The land on which I currently reside is the traditional Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk and Menominee homeland along the southwest shores of Michigami, North America’s largest system of freshwater lakes. My family spends much of our summers on the shores once travelled by the Ojibwe, and before them, the Dakota, one of the Siouan descendants of the ancient Oneota. These people have hunted, fished, farmed, and foraged on these lands for thousands of years.
When we speak of the cuisine of the Great Lakes, we must acknowledge the historic and ancient cultures who lived here for centuries and were removed from these lands by the actions of European settlers.
The Iroquois Confederacy of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora nations (what the English called The Five Nations) were forced from their lands in what is now western New York state and southern Ontario.
The Anishinaabe, including the Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi, Mississaugas, Nipissing and Algonquin peoples, were forced continuous west, off of their homelands in Ontario, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The Council of the Three Fires, a long-standing alliance between the Ojibwe, the Odawa, and the Potawatomi was formed on Michiilimackinac, what is now called Mackinac Island, before contact with European settlers and remains a central part of their culture.
The names of many of our lakes, our rivers, our towns, and our states in the Great Lakes region are a tribute to these tribes and their traditions, but they are also a source of mourning and loss for those traditions and tribes which have been marginalized, brutalized, and driven from their land. We cannot look to our European ancestry in the Great Lakes as inspiration, without also acknowledging it as a source of pain for so many. We also have been remiss in failing to more fully feature the indigenous heritage on this website, dedicated to celebrating the cuisine of the Great Lakes region.
There are others who are far more authoritative on the subject of indigenous cuisine in the Great Lakes area. We have found the work of Dr. Martin Reinhardt at Northern Michigan University and his “Decolonizing Diet Project” to be very helpful. We have used that project to begin to build a pre-European contact ingredient list. A simpler list and great source for recipes is also available at Local Food Manitoulin, which has now become one spot we simply have to visit.
But the foremost authority currently in the Great Lakes region has to be Sean Sherman, aka the Sioux Chef. His TED Talk is very informative, and entertaining. And he has expanded far beyond just Great Lakes cuisine as can be seen in his New York Times piece on the 10 Essential Native American Recipes. His perspective is thoughtful and his cooking is inspired. He utilizes indigenous ingredients and traditional cooking methods to make something modern and new. To us here, that sounds a lot like how we define Great Lakes Cuisine.
So we will look to add to the depth of our Great Lakes Cuisine by using indigenous ingredients and traditional cooking methods as inspiration in future recipes. We have called out the indigenous connection on a number of recent posts including our post on Wild Leeks and our post on the Walleye Wars. We want to be explicit in saying – these recipes are not representative of indigenous cooking. We have no standing to make any claim of that sort. These recipes are inspired by our limited understanding and ongoing research of a culture we have historically marginalized and under-represented. Our only hope is that these recipes might bring enjoyment and perhaps spark a desire in others to research more, listen more, and lift up the indigenous traditions of these Great Lakes.