Suzanne’s  Blog: Vadzaih Choo Drin, Caribou Days, in Old Crow

Caribou near the Firth River in Northern Yukon. Photo by Cathie Archbould, Archbould Photography.

As part of the Dawson Youth Fiddlers entourage, I have just returned from Vadzaih Choo Drin, Caribou Days, in Old Crow, Yukon – four days of celebrating the Spring migration of the Porcupine Caribou Herd en route to their Northern calving grounds and feasting on food from the land!

Rabbit being prepared for the Caribou Days Festival in Old Crow, Yukon. Beaver, muskrat, whitefish, salmon, and, of course, caribou, were also on the menu. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Caribou Days is a wonderful four day celebration of feasts, games and music, with jigging and dancing that continue to the wee hours of the morning.   Everyone takes part, young and old, men and women.  One of the Dawson contingent coined a new slogan for Old Crow: “Old Crow – where men dance!”

Dawson Youth Fiddlers performing at the Caribou Days Festival in Old Crow, Yukon. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Much of the feasting celebrates food from the land.  The caribou, vadzaih, features front and centre, but also rabbit, muskrat, whitefish, salmon, duck and beaver.  For me, it was my first taste of muskrat!  (Although I took my tub of Dawson local food with me, I also treated myself to some tastes of local Old Crow food while I was in Old Crow!)

There is a wonderful synergism to the games and feasting at Caribou Days.   The log sawing competition and the kindling competition help keep the outdoor fire going for the huge grill that cooks the food from the land.  The rabbit skinning contest and the muskrat skinning contest are perfectly timed before the meat hits the grill!

  • Muskrat meat ready for the grill, and fur ready for use. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

The caribou are vitally important to the Vuntut Gwitchin who have relied on the caribou for tens of thousands of years for food and for clothing.  All parts of the harvested caribou continue to be used from the head to the hoof to the hide.  The Vuntut Gwitchin and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, with the support of many Canadians and Americans, continue to fight for the protection of the Porcupine Caribou Herd’s calving grounds, wintering grounds and migration routes from oil and gas exploration.

Massi Cho Old Crow for welcoming the Dawson Youth Fiddlers so warmly to Caribou Days with amazing Old Crow hospitality.  We had a fantastic time!

> Read more about the Porcupine Caribou Herd

 

Giant Cabbages in Old Crow, Yukon

Cabbages being grown in Old Crow. Photo by Mary Jane Moses.

Finding nutrient-rich soil in the far North can be tricky, but as Old Crow demonstrates, it’s not impossible.

Old Crow, home to the Vuntut Gwitchin, is the most northerly community in the Yukon, located 128 km (80 miles) north of the Arctic Circle.

A fly-in community of approximately 300 people, Old Crow rests at the confluence of Crow River and the Porcupine River.  Vuntut Gwitchin means “People of the Lakes”, named after the many lakes at Crow Flats, the second largest wetland in North America, and the main hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering area for the Vuntut Gwitchin.

With no road access, grocery store prices in Old Crow are very high.

Old Crow has seen detrimental effects from climate change over the past decades.  The permafrost is melting.  Water levels and subsequently salmon stocks are declining.   Lakes are drying up.

In adapting to climate change, more folks in Old Crow are growing vegetable gardens.

One couple, in the 1990’s, planted their vegetable garden about two miles upriver from Old Crow on the banks of the Porcupine River, about 50 feet back from the edge of the riverbank, in front of a drained out lake.  The soil must have been nutrient rich as the garden produced an abundant crop of carrots and giant cabbages that Old Crow resident, Mary Jane Moses, still remembers well.

Take 26 minutes to watch “Our Changing Homelands, Our Changing Lives” to hear from Vuntut Gwitchin about climate change and food security in Old Crow

To learn more about Old Crow and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation check out www.oldcrow.ca

And don’t forget to check out the Old Crow Recipe Page for delicious caribou, muskrat, rabbit, duck, ptarmigan and whitefish egg recipes!

 

 

 

Nunavut’s The Laughing Chef Promotes Local Food in the North

Rebecca Veevee, Nunavut’s The Laughing Chef. Photo by permission, Rebecca Veevee

Inuk chef and cooking show host Ooleepeeka (Rebecca) Veevee, The Laughing Chef, is a familiar and beloved face in Nunavut.   Armed with her ulu, her infectious smile and her sense of humour, Ooleepeeka is the driving force behind the Inuit Broadcasting Company’s popular TV show “Niqitsiat” (which means “Good Food Ideas”) – a cooking show that profiles Northern dishes made with traditional Inuit food from the land or “country food”.

Caribou pizza, goose soup, char casserole, seal pie, beluga muktuk stir-fry are just some of the dishes that Ooleepeeka Veevee cooks up on her show.  Ooleepeeka often brings guests on her show including NHL hockey star Jordin Tootoo (first Inuk to play in the NHL). No one is too famous to learn from Ooleepeeka!

In 2015 Ooleepeeka Veevee received the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Award for her work promoting traditional Inuit foods. In awarding her the honour, the government cited how her TV program has been recognized for combating a growing epidemic of diseases related to poor nutrition in northern communities.

Ooleepeeka has shared her variation of a Traditional Seal Meat Recipe (link) with First We Eat.

“Niqitsiat” has been broadcast in Inuktitut on the Inuit Broadcasting Company since 2009 and can be viewed on APTN . Check out an episode of Niqitsiat, Ooleepeeka Veevee teaching how to cook BBQ arctic char and caribou head.

> Click here for Ooleepeeka Veevee’s Traditional Seal Meat Recipe

Seal Hunt is Foundation of Traditional Lifestyle

Angry Inuk by Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril  documents the economic, social, and cultural devastation caused by decades of anti-sealing activism.

For the Inuit communities of Nunavut, seal meat has been a staple in their local diets for millennia. The meat is a vital source of fat, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and iron. Seal pelts are also prized for their warmth, and since first contact with Europeans, trade in seal products has played an important role in the regional economy. This revenue is especially crucial in remote areas where many foodstuffs need to be imported, and transportation costs are high.

A commercial seal hunt in Southern Canada, most notably the annual spring hunt in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, has generated controversy in recent decades, led by high-profile animal-rights activists, and resulting in a 2006 call by the European Union for a ban on all harp seal and hooded seal products. The traditional Inuit seal hunt has been swept up in an animal rights activism fervor, adversely affecting an age-old way of life.

But now indigenous groups are standing up for their heritage and defending their traditional lifestyles. Inuit filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril has released Angry Inuk, a feature-length documentary that defends the Inuit seal hunt. In Toronto, Indigenous chef Joseph Shawana is keeping seal meat on the menu at his Ku-Kum Kitchen restaurant, despite a petition calling for its removal, and is galvanizing a groundswell of public support of his own.

Partially shot in the filmmaker’s home community of Iqaluit, as well as Kimmirut and Pangnirtung, where seal hunting is seen as essential for survival, Angry Inuk also follows an Inuit delegation to Europe in an effort to have the EU Ban on Seal Products overturned. The film criticizes NGOs such as Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare for championing animal rights while ignoring the needs of vulnerable northern communities who depend on the hunt for their livelihoods.

Chef Shawana, whose restaurant specializes in indigenous-themed dishes, says he researched the Northern hunt before opting to serve seal meat. He points out the Inuit seal harvest is very sustainable and humane, and contrasts it with the roughly two million cows, 20 million pigs, and 550 million chickens killed each year in Canada alone during large-scale food production. But at the root of the issue, says Shawana, is the need to acknowledge and support Canada’s aboriginal cultures.

Seal tartare is just one of many indigenous-themed dishes served at Ku-Kum Kitchen by owner/chef Joseph Shawana.

Internship Program Helps Arctic Communities Run Greenhouses

The Inuvik Community Greenhouse hosted a week-long workshop with community greenhouse coordinators from several Northern communities.

An innovative project led by the Inuvik Community Greenhouse Society is helping small, isolated Arctic communities, where access to fresh produce is scare, set up their own greenhouses and start raising fresh food. In June, community greenhouse coordinators from Aklavik, Fort MacPherson, Paulatuk, Sach’s Harbour, Tsiigehtchic, Tuktoyaktukc and Uluhakaktok attended a week-long internship program in Inuvik.

The program covered everything from soil preparation through weeding, trellising, pruning, and soil care to harvesting and worm composting. The interns worked in the greenhouse and in outdoor gardens around the community, even receiving instruction in raising chickens.

At the end of the course, each coordinator delivered a 30-minute workshop to prepare them for giving workshops in their own communities. The coordinator from Aklavik focused on engaging young people in the greenhouse, since it has been shown that when youth participate in community greenhouses, vandalism decreases significantly.

Emily Mann, coordinator of the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, said that being gathered in once place allowed community coordinators to learn from each other and to establish a network for troubleshooting and sharing knowledge—the coordinators have since set up a Facebook page.

The interns are now busy in their own communities, reaching out, teaching workshops and bringing local people in to garden together. In Aklavik recently, local children made hanging flower baskets for the Elder’s home. Every Elder received one. As Mann said, flowers are important for pollination, but they help to build community too.

To see Emily Mann’s presentation on the internship project, watch the Northern Food Network’s Webinar # 3

Listen in to Local Food Initiatives in Inuvik and Hay River, NWT – June 19th

Join the Northern Food Network for its third FREE webinar. This installment is on Growing Food and Community in the Northwest Territories. It takes place Monday 19 June from 10-11:30 a.m. PST (1-2:30 EST).  The webinar will feature presentations by:

During the webinar there will also be updates on the recently launched consultation process for a National Food Policy, and duscussion on opportunities to highlight northern perspectives in that process.

To register for the webinar, click here.

The Northern Food Network (NFN) is co-hosted by the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research (AICBR) and Food Secure Canada (FSC) as a space for people working in and interested in northern food security to share, learn about best practices across the North and advance collective action on food security. 

AICBR and FSC are facilitating bi-monthly webinars and teleconferences with focused presentations and discussion around 4 core themes: environment, health, agriculture, and food security.

Inuvik Turns Old Arena Into North America’s Most Northerly Greenhouse

Located 200 km north of the Arctic Circle in the Mackenzie Delta, Inuvik is at the end of the Dempster Highway that runs from Dawson City. It is also home to the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, which bills itself as North America’s most northerly greenhouse.

The project has come a long way since its germination almost twenty years ago. Today it has grown to a marvelous maturity, and according to the Community Garden Society of Inuvik (CGSI), which runs the facility, it is the only Community Greenhouse of its kind in the world.

CGSI is a not-for-profit organization formed in November of 1998. With the help and support of Aurora College, they began by converting a decommissioned building (the former Grollier Hall Arena), into a community greenhouse as a focal point for community development. The objective was to utilize the space to allow for the production of a variety of crops in an area where fresh, economical produce is often unavailable. Based upon the success to date, they believe the Inuvik Community Greenhouse can serve as an effective model for other northern communities.

The greenhouse consists of two major areas: raised community garden plots on the main floor and a commercial greenhouse on the second floor. Garden plots are available to residents of Inuvik, and are also sponsored for elders, group homes, children’s groups, the mentally disabled, and other local charities. A 4000 square foot commercial greenhouse produces bedding plants and hydroponic vegetables to cover operation and management costs.

Today, the greenhouse holds 174 full-size plots. Each full plot is approximately 8 ft. by 4 ft. The rental fee per full plot is $50 per plot. Each member pays a $25 membership fee per year and completes 15 volunteer hours. The greenhouse is naturally heated through the summer by the 24 hour sunlight. The typical greenhouse season lasts from late May to the end of September.

Members are able to grow anything they like, and with the 24hour sunlight, anything is possible! Greens such as spinach, chard, and lettuce grow very well, and many members get multiple crops each year. Tomatoes, carrots, peas, herbs, strawberries, rhubarb, zucchini, and squash are among the common crops. Flowers abound, and rarer crops include flax, cucumbers, raspberries, Asian greens, roses, kohlrabi, and watermelons!

Know of an innovative northern greenhouse project?

Tell us about it!

 

Pemmican – Wild Kitchen Style

Another great pemmican recipe!

This “Traditional Raspberry Pemmican” recipe comes from the show and blog “Wild Kitchen”.  Wild Kitchen is a project based in the Canadian sub-arctic about people who harvest wild food. 100% of the cast and crew are from the Northwest Territories and they work with what is available on the land to prepare nutritious recipes with a distinct wild flavor.

You can watch Wild Kitchen episodes here and on their website you can find their awesome recipes.

Traditional Raspberry Pemmican recipe by Wild Kitchen
Traditional Raspberry Pemmican recipe by Wild Kitchen

 

Pemmi-can-do with Ch’itsuh

Ch’itsuh or pemmican - photo by Mary Jane Moses from Old Crow
Ch’itsuh or pemmican made by Mary Jane Moses from Old Crow

Suzanne is looking for ways to keep her ever-hungry 17-year-old son, Sam, full next year.  Sam suggested that pemmican might be a reasonable locally-sourced snack food that will help him get through the year, especially since he spends lots of time doing physical activity.  After all, Canada was practically built on pemmican. Trading posts would seek this high-protein and high-energy food from the natives, and it was used to sustain the voyageurs, especially in winter,  as they traveled long distances.

Mary Jane Moses of Old Crow shared some of her ch’itsuh (pemmican) with Suzanne.  Click here for a couple of classic pemmican recipes:

Have a recipe for pemmican for Suzanne to try?  Please share here.

 

 

 

 

“Le Refuge” – France Benoit’s charming farm in Yellowknife

France Benoit in Le Refuge - Photo by Up Here Magazine
France Benoit in Le Refuge – Photo by Up Here Magazine

In a beautiful article by Up Here Magazine, France Benoit opens the gate to her home and farm “Le Refuge“, which she has lovingly built and tended to for the past 25 years. On this property, by the shores of Madeline Lake in Yellowknife, France grows a variety of vegetables to feed herself as well as to sell in the local farmer’s market, of which she is a founding member.

France has been kind enough to share many growing and homesteading tips with Suzanne, which we have featured on FWE, and her creative and smart solutions for northern greenhouses keep us inspired.

Thanks, France!

Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof

The Caribou cookbook has arrived!  Learn how to use all parts of the caribou. Traditional recipes such as ch’itsuh (pemmican), head cheese, and Caribou Bone Broth combined with new recipes such as Caribou Wonton Soup and Mushroom and Caribou Brain Ravioli.

Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof" published by The Prcupine Caribou Management Board
“Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof” published by The Porcupine Caribou Management Board

Continue reading “Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof”

Celebrating the Porcupine Caribou Herd

On April 21 and 22 Vuntut Gwich’in citizens, conservationists, scientists, members of the public and families got together to celebrate the Porcupine Caribou Herd with two days of presentations, films, panel discussions, kids’ activities, and caribou tastings at the Beringia Centre in Whitehorse. The event was hosted by Yukon Conservation Society (YCS), Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation (VGFN) and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board (PCMB), all of whom have a keen interest in the health of the herd.

There was lots to celebrate. The herd is robust and growing in size. The relationship between northern indigenous peoples and the caribou that sustains them is respectful and strong. Harvest management strategies and hunter education programs are helping to ensure the herd continues to thrive.

But there’s bad news, too. Of 15 barren ground caribou herds the Porcupine herd is one of only two that are known to be increasing. The others have decreased alarmingly in recent years. Barren ground caribou have been listed as threatened in Canada. And the Porcupine herd’s calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are once again under threat from oil and gas exploration. VGFN and their First Nations and Inuvialuit neighbours, conservationists, scientists and concerned citizens are working together to ensure protection of the herd, and Porcupine Caribou: Celebrate and learn about the herd was part of that effort.

To watch the proceedings from the Porcupine Herd celebration event, visit yukonconservation.org.

Hear it on the radio: CBC Yukon’s “A New Day” catches up with Suzanne

Great news!

The CBC morning radio show “A New Day” hosted by Sandi Coleman on CBC Yukon, has started a  new regular column called “Yu-kon Grow It”, which will air every other Wednesday morning between 7 and 7:30 am. On this segment,  Sandi will check in with Suzanne about her “First we Eat: Food Security North of 60” project, as well as featuring other Yukoners involved in local food issues such as Miche Genest and other guests.

Sandi Coleman will next check in with Suzanne on Wednesday March 8th, between 7.00 and 7.30 am on CBC Radio Yukon.

Don’t forget to tune in!

You can listen to the first interview with Suzanne and Elyn Jones here,

 

Northern Food Network’s 1st Webinar – Dawson’s TH Working Farm School and Shirley Tagalik from Arviat, Nunavut

If you are interested in issues of Northern Food Security, consider signing up for webinars with the Northern Food Network.

Their First Webinar is taking place Monday, Feb 27 from 10-11 am. It will feature Dexter MacRae & Darren Bullen,  from Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching and Working Farm and Shirley Tagalik and team, from Arviat Wellness and Arviat Greenhouse.

The Northern Food Network (NFN) is co-hosted by the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research (AICBR) and Food Secure Canada (FSC) as a space for people working in and interested in northern food security to share, learn about best practices across the North and advance collective action on food security.

Sign up here for this great opportunity.