Anishinaabe-style Čheyáka in Cree territory

Anishinaabe-style Čheyáka in Cree territorywhat?

This tri-national title sounds confusing: two indigenous nations, and a plant name from a third. Let me explain.

Čheyáka? I always think of čheyáka as its Lakota name. I have to think a little longer to remember its scientific name…Mentha arvensis. And even longer to recall its common English name. Wild mint? Field mint?
(I checked; Both of those are correct.)

Cree territory? That part is pretty straightforward. This was harvested in Swampy Cree territory, along the Saskatchewan River. My Indigenous Land-Based Education cohort from the University of Saskatchewan did a canoe trip as our capstone course, and my classmate harvested this during the journey.

Anishinaabe style? Well, the friend who gave it to me is Anishinaabekwe from Peguis First Nation. Anishinaabe people are famous for their fantastic work with birchbark. Everyone who has seen this little plant bundle in my car has pointed out the piece of birchbark that holds it in place. When I explain that it was a gift from an Anishinaabe person, they laugh or smile knowingly. Of course it was! Those guys are serious about their birchbark – birchbark baskets, jewelry, moccasin tops, everything else… birchbark for days. My friend was out on the river, and didn’t bring a cotton tie with her to hold the stems together as they dried, so she improvised. And this Anishinaabekwe’s improvisation, naturally, was birchbark.

It looks and smells the same as čheyáka from Lakota country, but it tastes a little bit different. I’m used to a slightly different flavor.

Typically, people only talk about concepts like terroir (essentially, the unique flavors that the soil, climate, and weather conditions in a particular place imparts on a food or beverage) when they describe wine or cheese. But I’d like to see more discussions of terroir in native plant foods or medicines. And I’m also looking forward to seeing if anybody else back home can taste the difference!

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