Chef George Lenser, Wet’suwet’en, Nisga’a and Squamish, takes front and center stage along with emerging indigenous filmmakers at this year’s Montreal First Peoples Festival.
Originally hailing from British Columbia, Lenser has lived in Montreal for three years and aims to bring back indigenous food ways and introduce the rest of Canada to traditional fare.
“In a constantly changing culinary world, I want to contribute by bringing contemporary Aboriginal culture to the forefront,” he said in a statement outlining his philosophy. “Following the teachings that many chefs have given me over the years, I want to represent my people and my heritage with a contemporary and innovative presentation of authentic native dishes.”
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Highlights include the opening night of short films by up-and-coming indigenous filmmakers; a spotlight on French Polynesian, Tahitian and Maori films; art exhibits galore; and famous deejays, musical performances and more. Also this year, some films will be live-streamed online for those who cannot attend in person.
In Ours Is the Land, Tohono O’odham elders battle to retain their lands from an open-pit copper mine. Hands to the Sky is a four-minute short about transforming the fallout from oil extraction into healing, accompanied by Métis fiddle music. And in God’s Acre, “an aging man continues to live alone in the wilderness like his family before him,” description reads. “However, he faces new challenges as the outside world’s problems land closer to his doorstep: the water keeps rising around his cabin.”
Melding ancient and modern will be Lenser, whose culinary philosophy embodies both past and present.
“I want to define what indigenous food is,” he said in a statement. “I do not think it is solely consistent of ingredients and recipes pre-colonial contact. That was such a long time ago, and what has happened to our land, people, culture, and relations has changed our diets and needs dramatically over the years. What we cooked 600 years ago to survive was completely different than what we cooked when our meat was taken away by colonizers and rotten flour was given to us instead.”
Like the films on showcase, indigenous cuisine of today reflects not only all of that history, but also resilience, he said.
“In residential schools our children lacked proper sources of subsistence and nourishment, all due to the treatment from the religious regimes deployed by the Canadian government,” Lenser noted. “Often indigenous children found ways to resist and feed themselves through theft, creativity and camaraderie. With my food, I want to represent our people’s struggles and innovations that we were forced to go through. I want to showcase that we are contemporary peoples, as well as make a statement that we may have had our land taken away, colonizers may have taken many of our lives, but our resilient spirit is still here, and our resistance is not going anywhere.”