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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

A license to grill

BY Sonny Orr Sep 27, 2019

I slipped on my new shirt, bought from a high-end men’s shop for the tall and the brave. Feeling a bit James Bondish, I entered a classy restaurant. Ordering a dry martini – stirred not shaken – I worried that the bartender might see me as some wannabe spy who only wanted to come in from the cold.

So I played it cool, trying not to give away my identity. To no avail – I was quickly recognized as a big tipper. With my wife, daughter and granddaughter in tow, we quietly ordered a six-course meal to begin our night of clandestine haute cuisine. Yes, I was at the world-renowned La Traite, located on Huron land outside Quebec City.

The Huron, as the history textbooks taught us, were partners with the French during their wars with the English. Both empires were vying for the land that would later be called Canada. The Hurons’ loyalty to the French crown would prove costly, however. After the British conquest, they were herded on to a tiny, postage stamp-sized patch of land after their “honourable” defeat serving a French king they would never glimpse, Louis XV.

“Tiny” refers to the 500 square metres that became their home after forfeiting most of the vast Great Lakes area to their foes, namely, the English and their Mohawk allies. Many moons later, ironically, this puny speck of land we now know as Wendake has become an economic powerhouse.

I stayed at their world-class hotel – which doubles as a museum – and marveled at their tenacity living on their teeny bit of territory, possibly the smallest in the country. Despite the challenges, they prospered in the 20th century under the inspired leadership of Oné Onti, better known as Max Gros-Louis.

Indeed, without Oné Onti, the Cree nation might not exist today as we know it.

We Eeyouch have much to thank this leader. During our resistance to the early hydroelectric projects of Robert Bourassa, he helped us obtain the aid of the Quebec Indian Association. They accompanied our leaders as they went to parlay with the leaders of Quebec, who had nothing to do with the people of the north except for their desire to flood the lands now called Eeyou Istchee. The loss of our lands to these projects came with a price that only the past leaders will remember, but which surely motivated us to evolve into the Nation that we are today.

Fast forward half a century, and I worried that my first entrée was a bit meagre for a man of my stature and appetite. But then I thought more about how I should appreciate the time and history of our relationship with our Huron brethren, and as my fork delivered the first bite I was smitten with the delicate tastes of our history.

The next course was a light melon soup that delighted my palate. Then the sautéed goose liver hit my gastronomical sweet spot and I reveled in its soft delicacy, even when I devoured the uneaten bits left on my daughter’s plate.

A nice white wine washed it all down before I tried another vintage produced by the Nk’Mip people in Osoyoos, BC. Their wine went down very well with the soft fats of the foie gras, and as I wiped my chin and lips with the bannock that was decidedly near perfection, I grew more creative posting Facebook pictures of my six-course feast.

At least I managed to get things in focus as I bit into the incredibly soft meat of the bison that had sacrificed its life for my plate. The fried cheese plate went very well with my Merlot-infused meal and I anticipated the handmade sorbet on a finely baked crust. Soon the Calvados crashed the orgy taking place on my taste buds, before I invited a fine Courvoisier to join in.

I was in gourmet heaven and, as I paid my tax-free bill, I complimented the staff on their fine service and wished that we had the same back home – a place where poutine reigns. The experience of that night’s meal and service will be something that I will always savour. I highly recommend this hideaway restaurant for all those spies who can afford a tuxedo.

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.