Sioux Valley Dakota Nation knowledge keeper Eugene Ross speaks with guests during his interactive talk “Food and Wellbeing the Traditional Way” at the All Nations Sharing Circle Tuesday. (Chelsea Kemp/The Brandon Sun)

By Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Published Sep 30, 2021

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Knowledge Keeper Eugene Ross was at the All Nations Sharing Circle Tuesday, bestowing stories on traditional  foods and diets as part of Brandon’s Truth and Reconciliation Week  celebrations.

Ross, whose Dakota name is Born in the Wind, said  his interactive talk, “Food and Wellbeing the Traditional Way,” was  focused on sharing generational knowledge, educating people and  celebrating the beauty of Dakota culture. 

“We’re land-based  teachers. We are the keepers of our culture. We are keepers of the  stories,” Ross said. “It’s so important to share and tell that story so  that other people may have an understanding of our people. We are the  keepers of the land.”

As story keepers, there has been a tradition  of passing on knowledge about the foods from the Earth for generations  beyond memory, he said. These actions are important because it allows  different generations to stay connected and ensure teachings are not  lost.

“I also encourage them [the next generation] that this  belongs to you. This is who you are. When you look at how rich our  culture is, the knowledge that’s sitting here today … They knew because  they were keepers of the land, they researched that land,” Ross said.

He  added it’s essential to educate both Indigenous and non-Indigenous  people to create an understanding of the traditions and teachings that  have been carried on by Dakota for time immemorial. These interactions  can help impart and honour the vital knowledge nation members carry.

“It’s  so important. Don’t pass judgment on our people … They have their  struggles, but you don’t know the gifts that they carry,” Ross said.  “Our people are gifted. Look at the stories we have to share and the  knowledge that we keep.”

Ross uses every opportunity possible to  visit schools and other organizations to pass on these stories and  impart the essential need to connect with nature.

“All of this [food and herbs] is found in our backyard. We just have to be educated, somebody has to show us,” Ross said.

Tristen Munroe, left, Princeton Wood, Jerid Nepinak and Bill Potter examine tools on display at the “Food and Wellbeing the Traditional Way” exhibit at the All Nations Sharing Circle Tuesday. (Chelsea Kemp/The Brandon Sun)

For  the teachings on Indigenous food practices, Ross created an interactive  exhibit at the All Nations Sharing Circle. During his talk, guests  could walk along the sharing circle, learning about Indigenous foods,  herbs, tools and traditions.

Each item is special in its own way,  he said, and featured stories that have been carried forward  for thousands of years. The circle was designed to showcase the  different activities Dakota people would have traditionally participated  in over the course of four seasons.

A highlight of the exhibition  was honouring the importance of buffalo, also known as bison in  Manitoba. The animal is used in 175 ways by Dakota people and the entire  animal has been used and recycled for centuries in Indigenous  communities.

Ross also provided a demonstration of the traditional  fall activity of crushing chokecherries. The cherries are carefully  ground three at a time to impart the teaching of patience.

The cherries are crushed using granite rocks found across the Prairies that serve as mortar and pestle.

“The  fall was a very busy time, they were getting ready for winter,” Ross  said. “Crushing cherries were part of their diet. My grandmother said  she would crush cherries from the time the sun came up to the time the  sun went down. You were picking, cleaning, crushing constantly.”

He added for special ceremonies, six 100-pound bags would be crushed.

The  crushed cherries were then combined to create hard, dried patties that  could be stored in bags and kept over the winter. Water is later added  to the patties creating a pudding-like meal.

“They were used daily in their diet, it was used for ceremony and it was used for sharing with family,” Ross said.

He  added that prior to contact with settlers, the Indigenous diet did not  include sugar, tea, salt or tobacco. Trading with the settlers brought  these items into Indigenous communities, along with different types of  metal.

“It became part of our culture and who we are,” Ross said.

It  is powerful being able to showcase his culture, and Ross appreciates  those who took the opportunity to learn about Dakota culture and  teachings.

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation knowledge keeper Eugene Ross speaks with guests during his interactive talk “Food and Wellbeing the Traditional Way” at the All Nations Sharing Circle Tuesday. (Chelsea Kemp/The Brandon Sun)

He hopes those that visited the All Nations Sharing  Circle walked away with a better understanding and appreciation for the  Dakota traditions and teachings that have been carried forward over  thousands of years.

He encouraged those who attended to find  different ways to stay connected and learn more about the culture from  elders, knowledge keepers and others in Indigenous communities.

“These  stories are still being shared and being shown,” Ross said. “The thing  is people need to listen. It’s our turn to tell our stories. Listen to  us now. We have something to share.”

Tristen Munroe and Princeton  Wood stopped by the All Nations Sharing Circle after learning about the  showcase through their work at the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corp.  As a team, they visited the site to take part in the events for Truth  and Reconciliation Week.

It was interesting learning about  Indigenous food, Munroe said, and they were able to learn a lot. He  added the different uses of buffalo was one of his biggest takeaways  from the circle.

“I always heard about our people using a lot of  buffalo things, but to actually see them — it’s mind-blowing,” Munroe  said with a grin.

Wood agreed. The duo said they would recommend  learning more to others, so they can enhance their awareness about the  past and Indigenous teachings.

“Nowadays, a lot of people don’t  really know about these plants and herbs. It’s kind of, like, a dying  thing. A lot of our elders are also passing, and that’s a lot of  knowledge that goes with them,” Wood said. “Young people need to take it  seriously.”

This item is reprinted with permission from The Brandon Sun. See article HERE.

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