As Indigenous people, our languages, locations, traditions and identities are tied to where we came from and influence where we're going. 'Indigenous ways of being' is rooted from those teachings and traditions, and although there is great diversity among Indigenous people, there are also some common threads in our worldviews and ways of being.
"Family is important in our culture," says Jared Williams, a Cowichan Tribes member on Vancouver Island. “They come first, and my family and Elders know this."
Jared is known by his people for his traditional cooking skills and hard work ethic, serving as executive chef for the Elders kitchen in Cowichan Tribes.
As the eldest child in his family, Jared was raised mainly by his grandmother on-reserve, common for Indigenous families. While the other children would go outside to play, Jared would be inside listening to her teachings, at first not realizing the power of knowledge she was passing down.
“In the Western world, we can look up anything through Google or read a book, and the Indigenous world is not like that at all," says Jared. “For all these years, we were only handing out information verbally. Any technological advancement was one human noticing something worked better than anyone else's way of doing it. Verbal communication was the only way of knowing."
Building on this knowledge, Jared decided to go to Culinary Arts School to be a chef and explore the food industry. For 12 years, he worked at different restaurants all over the Vancouver Island region and even in Europe.
Traditional Indigenous foods were non-existent at any of the restaurants he worked. When suggesting a traditional technique, he was told regulations wouldn't allow it.
Jared decided to go back home to where “it made sense," describing this as "walking out of hell and walking into heaven." New to his role as the Elders chef for his community, he remembers when he prepared his first meal, and the Elders called him out to the floor. Raising their hands for being there early and making their lunch, acknowledging his family, his name and who he is.
In 2018, Jared was approached by Karen Larson, FNHA's Environmental Public Health Services manager, to partner with her at the Elder's Gathering in Cowichan.
The task was no small feat. He would need to serve three meals a day, over three days, for 3,000 people. Excited about the opportunity, he accepted the offer and started planning.
To prepare for the Elders Gathering, Jared had to design a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point Plan (HACCPP) for all of his traditional foods. HACCPP is a food safety plan that shows how the food is prepared from farm to fork.
"It was challenging because I didn't understand this list," recalls Jared. “It didn't exist on-reserve, only off-reserve."
Through his experience both in Western restaurants and food service and with preparing foods for the Elders from his community, he noticed the lack of HACCPP around traditional foods.
After developing a successful HACCPP for the Elders Gathering, this led him on the journey to working with the FNHA and other provincial health authorities on what is today known as The Smoked Salmon Project.
Food safety plans requires caught fish to be frozen directly after catching them to kill any potential parasites. However, in Jared's culture, drying the fish in a smokehouse is more common, something that raises challenges with local health authorities.
By taking videos and pictures of his salmon smokehouse, he was able to demonstrate his method of safe food preparation with traditional techniques. Jared showed how hanging fish in a warm, dry space would continue to lower the water activity and remove any potential parasites. The samples were approved, and the fish were of a higher quality than others because of the technique.
"Our traditional food is safe, and the way we prepare it as indigenous people is parallel to the Western way, just worded differently," said Jared.
Today, Jared works in partnership on a few projects with the FNHA, such as the Traditional Foods Advisory Committee Project and Cultural Safety Training of the Traditional Foods Advisory Team. He's now doing a review on the COVID-19 impact on Indigenous Food Security.
The Traditional Foods Advisory Committee Project began several years ago when the FNHA looked into traditional foods being offered in childcare facilities. That study evolved into a report on the barriers and facilitators to using traditional foods in Western institutions. The project is now in phase three with Traditional Foods Engagement sessions to work with all FNHA regions changing regulations to allow the use of traditional foods.
"I try to walk between the Indigenous world and the Western world requirements," says Jared. “There's value and self-determination at the end of this work, so it's essential to continue on the path to re-invigorating the Food Safety Regulations.“
Acknowledging that Indigenous people all have our own recipes and utilize the animals and herbs in the location where they thrive means we will have different ways of cooking and being.
Jared says his vision is to see "Tribal Food Dispensaries" around the province. Communities would hire hunters, harvesters, drivers, and chefs, so they could sell their traditional foods to grocery stores, cafeterias, child care facilities and Elder care homes. It would provide flexibility to prepare and cook foods in traditional ways while creating income for communities and a chance for economic advancement.
“I'm hoping that I can have the harvested food by the time I'm an Elder, and I'm eating there for lunch," says Jared. "That's the objective."