A small restaurant in Toronto that has been serving up a selection of Indigenous foods from across Turtle Island for a while now – is causing a stir after putting seal meat on the menu.
“It’s our culture, it’s our history,” said chef Joseph Shawana from the restaurant Kū-kūm located in the wealthy neighbourhood of Davisville northeast of downtown. “Our food is just as important as our languages and a lot of communities in Canada and in North America itself lost their language and as sad as that is we lost part of our identity.
“If we lose a little bit of our food identity then we are losing ourselves.”
According to the restaurant’s menu, seal tartare is served as a starter with bannock crostini and is topped with quail egg.
But a petition demanding that the restaurant take the seal off the menu is now circulating.
More than 3,000 people have signed it.
In a statement to APTN News, petition author Jennifer Matos said it’s not what’s on the menu – it’s where the restaurant is getting the seal meat from.
“Kukum kitchen may be an Indigenous restaurant, but they are sourcing the seal meat from the commercial hunt,” Matos wrote.
Matos said she started the petition because the company that provides the seal meat – SealDNA – gets its product from hunters on Magdalen Islands – not Indigenous hunters.
Shawana said he worked for weeks to find a suitable supplier.
According to the company SealDNA, the company follows strict hunting regulations set out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Shawana said mainstream meat is a lot different than seal.
“Beef, chicken, pork, they are raised in a lot worse conditions than a seal,” he said. “A seal is out in the wild and it eats what is naturally eats, it’s not eating corn, not eating any antibiotics or it’s not given any hormones, this is as natural as meat comes.
“Its part of our culture, its part of our identity.”
And now a counter-pro seal – petition has been started to keep the meal on the menu.
Alyan Couchie from the Nipissing First Nation in Ontario said she started it to educate Manos about anti-Indigenous behaviour and colonialism.
“It’s important that we support Indigenous-owned businesses and restaurants in particular,” she said. “It’s such a great way to share the culture, share the food with everybody not just with indigenous people, it’s great for settler Canadians to be able to come in and try these foods as well.”
At the moment, Couchie’s petition is trailing Mato’s petition by about 500 signatures.
According to Shawana, no matter how the petition numbers play out – seal is one of the restaurant’s top sellers.
And he will keep serving it.
“We have to pay homage to our brother and sisters up north and what better way to, as their main source of protein is seal,” he said.