Over the next few months we will be partnering to open a new kiosk at The Forks Commons, and it will provide the end result of our extensive research over the past year and a half, and it will be called Oyate.
Oyate (oh-yaw-tay) is a Dakota word meaning “our people” and it refers to Native American tribes from centuries ago. The food served will be a mix of two styles – traditional which consists of things like bannock, certain soups, and fried fish, and another style we have yet to name, we call it ancient food.
There are two problems with the term “ancient food” and the first is that it is incredibly vague, the second being that it just doesn’t sound good, as food should be fresh, not old or ancient, but that’s what it is, food made using ingredients and techniques used 500 or more years ago.
So we have a bit of a problem, one that seems simple but is quite complex, I mean, it’s just a term, right?
And yes it is, but that term needs to sound good, represent the food properly, while also representing all the people that first used this food centuries ago.
Terms do already exist, such as indigenous food, or pre-colonial, but those are far too general, as every region in the world has indigenous and pre-colonial food of some kind, so it could mean Mayan, or Mohawk, or Incan food, but we are in Central Canada, our foods were very different here than along the coasts or in the sub-tropics.
When one says “Szechuan” or “Louisianan” or “French” foods, you know exactly what you will be getting based on the cultures of the region and the region itself, we need that connection, the same that makes one think of olive oil, rosemary, cheese, garlic, and bread when they hear “Tuscan.”
We want a term that makes people automatically think sage, blueberries, bison, pickerel, and wild rice, a logical yet emotional connection.
Another issue is to ensure we represent those involved in the original methods and ingredients, the indigenous people of Central Canada. So we can not call our food Ojibway, or Dakota, or Dene, or Oji-Cree, or Cree, because these are all different nations with different traditions even if they lived off the same land and ate the same foods. So which language do we use?
Using an English word would not make sense since the food itself predates the English language here on North America, and using a colonial word to describe and honour pre-colonial ideals can even be an insult to some, which I can understand.
And that brings up the major point of the whole story here, that we have a very proud Indigenous people here in Manitoba, with roots that predate nearly every current civilization on Earth, we are talking thousands of years.
While the stones on the Pyramids of Giza were being laid, indigenous people here were meeting at The Forks for trade, food, and communication. Yet The Forks has no outlet honouring the food of that time, and we don’t yet have a word honouring the food of that time.
We will fix both issues soon, and we will honour those that held food as sacred, using techniques like surveying the land to prevent over fishing or over hunting or over harvesting.
Techniques that we still use today, and or take credit for even when it has been done for thousands of years right here on this land.
Oyate is our plan to honour those of the past and educate those of the future on the nearly forgotten food of a nearly forgotten people, and hopefully we can help remove that “forgotten” title once and for all. Hope to see you soon at The Meeting Place, aka The Forks.
(❚ Steven Watson: CBC Future 40 Winner 2016, Level I Apprenticeship Instructor, Culinary Arts, Patal International College. Executive Chef, Brazen Hall Kitchen and Brewery)