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Arts & Culture ᐊᔨᐦᑐᐧᐃᓐ

Jamie Moses teaches traditional cooking – on social media

BY Ben Powless Dec 30, 2020

Many in Eeyou Istchee will know Jamie Moses as either the newly elected Cree Language Commissioner, as the outgoing cultural coordinator in Eastmain, and/or as a long-standing advocate for the Cree culture and language. But for his followers on social media, he’s become a go-to source for Cree cooking videos and posts.

In one video, Moses shows how to roast a goose over a fire – the first video in Cree, the second in English. Showing how to string up a goose over a fire inside a teepee, he walks the viewer through every step, from adding herbs and spices to explaining how to hook the goose and secure it above the fire.

“I was reaching out to encourage people to keep our traditional activities, using technology to share the pleasure I have around the fire,” Moses told the Nation. He says the video on preparing a goose was especially popular, showing a coastal method of preparation, something he inherited from his grandmother’s side. 

“There’s a Cree version to demonstrate the importance of language – and I had a demand for posting it in English. It’s important for English-speaking people to understand why the Cree go crazy for geese and why it’s important to harvest geese,” Moses explained. “It’s an important part of who we are. It’s more than just food, it’s about the activities that come with the harvest, being around the ladies where they’re talking Cree, being around the fire, and enjoying the goose together around the dinner table.”

One video in Cree shows the steps for processing bear grease. Another shows a porcupine being gutted and inflated before the quills can be burned on a fire. Plus, there’s a post featuring a dead bear’s head, explaining the traditions and beliefs from Eastmain about marking the bear so that it won’t spot you on your next encounter. 

Many of his videos have hundreds of views, and have been commented on, sometimes with questions asking for more information. Moses is encouraged by the positive feedback.

He says that his grandfather encouraged him to adapt to change, using whatever tools could make hunting or trapping easier, and it’s the way Moses has approached social media in this online age. “Sharing that knowledge with hundreds of people on social media is great. I’ve used it to encourage others to learn and practice our traditions and not to shy away from challenging ourselves to do them.”

Part of his motivation comes from showing younger people that they don’t have to rely on Elders when there are events like community feasts or walking-out ceremonies – that everyone can learn the skills of traditional cooking. 

Growing up around his grandparents, the last generation in his family to live off the land and not attend residential schools, Moses was able to learn a lot of the traditional knowledge that’s slowly being lost. His grandfather had learned how to do many of what were considered women’s tasks, and encouraged Moses to do the same, saying, “On some of the harvest trips you’ll be doing there will be no women around, so you need to know how to cook for yourself.” 

It’s a lesson that Moses took to heart and hopes to share, especially with those who didn’t grow up with the same opportunities. “Not everyone has grandparents who show them these traditions, so we need ways for those who didn’t learn from their parents and grandparents. That’s why I feel obliged to show demonstrations so people can understand how it’s done. I want to show that some people do it differently, but there’s no wrong way,” Moses explained.

Moses is concerned that certain meals and techniques for preparing animals are being lost. He points to porcupine and says many people don’t want to learn the intricate methods for preparing it. 

“One day, I’ll be a grandfather and if my grandchildren are curious and ask if we eat porcupine, I want to show them. I don’t want to just say yes, we used to eat them. What kind of reaction would they have if I couldn’t show them?” he asked. 

For Moses, cooking around a fire is a way to be transported back in time, to being a child again in the teepee with his grandparents. Even though his grandparents are in their 90s and can’t go to the teepee anymore, Moses says it feels good knowing he’s practicing something they taught him. And sometimes he just likes to escape into the teepee to get away from everything.

“It’s the feeling when I miss camp, being around the fire roasting a goose or boiling tea instead of being so busy with life. Sometimes we don’t make time to stop and enjoy our traditions and we Crees are very lucky to have the privilege of teepees in our backyards,” Moses said. 

For younger people who are just starting to learn how to prepare traditional foods, Moses offers this advice: “Have someone guide you in how things were done and be open minded. Don’t limit yourself to only the traditional ways of how things were done. Be creative, you have to really enjoy it.” 

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.