Walking in her ancestors’ moccasins

OHSWEKEN — Living autonomously, food sustainability, and food sovereignty are three things that could change how the younger generations here think about providing for themselves.

Amy Bomberry and her colleagues from Everlasting Tree School in Ohsweken are doing what they can now to make that happen for her students. In February, Bomberry, her two daughters and a delegation from the Akwesasne Community Collective visited an indigenous group called the Zapatistas in Chiapas, a southern Mexican state bordering Guatemala, to experience a lifestyle that is nearly 100 per cent self-sufficient.

“I wanted to go on this learning experience to find ways to help continue the work we’ve started back at the school [Everlasting Tree],” said Bomberry. “I want to be at the level where we grow all our own foods, plants, herbs and healing products like the people do in Chiapas.”

Bomberry said that at the school they have recently started taking recycling and composting very serious and she wants to work some of the things she learned on the trip into how things are done at the school too — especially how the Zapatistas show respect for food.

“They work so hard there, day and night,” said Bomberry. “They wake up early and start making food for the entire day. All the food they make is what they eat that day — then they do it all over again.” Bomberry said that leftovers don’t really exist there, they make enough to get them through the day, and what they grow, they eat. Grocery stores are not a thing there, there is a market but it is mostly made up of products grown from within the community.

The food eaten by the locals in Mexico is not what you see in the Canadian-Mexican restaurants here; the Zapatistas eat mostly beans and homemade tortillas, with little meat incorporated aside from cooking a chicken for a party or celebration. The corn for their tortillas is grown and prepared in similar fashion to how it is prepared here, but with subtle differences. Bomberry and her team got to try making the tortillas themselves.

“It wasn’t that easy to make them,” she said. “They could make them so perfect, even after working so hard to prepare the dough. Not once did I hear any complaints or anybody talking about how hard and tiresome it was to prepare. They really appreciate and value the effort it takes to grow, prepare and cook their own food.”

Bomberry said that as she was learning how the Zapatistas prepare their food and live without electricity or running water, she really felt like she was experiencing a bit of what her ancestors lived through so long ago.

“I felt like I was walking in my ancestors’ moccasins,” she explained. “I was worried that my five-year-old daughter Cody would struggle with the changes, but she fully immersed herself in all of the strange tasks and circumstances we found ourselves in.”

She said that sometimes, herself included, people can view working hard for their food to be a burden. She really appreciated what she saw and learned from the Zapatistas. Self-sustainability and living autonomously is not easy, but she realized on her trip that it is possible.

“While I do appreciate some of the luxuries and amenities we have become used to here in the community, I now know that it’s possible for people to live completely sovereign,” she said. “If we start learning how to do that ourselves, we can teach our children how to maintain it and reclaim some of what has been lost.”

At Everlasting Tree School, Bomberry said that they are already teaching the children some of these things.

“We’re aiming to teach the children to respect where they come from, respect the gifts we have been given and how to take responsibility for their actions,” she said. “It’s about investing time in them and seeing value in them.”

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