Just Like Home: Kahnawake traditions run deep in a changing world

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Throughout the years, Canada's many Indigenous communities have maintained a strong connection to their land and the food it gives them. In this episode of Just Like Home, Global's Rachel Lau sits down to eat with three strong Mohawk women to talk culture, history and being proud of their heritage.

Brittany LeBorgne may best be known for her role on the TV show Mohawk Girls, but on this day, in her hometown of Kahnawake, a reserve on Montreal’s south shore, she’s just a woman learning how to make cornbread “dance.”

“It’s sort of our comfort food, it’s our go-to meals,” she tells Global News.

“Especially the cornbread and steak, it reminds me of being a kid and it was my favourite food to eat when I was little and my great-grandmother, she made the best cornbread, in my opinion.”

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She, along with Kwe Kwe Gourmet chef Tiffany Deer, have prepared a traditional meal for Kakaiónstha Katinehsí:io, an elder in their community.

“It’s so important to share and spend time with your elders. They have a wealth of knowledge to share,” LeBorgne says.

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“[Home], that’s the word really, actually for what we’re eating,” Katinehsí:io notes.

WATCH BELOW: Just Like Home: What Mohawk people call themselves

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Just Like Home: What Mohawk people call themselves

“It’s home for us. It’s what we know, it’s what we grew up with,” LeBorgne adds.

“You feel rooted,” confirms Deer, whose homemade food is a staple on film sets — having catered all the Mohawk Girls meals.

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Though the premise of Just Like Home is to dine with people who are searching for their “home away from home,” this episode is a little different because, well, LeBorgne’s people are the original inhabitants of this land.

“A long time ago, it was very common for us to use the term Indian, but then it kind of became native and then there was First Nations and Aboriginal, but now it seems the word we’re leaning towards now is Indigenous,” LeBorgne explains.

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“Well, actually, that is not our ancestral name,” Katinehsí:io points out.

“These are all things put upon us because [Christopher] Columbus thought he was in India, so this is why everybody was called Indians, but the name we have for ourselves is onkwehón:we, the human being.”

At the age of 80, Katinehsí:io explains that in her culture, women are to be respected.

“In the ‘Indigenous’ community — let me use that word,” she starts.

“She’s like, ‘not a fan, not a fan of that word,'” LeBorgne laughs.

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“The older a woman gets,” Katinehsí:io continues, “the more respected she is and the more powerful she is. In our communities, the women are…”

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“Revered,” notes LeBorgne.

“Revered. Respected,” confirms Katinehsí:io.

“Honoured,” adds Deer.

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Katinehsí:io knows a lot about the meaning of respect — or lack thereof; she is a residential school survivor.

“You didn’t learn anything about who you were. In fact, you were made to believe you were worth nothing, that this was a new culture that you were to embrace and you were to forget the rest of you,” she says as the girls nod.

“The whole premise of Sir John A. Macdonald is you take the Indian out of the Indian child because they were savages.”

She acknowledges that it has taken her years to be at peace.

“I’ve gone through all that and I’ve come through with my healing journey and today, I’m a happy person,” she affirms.

WATCH BELOW: #JustLikeHome: Lesley Chesterman talks food, nostalgia

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Now, Mohawk culture has risen, with many in the community are dedicated to learning about their heritage.

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Though LeBorgne doesn’t currently live on the reserve — she lives in Dorval — she says she still plans to teach her (future) children about the deep history of her culture.

“I want my children to have everything I did and more,” she explains.

“I didn’t grow up knowing a lot about my culture, but I want something different for my children. There’s a real resurgence of the culture and the language in Kahnawake.”

She gestures to Deer, “Your children only have Mohawk names, they don’t have English names.”

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Just Like Home: Surviving Canada’s residential schools

Deer nods, explaining she’s made a conscious effort to immerse her three children in their culture.

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She’s planning to bring Kwe Kwe Gourmet to downtown Montreal in the city’s first Indigenous restaurant — though she’s quick to point out that each Indigenous community has its own cuisine.

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“Ten-year plan,” Deer exclaims, adding she’s excited to introduce her childhood cuisine to Montrealers.

Just Like Home is a series that discovers the restaurants and places Montrealers from all walks of life go to have a little, nostalgic taste of their home countries.