Interview with an Indigenous Chef: Jacques T. Watso

Name: Jacques T. Watso
Location: Odanak
Education/background: Carpenter by trade
Business name: Sagamité Watso
Tribal affiliation: Abenaki Nation of Odanak

Chef Jacques Watso with crossed arms, traditional tattoos and wearing black button down shirt

What led to your passion for indigenous foods?
Discovering and cultivating a passion for indigenous foods is often a unique and personal journey shaped by various factors. In my case I was raised with a strong cultural background and my family influences celebrated indigenous foods. Being active in the community brings us to many feasts which kindle my passion for wholesome traditional foods.

Why do you think it’s important to make traditional foods accessible for Natives?
Making traditional foods accessible for Native communities is important for several reasons:

  1. Cultural Preservation: Traditional foods are a vital aspect of indigenous cultures. They carry deep historical and cultural significance, often representing the identity and heritage of a community. Making these foods accessible helps preserve and pass on cultural knowledge to future generations.
  2. Health and Nutrition: Many traditional indigenous foods are highly nutritious and well-suited to the dietary needs of native populations. Incorporating these foods into diets can contribute to improved health outcomes, addressing nutritional challenges that may arise from the transition to non-traditional diets.
  3. Community Well-Being: Traditional foods are often linked to community well-being. Access to culturally relevant and nutritious foods fosters physical and mental health within indigenous communities. It can also contribute to a sense of communal connection and shared identity.
  4. Environmental Sustainability: Traditional indigenous food systems are often aligned with sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. By promoting the consumption of traditional foods, there is an opportunity to support ecological sustainability and promote a holistic approach to food production and consumption.
  5. Food Sovereignty: Making traditional foods accessible is closely tied to the concept of food sovereignty. Empowering Native communities to control their food systems, from production to distribution, ensures that they have the agency to make decisions that align with their cultural values and dietary preferences.
  6. Economic Opportunities: Supporting the production and distribution of traditional foods can create economic opportunities within indigenous communities. This includes opportunities for local farmers, producers, and businesses to thrive while providing culturally significant products.
  7. Addressing Food Deserts: In many indigenous communities, there may be limited access to fresh, healthy foods, leading to food deserts. Making traditional foods accessible can help address this issue by promoting the availability of locally-sourced, culturally appropriate options.
  8. Empowerment and Resilience: Access to traditional foods empowers indigenous communities by reinforcing self-reliance and resilience. It allows communities to take control of their food systems, reducing dependence on external sources and promoting self-sufficiency.
  9. Cultural Revitalization: In some cases, traditional foods may have been displaced or lost due to historical events or cultural assimilation. Making these foods accessible contributes to cultural revitalization efforts, helping communities reconnect with their culinary heritage.

In summary, making traditional foods accessible for Native communities is crucial for cultural preservation, health and nutrition, community well-being, environmental sustainability, and economic empowerment. It is a holistic approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of cultural, social, and environmental factors in the context of food systems.

What is the importance of an indigenous diet for a healthy lifestyle?
An indigenous diet is closely tied to cultural practices and traditions. Consuming culturally relevant foods contributes to a sense of identity and connection to heritage, fostering mental and emotional well-being.

What ways are you involved in the education, restoration and accessibility of traditional Native foods?
By actively participating in or supporting initiatives, individuals and organizations I contribute to the education, restoration, and accessibility of traditional Native foods. Being an elected official and a business owner, I participate in different initiatives such as:

  1. Educational Programs:
    • Collaborate with local schools to develop educational programs that teach the importance of traditional Native foods.
    • Organize workshops and in-class conferences to share knowledge about indigenous food systems, culinary traditions, and the reality of First People.
  2. Community Gardens:
    • Support the community garden projects, N8kika, that focus on growing traditional Native crops.
    • Involve community members, including youth and elders, in the planning, planting, and maintenance of these gardens.
  3. Culinary Events and Festivals: Host culinary community feasts that celebrate traditional Native foods. This provides a platform for showcasing diverse dishes, sharing cooking techniques, and fostering community engagement.
  4. Food Sovereignty Initiatives:
    • Support or participate in initiatives that promote food sovereignty within our community.
    • Advocate for policies that prioritize local, sustainable, and culturally relevant food sources.
  5. Cookbook Projects:
    • Collaborate on a cookbook project that documents and preserves traditional recipes. These cookbooks can serve as valuable resources for individuals seeking to incorporate indigenous foods into their diets. (The cookbook will be finished this Spring).
    • Ensure that the cookbooks include information about the cultural and historical significance of each dish.
  6. Supporting Indigenous Food Businesses: Support local indigenous food businesses, such as my Cafe, that prioritize traditional ingredients and recipes.

How can community members be involved and support the cause of restoring and protecting indigenous food systems?
Community band members play a vital role in restoring and protecting indigenous food systems. Here are several ways individuals can get involved and support this important cause:

  1. Educate Yourself: Take the time to learn about the history, cultural significance [of indigenous food systems].
  2. Engage with Elders and Knowledge Holders: Seek guidance and knowledge from elders and community members who have expertise in traditional indigenous food systems. Their wisdom is invaluable in understanding traditional practices and recipes.
  3. Participate in Community Gardens: Join or initiate community garden projects that focus on growing traditional indigenous crops. Participating in these initiatives fosters a sense of community and reconnection with the land.
  4. Promote Food Sovereignty: Advocate for policies that promote food sovereignty within indigenous communities. This includes supporting initiatives that empower communities to control their food systems, from production to distribution.
  5. Attend Workshops and Events: Participate in workshops, seminars, and events focused on indigenous food systems. These gatherings provide opportunities to learn, share experiences, and connect with like-minded individuals in the community.
  6. Preserve Traditional Recipes: Document and preserve traditional recipes passed down through generations. This can be done through written documentation, video recordings, or collaborative efforts to create cookbooks that celebrate indigenous cuisines.
  7. Support Indigenous Food Businesses: Choose to patronize indigenous-owned food businesses, such as restaurants, markets, or cooperatives that prioritize traditional ingredients and recipes. Your support contributes to the economic sustainability of these businesses.
  8. Advocate for Education Programs: Advocate for the inclusion of educational programs in schools and community centers that highlight the importance of indigenous food systems, agriculture, and culinary traditions.
  9. Share Knowledge on Social Media: Utilize social media platforms to share information about indigenous food systems, traditional recipes, and the importance of preserving cultural heritage. Engage in discussions to raise awareness and promote understanding.
  10. Participate in Cultural Celebrations: Attend and actively participate in cultural celebrations and events that feature traditional indigenous foods. This supports the continuation of culinary traditions and strengthens community bonds.
  11. Volunteer for Food Initiatives: Volunteer your time and skills for organizations or initiatives working towards the restoration and protection of indigenous food systems. This could involve assisting in community gardens, organizing events, or contributing to educational programs.

By actively participating in these ways, community members can contribute to the restoration and protection of indigenous food systems, ensuring their preservation for future generations.