cafe Bistro boxes contain local turkey, wild rice, corn, beans, all of the seasonings, vegetables, bison, fruit and Arctic char from Nunavut, which was sourced from a non-profit in Winnipeg as well as bannock in a bag that the family can make at home.
In Toronto, Chef Joseph Shawana of ddcx Indigenous Kitchen and Catering, with the support of Centennial College, prepared meals based on where he comes from including Mushroom, Sweet Potato and Bean Soup as well as Roasted Acorn Squash, and Wild Rice and Berry Salad.
In Saskatoon, the Wanuskewin Heritage Park culinary team led by Chef Jenni Lessard created a fully cooked, heat from frozen, Roast Turkey Dinner including bannock and wild rice stuffing, sage pan gravy, classic mashed potatoes, low bush cranberry and Saskatoon berry sauce, roast carrots glazed with honey and thyme, and spice cookies with squash raised from chef’s garden last summer.
“It was a lot of work but I liked how it kept us busy and I was glad to be part of it all,” said Wanuskewin Culinary team member Julie Bear, member of Shoal Lake Cree Nation, Sask.
Chef Jenni Lessard said: “Supporting our local food producers in the creation of this meal was very important to us as a team. It’s so special that the low bush cranberries purchased from Indigenous people in Northern Saskatchewan will end up on the holiday table of students and their families in Saskatoon.”
“Spreading the Spirit of the Holidays!!! Migwetch to Wawatay Catering and her team for the delicious breakfast brunch donations, which included local awazibi. The families truly appreciate your generosity,” posted the Maniwake Native Friendship Centre in west Quebec in thanks for the donations from Chef Marie-Cecile Nottaway.
Chef Joseph Shawana, ICAN Board Chair, said that: “The food insecurity of our Indigenous communities across the country is rising and we wanted to do our part to help those affected, not only by the pandemic but a season that is often a struggle for many families. In addition to feeding community members, it was our goal to use this opportunity to help further ICAN’s mission of educating Canadians about Indigenous culinary and how widespread and diverse our food is.”
And he continued: “The awareness of the campaign has put a spotlight not only on food insecurity but also on the need to incorporate more Indigenous meals in restaurants. With growing interest in the campaign, we’ve heard from numerous Indigenous chefs and institutions such as hospitals and other organizations seeking to learn about ways to include Indigenous foods and recipes into their menus in order to deliver healthy local dishes to their communities.”
Keith Henry, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) President and CEO, noted that: “Indigenous culinary is one of the key elements that drives Indigenous tourism and what visitors look for when experiencing a place. As the country’s national Indigenous tourism organization, it was imperative that ITAC help grow the community and lay the foundation for a collective like ICAN, which is committed to sharing genuine Indigenous food experiences with the country.”
And he added: “It is with pride that we as its parent organization can provide the necessary funding to support ICAN’s initiatives and enable it to realize its mission and mandate with campaigns such as the Indigenous Feast Boxes.”
In addition to ICAN’s original $25,000 contribution to fund the program, as of Dec. 16, the GoFundMe campaign has raised over $40,000.
Chefs across the country have delivered — or are in the process of creating and delivering — 1,300 Indigenous Feast Boxes, which feed approximately 6,500 people in 9 regions across Canada.
The goal is to reach or surpass $60,000 in donations to increase donations to even more families across the country.