Inuit share stories, country foods, at Ottawa lunch
“It connects people back to the land”
OTTAWA — A woman approaches Christina Lund and asks for some seal stew.
“Do you want a flipper?” Lund asks, fishing around in the huge pot with her black ladle.
The woman’s eyes grow wide. “Wow! That would be great,” she says enthusiastically.
Lund plops a seal flipper the size of a human hand into a small cardboard bowl and covers it in rich, brown broth. The woman thanks her and walks away, encouraging passersby to note her good fortune.
What started as a gathering of a few dozen people more than 20 years ago has turned into a full blown fiesta of country food in Ottawa’s Vanier community, home to many of the city’s Inuit population.
Tungasuvvingat Inuit, a community centre and organization which delivers a wide variety of Inuit-specific programming for Inuit of all ages and needs, puts on the free country food feast the third Thursday of every month.
It does so in partnership with St. Margaret’s Anglican Church on Montreal Road in Vanier, a church with a long history of serving Inuit in Ottawa. It offers an Inuktitut service every Sunday morning and has prayer books, hymn books and Bibles available in Inuktitut.
A steady stream of patrons enters the church by the side door and lines up for a taste of seal stew, raw Arctic char, narwhal muktuk and an array of cheeses, crackers, vegetables, cookies, yogurt and beverages.
Abbygail Noah, originally from Baker Lake, says she’s lived in Ottawa since 2003 and often comes to the lunch to enjoy the tastes of home.
Her son Thomas Savereux, 11 months old, had his first taste of seal stew today and loved it, she said.
“I think this is so great,” she says. “You get to meet your community members and enjoy traditional foods that you don’t often get yourself. It’s like a home away from home.”
She describes how she tried to get caribou meat from her father once but it got caught in cargo limbo and a week after he sent it, it arrived back in Baker Lake, inedible.
Christine Lund, program coordinator for TI, says it’s not unusual for 100 or more people to show up for the monthly lunches.
“A lot of people crave country food and this is the place where you can get it,” says Lund, a former Iqaluit resident. “It’s really well supported. It’s a necessity in the community, a way to stay in touch. It connects people back to the land.”
But TI couldn’t do it without the support of staff, volunteers and the many hunters who share their bounty, she says.
Staff are constantly in touch with family members in the North, hunters they know and hunters and trappers organizations to purchase any extra meat, fish and seafood they might have for sale.
William Piryuaq is one of many TI volunteers helping out today. Also from Baker Lake, Piryuaq said he’s been in Ottawa since January.
“I’m learning how to be Inuk again. We lived in Yellowknife for such a long time and I was in the residential school system so I’m relearning Inuktitut,” he says, chopping thawing char filets into bite-sized chunks.
“Residential schools made me very negative. But the staff here are so positive. They make me feel positive again.”