Connecting Food and Land as medicine

It may be cold, dark and dreary as we slumber through the isolation of midwinter and Covid restrictions but behind the scenes, nature is busy.

And just like the seasons, humans are supposed to be in a state of rest right now, says Kitty Lynn Lickers, food animator with Six Nations Health Promotions.

She drew parallels between the land and animals during an enlightening Community Wellness session last week, the second in a series of online presentations meant to help people stay connected during this period of isolation.

Lickers was going to take the community out in the bush for a walk to catch sight of some winter birds during her presentation but it was so cold, even the birds wouldn’t come out.

“At minus 20 the birds don’t come out,” said Lickers. “The animals don’t come out. The rabbits, the foxes – everybody stays hidden in their homes. The only ones that go out is us (humans). We’re the ones that are silly and get all bundled up and out we go into the cold. I’m glad to be able to do that for you.”

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so quiet in the winter, with nary a bird chirping during the day, it’s because they’re huddled together for warmth.

“In minus 20, the birds gather very close, pull up one wing, sit close to the trunk of the tree and tuck themselves under their own wing.”

She encourages people to do their part for the animals and birds during the winter by keeping their gardens messy. That means no pulling weeds and leaving them be for the winter so that animals can eat the seeds on them during this season of food scarcity.

“We also have to do our part. Part of that is simple things, like leaving plants in the garden that have seeds on them. Some of those you leave for the birds because at this time of year, they’re looking for those last bits of seeds. The wild plants, they leave the seeds on their stem. That’s so the animals can eat.”

She said she’s seen only one coyote this winter, but the one she did see had burrs and stuck to it.

He was doing his part to move seeds and food around the reserve, she said.

“The messier and uglier your garden is, the better,” said Lickers. “You leave those seeds on those plants so that the animals have them for the winter, especially how cold it’s been this year.”

Lickers was up bright and early last for the presentation, setting up a warm fire at the Six Nations community garden in the heart of Ohsweken where she made a delicious-sounding venison stew on the outdoor fire.

She said it was important to have the fire going for a long time if one planned to cook over it because you need hot coals for cooking, not flames.

Cooking outside is a symbolic way of reclaiming one’s Onkwehonwe identity.

“If colonization has severed or strangled our connection to our food and our land, then doing things on the land, cooking things over a fire, are our way of decolonizing that,” said Lickers. “We all need food. The best food for us is the food that we get from the land.”

She used bones to make a bone broth and explained how she made it by boiling them over the fire.

Bone broth is very nourishing, she said, and can help you feel better when you’re sick.

“Bone broth is often my go-to for breakfast. It’s so good for you.”

“Food and land are so interconnected that it’s difficult for me to separate them,” said Lickers.

The community wellness series started last year as a way to help community members feel more connected.

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