We opened our three gatherings of Legacies partners with a participatory ritual. These activities didn’t always follow one spiritual tradition but were designed to help create a sacred space for deep dialogue, grounded in each person’s history related to food.
In June, 2019, we created a collective altar with objects people brought to introduce themselves through a story about their relationship to food.
When we met again in October 2016, we shared personal stories with objects everyone brought to honour ancestors who had influenced each of us in our current food practices.
During that second gathering, we also learned more about the ecologies and histories of the places we visited. We arranged with Jon Johnson of First Story Toronto1 to give us a storied tour of the Humber River valley in western Toronto, the historic site of a Seneca cornfield and current site of salmon swimming upstream, highlighting the sacred meaning of both corn and salmon for Indigenous peoples.
Throughout the five-year exchange, rituals have been part of our visits to each other’s fields and kitchens as well. Dianne offered Chandra tobacco when she was invited to spend the day learning how to process corn; in Haudenosaunee protocol tobacco is a sacred medicine offered to acknowledge and thank the person sharing her wisdom. Before any meal at Chandra’s table, she lit a candle and welcomed us to join fingers in a circle, a ritual that is unique to her family, but common in other forms in many households. The ritual of eating together has been central to our shared experience.
These participatory openings were not only a way of getting to know each other more deeply but they also prepared us to share our visions of the project and make decisions about its direction. We were always nourished with healthy meals at these gatherings of food activists. Chandra reflected on these gatherings: “We actually practice everything that we’re talking about whenever we’re together. We have a good meal. We have a great conversation. We come away having done something.” She reminded us that ‘good food’ is necessary for ‘good minds’ (the gut-brain connection), which helped us reshape our goals over the years
In our first gathering, we shared ideas about frameworks and methodologies for a collaborative production of a documentary film. At the second, we concluded that a multi-media package would be more dynamic and useful for education purposes than a feature-length documentary. At the third and final gathering, almost three years later, we reviewed draft videos and photo essays of the multi-media platform.
The themes of our videos and photo essays have emerged from these visits and gatherings. So there are gaps in what we cover. The fact that this group was small and intimate made communication easier in some ways, but also limited us. We lacked fuller representation of urban agriculture and urban racialized communities,3 LGBTQIA4 perspectives, and U.S. cases. In terms of Indigenous participants, we mainly focused on one of our bioregional neighbours, the Haudenosaunee, and dug deeper into their history, but lacked representation from other Indigenous communities in Canada or the U.S. surviving in different ecologies, with different treaty arrangements, and food practices.
While we didn’t consider our project a conventional ‘research’ process, we were funded by academic research monies, two Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connections grants that support arts-based community-engaged research. The university affiliation required ethics procedures that didn’t always fit our contexts or ways of working. For example, the ethics forms required by York University and by the Six Nations Research Ethics committee seem to assume the process is led by an individual academic, often an outsider anthropologist who will drop in, extract knowledge and publish academic work for personal gain. This didn’t fit the kind of process we were co-creating.