Welcome feast serves up indigenized chili
First Peoples@Seneca celebrates start of new term
Alexandra Paul (left), Ian Brown, Counsellor Karen White and Sharon Genaille dig in at the First Peoples@Seneca welcome feast at Newnham Campus on Sept. 5.
It’s a dish best eaten in company. In fact, with Peggy Pitawanakwat’s version, the company is what makes the chili taste that much better.
“Chili is universal,” said Pitawanakwat, who has been making chili for almost 40 years. “It’s a dish that connects everyone.”
Since 2011, Pitawanakwat, Co-ordinator, First Peoples@Seneca, has been serving up her homemade, indigenized chili as a welcome feast at the start of each academic term. While Pitawanakwat likes to keep her recipe a secret, ingredients include wild meat (moose or deer) for meat lovers and Indian corn, beans, squash and potatoes for vegetarians.
“Game meat has a very distinctive taste that gives it that zest to it,” she said. “It’s a warm welcome for the students. It’s a time to bring comfort to people and you have to do it with food — it’s part of everyone’s culture.”
Offered to both returning and incoming Indigenous students at Seneca, the welcome feast runs three times a year, one for each term. Chili is served for all three. The fall feast is especially important for Indigenous students as many reconnect with family over the summer break — the only time of the year they are able to visit their home communities.
“That’s unique for Indigenous students. Some of them don’t get to go home during the year. They are here during Thanksgiving, Christmas break, reading week,” Pitawanakwat said.
Peggy Pitawanakwat arrives with her chili. Photo: Peggy Pitawanakwat.
The fall welcome feast provides an opportunitiy for students to share their stories and updates about milestones over the summer.
“The feast is a very communal experience for them,” Pitawanakwat said. “The support between the students is there. They support each other and you can build a community with students. Their level of trust is high and the most intimate stories can come through.”
For Alexandra Paul, a second-year Early Childhood Education student, the feast gives her a chance to meet other Indigenous students on campus.
“Being an Indigenous person at Seneca is great,” she said. “I admire my heritage and culture, and I get to talk to other Indigenous students about our shared experiences and laugh at the many inside jokes we have.”
As Pitawanakwat has observed, “The students have this major radiance when they come back after the summer,” she said. “They’ve had a chance to practise cultural events like powwows. You can see in students from the Far North that they are happy to come back. They’ve been nourished by their home communities.”
And now, by Pitawanakwat’s chili.
First Peoples@Seneca will host its next feast in the new Indigenous centre, Odeyto, at Newnham Campus. The Tasewung feast, which honours the ancestors and loved ones with their favourite dishes, will take place Tuesday, Oct. 30.
Opening ceremony for Odeyto will take place Friday, Sept. 21 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.