Alcohol dropped from Truth and Reconciliation centred culinary event after community concerns

Bison Tartare by Chefs Leah Marshall Hannon & Cayley Balint

The Isabel Bader Centre will play host to a first of its kind event in Kingston that aims to be a celebration and sharing of Indigenous culinary arts.

Tourism Kingston says the event focuses on Call to Action #83 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, which calls for prioritizing strategies for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects – in this case within the culinary arts.

The city tapped into Ontario’s Reconnect Festival and Event grant which will match funds up to $250,000 for the event, and paired up Indigenous chefs from all around Ontario with local chefs to curate a number of different dishes meant to explore Indigenous foodways.

Terri-Lynn Brennan, from Inclusive Voices and one of two Indigenous consultants along with Natalie Goldenberg-Fife, said Kingston/Katarokwi is home to so many different Indigenous identities and the selection of chefs tried to keep that in mind.

“We’re very cognizant of the fact that this area is a shared land,” Brennan said.

“So we wanted to try to bring in that diversity.”

The event will also include a musical performer from Tyendinaga along with Indigenous artisans and knowledge holders, and Tourism Kingston’s Director of Marketing and Communications Alison Migneault says while the event is centred around food it’s really meant to be an opportunity for people, Indigenous or not, to learn about the culture and history as a whole.

“While this event has been themed around culinary, it is really a four or five hour long event with multiple activations,” Migneault said.

“Those who have booked a ticket whether complementary or not will really get to experience a full day.”

While the event has definitely garnered community interest, Migneault says 117 tickets have been booked with 78 of those being complementary passess for interested Indigenous community members, certain elements of it have raised concerns for some in the community.

Jennifer Kehoe, a Kingston local who is of mixed Algonquin-nation and Irish descent, says in her eyes the decision to even use Truth and Reconciliation as a marketing tactic at all is wrong.

“Reconciliation looks like being all at the table as equals, all being together and walking alongside each other and not extracting,” Kehoe said.

“This event is extracting and it’s capitalizing on the horrific history of Indigenous peoples with the institution of Canada specifically.”

Kehoe says to genuinely frame this under the umbrella of reconciliation more work alongside the Indigenous community should have taken place.

“That means community engagement, that means community consultation,” Kehoe said.

“That means a lot of things… not a single piece of that was addressed other than hiring an Indigenous consultant.”

While the complementary tickets available are clearly being welcomed by many, Kehoe adds that their availability doesn’t make the event accessible.

Tickets for non-Indigenous folks cost $65, a price point the planning team feels reflects the value the event offers, but several have questioned who this event is designed for at a number that high.

Kehoe says while it’s great that Tourism Kingston is providing a way for Indigenous people to come for free, many of those she’s spoken to aren’t even sure if they’d feel comfortable in that space.

She says there’s so much food insecurity among the Indigenous community, and many experiencing that will have a hard time feeling safe and secure around those that a full priced ticket is marketed towards.

“When you have an event that’s $65 a plate, you may think that that’s not going to have an impact,” Kehoe said.

“But for someone who can’t afford milk, how do you think they see themselves sitting at a table that’s $65 just to walk in the door?”

Mance Granberg, a local Indigenous artist, said the price point makes him question how an event like this can be in service of reconciliation.

“Reconciliation isn’t about boujee, 65 dollar plates that they’re giving limited numbers to Indigenous people,” Granberg said.

“I certainly can’t afford a 65 dollar plate to attend. So what happens is you’re getting more of the privileged individuals attending this event and you know once again Indigenous voices who are having concerns with this issue are not even going to be able to attend.”

More contentious than the price point however was the inclusion of an alcohol infused cocktail as one of the offerings at the event.

Tourism Kingston said the culinary sage-infused cocktail was only to be offered in a separate space away from the main event and was designed in collaboration with one of the Indigenous chefs.

Granberg, who took particular issue with the cocktail being offered given the complicated, sometimes damaging history Indigenous people in Canada have had with alcohol, said alcohol shouldn’t have ever been considered in an event like this.

“If you want to do an event of reconciliation you would understand the harm that alcohol has had and not even have that as an option,” Granberg said.

Executive Director for Tourism Kingston Megan Knott said there was thorough discussion around the drink’s inclusion, and that the social media uproar around it isn’t necessarily reflective of the community’s thoughts.

“There was a small amount of feedback in the grand scheme of all of the consultation, all of the weekly meetings, all of the pairings, all of the discussions with chefs,” Knott said.

Terri-Lynn Brennan said the initial pushback has sparked a good dialogue.

She says chefs she spoke to along with many other Indigenous people were okay with the inclusion of alcohol, and that while it wasn’t intended to be harmful or insensitive it’s involvement seemed to be tainting the experience.

As such, Tourism Kingston made the decision over the weekend to pull alcohol from the event entirely.

“We live in a community that has a very distinct mixture of Indigenous identities and Indigenous experiences,” Brennan said.

“It’s presence at an event that is trying to work under the guise of reconciliation is something that we kind of discussed as ‘is this really that important of an issue to take forward and continue to have the community upset at this stage?'” 

The rest of the event will remain unchanged, and Migneault said despite hiccups Tourism Kingston expects the event to be well received by attendees, and hopes more events like it can be planned in the future.

“I think we have approached the creation and curation of this event with the best and truthful intentions of showing that tourism can be a mechanism for truth and reconciliation,” Migneault said.

“I think when we went into this event we knew that there may be challenges… the point is that reconciliation shouldn’t be comfortable… there are always opportunities to learn, and to share, and to reflect.”

For some however, the problem is that the lack of comfort seems to be once again shouldered by Indigenous people.

Kehoe says this can be avoided by the city and Tourism Kingston taking greater effort to truly consult with the Indigenous community at large, summed up by saying “nothing about us without us”.

“I do believe in my heart that this event, it’s intentions were good, the idea was great, but there was a lot of missteps,” Kehoe said.

“How many times are we supposed to call out instead of being called in?”

The event runs this Saturday starting at 11, it is sold out but interested Indigenous community members can contact the Isabel Bader box office to inquire about tickets.