By: Chef Rick Powless
I have spent many a night wondering if this thought brewing deep inside my head could be written, or rather should be written. Four letters, four basic letters that have kept me awake at night, losing sleep because I wasn’t sure I should even contemplate the idea of putting this particular thought down on paper, for everyone to see.
I feel strength in the vulnerability of my thought. It is my sincerest thought that as you read this, you will begin to understand how passionate I am not only about being an Indigenous man, but also as a high school teacher who uses food as a way to bring all of us together, to the same table.
As you now see, I have put pen to paper…it has been written.
So, what is Home? Is it a warm blanket wrapped around you on a cold winter’s eve? Is it the aroma of your grandmother baking your favourite cookies? Is it a memory from years gone by? Maybe a neighbourhood you grew up in but moved away from. Is it time to revisit your old stomping grounds? That long-lost friend you pinky swore that you’d always stay in touch with, but somewhere along your journey, you drifted apart? How about that old piece of clothing you thought you lost, but found in the closet hidden in a box?
Being Haudenosaunee, home has a different meaning to me than to most. Turtle Island has always been home to me. Not just to me, but to my ancestors. This is home; this is MY home. Or at least this is what I believe to be true. Perception. It’s all about what we consider to be home. What do we call home? Where do we come from? Where are we going? How did we get here? Why did we choose this place? By asking these questions, I have become a better teacher and grown more as a human being.
Throughout my short “tenure” as a new teacher, I have seen students come and go in my program. Students leaving because they are moving to another neighbourhood or city. I have seen students enter my class room that have moved by the same means. A difficult transition I am sure but a quick introduction to another student can easily make this a more adaptable situation. This is commonplace throughout the school year. We adjust accordingly, and the students now call their new surroundings, “home”.
What about students who were not born here? Why have they come to Canada? What are they leaving behind? It is important to understand the many layers behind these questions.
First and foremost, language. Where they come from, is the English language a first or second language (or even third or fourth)? If not, how do they communicate here? Were they fortunate enough to bring with them those valuable communication skills? Are they fortunate enough to have continued their education in a school with an ESL (English as a Second Language) program? Let’s look at it another way. Will they have to, or are they giving up their home tongue. Language is the most important part of one’s culture and upbringing and to lose language is to leave behind a vital part of one’s history. Not where one wants to be. I am a firm believer that when my students speak their language in my classes, it encourages them to continue with their culture, their way of staying connected to their “home”. I would not be the supportive teacher I think I am if I were to prohibit this connection for these students.
War. Such a terrible ideology but many countries around the world sacrifice their people in wars that may or may not bring peace to their region. Many families have come here to begin a new life as what they had back home is no longer there. Afghanistan, Syria, Serbia to name a few. These students no longer have a home and begin their new lives trying to build one. Acceptance gives us the grace to open our doors for those who have lost so much. As a proud Haudenosaunee man, it has been our way to open our doors to visitors; feed them if they are hungry, clothe them if they are cold and give them a place to rest their heads if they are tired and weary. It is our way. Our home is your home.
To me, food is like a memory you just can never forget. The aroma of a food, a dish or an ingredient can take us back to a place where we remember being in the kitchen as our grandparents, great grandparents or parents cooked up our favourite dishes. It is a warm memory of a time and place where we feel safe and protected. A place where we can close our eyes and we can see ourselves right there in that moment. Nothing says home like food. Food reminds us of the company we keep, the conversations we have and the love we share with one another.
I am a firm believer, and teach this to my students, that food brings us together. We all sit at one table and share our stories as we “break bread” together. My students, when preparing their final summative for my classes, are encouraged to re-create dishes from their cultures with a history of the dish they are to prepare. This is not only supportive of their culture, it is a teachable moment for both myself and the other students. We don’t all know everything when it comes to food. To have students give us the history of their food and present it to the class, I feel we have engaged students in a new and common theme…how similar we are even though we are all so different.
Food brings us to common ground. We eat, we converse, and we share who we are with others. As I say, “Love isn’t so much in the food we create as the joy we create within others that we share our meals with.” There is always a place at my table. Please pull up a chair, join me and tell me your story.