Hides and Seeking Opportunity: Kanina Terry Shares Traditional Wisdom With Youth
Trained as a chef, Kanina Terry hasn’t worked in food services for years. She prefers to cook for herself and her family or with students or with organizations in her classroom. What lights her up most is how she’s engaging with her culture. Terry is reclaiming food practices and traditions she was not taught because of the impacts of residential schools and colonialism.
That process has been challenging. “I don't live on reserve. I don't have close connections to people from my community who still have that knowledge,” she shared. Terry has learned through trial and error, through people from other communities and by observing their practices.
Kanina Terry lives in Sioux Lookout and is a member of Lac Seul First Nation. She works with Connected North and TakingITGlobal as a content provider, sharing with youth all over Canada about food, food skills, Indigenous food sovereignty and Indigenous food reclamation. She also talks about hide tanning, an art she spends most of her time on.
Her journey to become an educator in cultural practices was a long and winding one. When she was in high school, Terry wanted to be an actor. She applied to acting programs but didn't audition because she felt unprepared, intimidated and scared. But she knew where she wanted to be.
"I wanted to be in Toronto because growing up in this small town, I thought ‘this isn't where I wanna be. I wanna be in a city.’ I don't know if I thought I'm too big for this town, but I didn't wanna live in a small town at all," she remembered. She also wanted to live near her cousin.
Terry applied to a one-year program called Performing Arts Careers, and dropped out after a few months. She worked a variety of jobs: in a clothing store, in an optician’s office, as an administrative assistant at a web development company and then as a coder. She moved to London with her cousin who was moving away, worked in web development but got homesick.
She moved home, intending to leave on another trip somewhere but she fell in love, bought a house, got married and had a baby. Terry didn’t want to go back to a desk job as a new mom so she started exploring other options. She took university courses by distance and found a culinary skills program in Fort Frances.
Terry wanted to learn how to cook. Her son was still a toddler but they made it work so she could graduate with honors. Terry moved back home to her family and started offering catering services. Eventually, she left catering and her husband. Where she moved there was no running water so she was unable to continue with her business. She taught a one year culinary program for adult learners but decided not to continue.
Ultimately, Terry moved with her parents so she could enjoy the lake and spend more time in nature. She took her first hide tanning workshop and hasn’t stopped since. Terry noticed how people harvesting animals would leave hides behind in the bush and how many parts of the moose weren’t being used. She learned how to cook moose with her son by her side to sample her creations.
She gets hides to work on from family and friends but she finds that most people who hunt don’t skin the animals as cautiously as they could. There is a learning curve in bringing back an art that has not been practiced recently within a community and for herself in moving from deer to moose hides.
Between the workshops she took, connecting with people online, going to a hide camp, watching videos on youtube, she learned a lot about working with hides. Her own social media following has grown with people who want to learn so she’s finding her boundaries around what she’s willing to teach.
Terry homeschools her son who has different needs, giving lots of outdoors time, opportunities to work on hides together and to cook animals they’ve trapped or found. They’re also learning how to gather food seasonally, fishing with nets and wires and stringing up hides.
Her advice to anybody thinking about leaving their community to learn abroad or travel is: go for it. She acknowledged that it's probably going to be nerve wracking. Terry had never moved anywhere without her cousin, though she did complete a seven week work exchange in Hawaii.
On the big Island, her hosts ran a weekly food market that they would prepare for and work, then they would enjoy three days off. Well-fed by generous, loving people, Terry learned to bake sourdough bread. Terry recommends looking into a work exchange as a way to travel, but acknowledges it can be risky being far away and meeting strangers. Adventures like these shaped Terry into who she is and how she connects with people in the world.
On her journey to becoming a cultural educator, Terry learned how to trust herself to know when to walk away from something that wasn’t fulfilling her anymore. ”Just because someone wants you to do it and just because you're good at it doesn't mean that you should do it,” she explained. Working on hides, she’s in the best shape of her life and fulfilled.
Reclaiming food practices and traditions she was not taught because of the impacts of residential schools and colonialism has been empowering. Connecting with youth across the country, she is able to facilitate Indigenous knowledge transfer and bring relevance to practices that have been going on since time immemorial. Kanina Terry’s had the opportunity to stretch herself into something she’s proud of, much like the hides she works on with care.
Thanks to Alison Tedford for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.