Camosun College is partnering with the Songhees Nation to host an evening of indigenous cuisine, culture and cooking March 23 at the Songhees Wellness Centre. (Photo courtesy of Camosun AV Services)

Songhees Wellness Centre event immersed in Indigenous cuisine and culture

Camosun and Songhees cook together for reconciliation while fundraising for student scholarship fund at March 23 event

By Ivan Watson

For the Saanich News

From delicious wild salmon to flavourful stinging nettles and nutritious horsetail plants, the lands and seas around Victoria are ripe with ingredients used in traditional Indigenous cooking, notes Camosun anthropology instructor Nicole Kilburn.

Kilburn and her colleagues in the college’s anthropology, culinary arts and hospitality management departments are partnering with the Songhees Nation on March 23 to host an evening of Indigenous cuisine, culture and cooking for reconciliation with a focus on food sovereignty.

“We want people to understand that the locally sourced foods in these traditional territories are really an embodiment of the connection with the land,” said Kilburn. “We’ll be physically going out to connect with the landscape and forage many of the ingredients that we’ll serve on people’s plates.”

The event “Food Sovereignty and Reconciliation” celebrates Indigenous cuisine and culture and takes place on Friday, March 23, at 6 p.m. in the Songhees Wellness Centre in Esquimalt. It features award-winning Indigenous chef Richard Francis who has achieved national prominence with his work on reconciliation through cooking and his appearance on Top Chef Canada. The format is designed to be both engaging and educational.

“During the evening, guests will enjoy a multi-course meal and move around to themed stations representing different aspects of nature and their connection to food,” said hospitality management instructor Brad Boisvert, whose integrated event management class students are organizing the event logistics. “Each course will represent the themes of the land, the sea and the beach with ingredients such as salmon, clams, venison and locally foraged ingredients.”

Guests will enjoy wines from Indigenous vineyards in the Okanagan. Culinary arts students will work in the kitchen with their Songhees partners to prepare each course. Anthropology students will welcome guests as they arrive and provide an overview of the cultural context behind each course as well as its connection to the land around us.

“There are many foods that are traditional and culturally appropriate that are produced with ecologically sound and sustainable methods,” notes Kilburn. “When we talk about food sovereignty, we’re recognizing knowledge and the knowledge keepers who have the power and the right to define their own food systems.”

The evening’s final course will be prepared by headliner chef Richard Francis, with participants enjoying their meal in front of the main stage while he shares his thoughts about cooking for reconciliation. Songhees dancers and drummers will provide the entertainment.

Hospitality management students Yuuri Daiku and Cecilia Aldea are two of the event’s project leaders. They believe Camosun’s focus on hands-on, applied learning is critical for their education.

“You get into the real-world while you’re in class and our teachers are people who all have years of experience from being in the industry,” said Daiku. “I’m absolutely thrilled about how real the program is and how it creates all these connections with people and partners like the Songhees and the charities that we’re working with on other projects.”

Co-organizer Cecilia Aldea agrees, while praising the opportunity to connect her education with important reconciliation efforts. “I believe that it is a responsibility that we all have and it’s something that we need to take seriously because we are humans,” she says. “Also, because it is about how we can understand different ways of doing things and appreciate the ideals of Canada as a diverse nation.”

Organizers are already looking ahead to next year with plans in the works to make the evening an annual event. “This event is unique because our students are able to take what they’re learning and apply it instantly in a practical setting; it brings together three different areas of Camosun College; and it highlights the importance of food in connecting people and cultures and starting the journey of reconciliation together,” said Boisvert. “When you’re breaking bread together, you’re breaking down barriers.”

Tickets cost $80 and can be purchased online at Eventbrite.ca. All proceeds go towards creating a scholarship fund for the Songhees Nation.

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