-Traditional name is Lakhwawyʌhu (Good Cook)
-English name is Rick Powless
Location: Six Nations of the Grand River Territory
-Fanshawe College, Apprenticeship
-Red Seal Chef (Canada)
-Dip. Ed. (Diploma in Education-Secondary), University of Western Ontario
Business name: Standing Stone Foods
Tribe: onʌyoteˀa ká, ohkwaliha ká (Oneida Nation of the Thames, Bear Clan)
What led to your passion for indigenous foods?
I spent the largest part of my life not knowing who I was, as I was born and raised in an urban environment. I always had a love for food as both my parents were chefs as well as my grandfather. Being a third generation chef, I always wanted to expand my knowledge of both international and cultural foods. When I met my wife 11 years ago, I was introduced to traditional Haudenosaunee foods and food processes. I began my re-introduction to who I am as an Indigenous person as well as an Indigenous Chef. As I continued my post-secondary education in becoming a Hospitality and Tourism instructor and then teaching for five years as a chef instructor in the secondary school education system here in Ontario, I came to realize that the curriculum did not include any resources to assist non-Indigenous instructors to properly educate students in regard to Indigenous foods and food processes.
In my continuation of my education, I began attending workshops and Indigenous food summits to re-discover the foods that I have begun to appreciate as healthy alternatives to contemporary convenience foods. In my catering business, I began to accept more traditional food requests as I became more confident in my abilities to treat the Indigenous ingredients with the respect they deserve. Many of the requests I now receive are for traditional menus. This makes me very happy and excited to continue my Indigenous food education.
Why do you think it’s important to make traditional foods accessible for Natives?
Traditional foods are very important for many reasons. First, Indigenous ingredients and food sources connect us to who we are as Haudenosaunee people. Planting, growing, harvesting, and providing sustenance for our families, and for our communities brings us closer to the return of our traditional ways and healthier lifestyle. It is also important because there are products that we have come to know as traditional Indigenous foods such as Frybread, Bannock, and Indian cookies that were Indigenized with ingredients that are not part of our pre-contact diet. Corn soup now uses pork hocks and salt pork as opposed to traditionally using bear meat. Beef replaced our use of venison as one of our primary proteins. This, in return, sees us returning back to a traditional economic, social, and physical empowerment.
What is the importance of an indigenous diet for a healthy lifestyle?
In a pre-contact era, our foods were grown with our bare hands and handmade tools. Naturally, this created exercise in its own right. Our lifestyle was a healthy one that included foods without chemicals, additives, or substitutes. In contemporary times, these impurities have been added to our diets. Convenience foods and processes have deterred us from eating healthier, exercising, and maintaining a lifestyle that would reduce/remove diabetes and other negative health conditions from our people and our communities. What the land and Mother Earth provides for us is more than adequate, and in discovering how to forage for traditional Indigenous ingredients that are plentiful in our territories, we can become more aware of our healthier choices, healthier lifestyles, and we can become better connected with the natural world and the bounty of what creation provides for us.
What other ways (besides your business) are you involved in the education, restoration, and accessibility of traditional Native foods?
In addition to providing an alternative to catering services by offering a more traditional option, I continue to grow with my education. I will be starting at York University in Fall 2021 to obtain my Master’s in Education. I believe that it is our responsibility as mentors and role models to continue to fight for our children’s educational successes. I continue to attend WIPCE (World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education) and present papers on Indigenous educational issues and how it affects our children within the school systems here in Ontario. I also I continue to attend Indigenous food summits, conferences and workshops that present fresh ideas and initiatives to not only better myself as a Chef but as an Indigenous Chef. Thus, in return I can pass on the knowledge to my family, my community, and the students that I mentor and continue to be a role model for.
How can community members be involved and support the cause of restoring and protecting indigenous food systems?
During the rise of COVID-19, as I drove around the territory here at Six Nations of the Grand River, I found that vegetable gardens were being planted and taken care of where I hadn’t noticed before. The realities of people working from home and the risks of travelling outside of the territory gave opportunity for families to spend more time together. This may have provided the context for which these gardens may have been created. We need to continue to encourage and support these efforts, especially in growing our traditional foods such as sunflowers, corn, beans, squash, and sunchokes/Jerusalem Artichokes. The continual support for gardens within the community will lend itself to providing sustenance for our families and the community for generations to come.