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Trudy Metcalfe-Coe, the head chef at Mādahòkì Farm, says that while politicians, dignitaries and the like are welcome at Friday’s celebratory dinner, they won’t be the guests of honour.
At the 164-acre Indigenous attraction on West Hunt Club Road west of Hwy. 416, the VIPs at the reconciliation dinner will be survivors of residential schools, day schools and the ’60s Scoop, Metcalfe-Coe says.
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“The biggest thing is honouring our survivors, to make sure they feel loved and cared for,” she says. “For me it’s all about that. It has to be.
“The King of England could come and I wouldn’t care,” she says.
It’s no coincidence that the dinner falls on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. If the dinner sells out, it will feed 75 people paying $150 each, and for each ticket bought, a complimentary ticket will be given to a survivor or his or her family.
The dinner also kicks off Mādahòkì Farm’s second annual Tagwagi (Autumn) Festival, which will run through the weekend. Visitors will be able to take in authentic Indigenous programming including cultural performances, pow wow dances and storytelling. The festival also includes an Indigenous makers and farmers market, opportunities to meet Ojibwe Spirit Horses and more.
The inaugural festival took place last October, not long after Indigenous Experiences, a non-profit organization, took over and renovated the farm, a National Capital Commission property that had previously been leased by the Lone Star restaurant.
But while admission to last year’s festival was free, Indigenous Experiences is experiencing a financial crunch this year. It is asking for donations from festival-goers and charging $5 per vehicle for onsite parking.
Trina Mather-Simard, the CEO of Indigenous Experiences, explained that while last year’s festival received provincial funding, this year’s event, which has a budget of about $40,000, was not so fortunate when funding allocations were announced this summer.
Rather than cancel the festival, for which planning had been well under way, Mather-Simard said the farm opted to see if the generosity of visitors will sufficiently fund an important opportunity “for our communities to come together on the path to reconciliation,” said Mather-Simard.
Whether the fall festival takes place in 2023 will depend on the results of the upcoming event’s appeal for donations, Mather-Simard said.
“Maybe we will be able to sustain it without the funding. If not, we’ll know and will decide for the future,” she said.
Indigenous Experiences also produces the larger Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival, which ran over six days in June at the farm. The summer festival had Rio Tinto, the multinational mining company, as a presenting sponsor. If Indigenous Experiences has the means, it would hold four festivals yearly, each corresponding to a season.
The reconciliation dinner is a new addition to the festival. On Metcalfe-Coe’s menu, there will be arctic char ceviche bites, traditional corn soup, Three Sisters salad, elk with a barbecue squash sauce, roasted potatoes and wood-fired corn and wild rice pudding.
Metcalfe-Coe, an award-winning Inuk chef who grew up in Newfoundland and Labrador before moving to Ottawa three decades ago, was recently hired as chef at the farm, where she will work in its recently built commercial kitchen.
Metcalfe-Coe’s brigade for the evening will consist of a dozen students in the farm’s Indigenous culinary program, who are about to graduate from their eight-week course.
In addition to learning kitchen essentials, the students have made products, including a hot sauce made with wild grapes from the farm property and cedar, that will be for sale at the farm.
“This is an incubator,” Mather-Simard said. “There are so many Indigenous products and things we can be creating. We think the opportunity is limitless for our food products.”
The gardens at the farm yield beans, berries, corn, squash, sage, sweetgrass, tobacco and cedar. The last four plants are sacred medicines for Indigenous people.
The job of making bannock at the farm falls to Pat Higgins, a staff member of Indigenous Experiences. She follows the simple recipe for bread cooked over a wood fire or in the kitchen that she learned when she grew up on Christian Island in Georgian Bay, the home of the Beausoleil First Nation.
Higgins is excited about the strides the farm has made since it opened, and recalls that at last year’s fall festival, before the new commercial kitchen was built, food was made on propane burners.
“It was very old-school, like cooking in the bush,” Higgins says.
Tagwàgi (Autumn) Festival at Mādahòkì Farm
Where: Mādahòkì Farm, 4420 West Hunt Club Rd.
Family festival: Oct. 1 and 2, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; registration required, donations welcome, $5 for parking
Dinner tickets, registration and information: indigenous-experiences.ca/tagwagi-fall-festival/