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A taste of home at Woodland Manor in Hay River

Kelly Lizardo, a dietary aide at Woodland Manor, weighs some grouse, which was donated to the traditional foods pilot project at the long-term-care facility in Hay River.
Photo courtesy of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority

A pilot project has begun to offer traditional foods to residents of Woodland Manor, a long-term-care facility in Hay River.

"We're hoping to bring Woodland Manor residents a taste of home, basically," said Sandy Cowger, manager of support services with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority. "For some of the residents sometimes, you get taken away from your community and placed into a facility in a different community, and we serve a lot of Western cuisine in our facilities. So being able to serve traditional foods to our Indigenous residents and to residents that just want to try country foods, that's the purpose of this program."

She said traditional foods will be a comfort to some residents who haven't had that for a very long time.

The program is in its initial stage, and so far the residents have had a goose at Thanksgiving and some grouse before that.

The goose was donated by Danielle Antoine, the activity co-ordinator for Woodland Manor, who said the traditional food was welcomed by residents.

"They just light up and indulge in the food, and enjoy themselves," she said.

Antoine also noted that residents might talk about eating such traditional food when they were younger.

"That's how the stories start coming out," she said. "So it's good to hear."

One of those residents is Joanne Morin, who said she is excited to look forward to getting moose meat, fish and bannock in the pilot project.

"I used to cook on the lake for 19 years," Morin added. "I'm excited to share my knowledge of traditional foods with the staff and other residents of the Woodland Manor."

Antoine said it is hoped the residents will be offered a wide variety of country food, including moose, caribou, bear, porcupine, duck, goose, beaver, muskrat, rabbit, ptarmigan, grouse and fish.

Cowger noted the residents of Woodland Manor come from various backgrounds, and some of them are new to traditional foods and interested in trying it.

The project will be based on donations of food.

"In the Wildlife Act, it actually states that traditional foods are not to be sold," Cowger said. "So it's actually against the law to purchase traditional foods. So that's why this program is based on donations."

Those making donations will be offered small tokens as a trade, such as a gift certificate or a gift card.

"We have accepted a few donations brought in from staff, and this has helped orientate the staff on the processes to actually receive a donation of a traditional food," said Cowger.

A call for donations was issued on Oct. 13.

"So gathering donations is a big part of the program," said Cowger. "The other piece is actually having knowledge-keepers and people that have the traditional experience to come and do teachings for the staff so that we can prepare."

An advisory board for the project, which will include an elder at Woodland Manor and volunteers from the community, will also develop recipes for traditional foods.

It will be offered as an option alongside Western food.

Cowger said the traditional foods will support personal preference, meet nutritional needs and be safely prepared to prevent food-borne illness.

The pilot project has been supported by the McConnell Foundation with an $8,000 donation for equipment costs, such as for a freezer.

At Woodland Manor, there are 23 residents of various ages and from a number of regions of the NWT.

Cowger said it is hoped that the traditional foods program will be offered in all Hay River Health and Social Services Authority facilities in the future.