A Cree Indian in India

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This past holiday season I decided to take a tour of the Far East. One of the most interesting visits was to India. I had caught the flu on the tour so I arrived in Delhi sick and the smog in the city made things worse. However, I managed to see some of the highlights of Delhi and enjoyed some fine Indian cuisine.

I grew up on a diet mostly involving geese, moose, caribou and fish – all harvested by my family. Mom and dad always made sure we had lots to eat and at times of the year we supplemented our wild diet with produce from the local grocery store. However, this food from the store was very expensive and much of the time extremely processed so not all that healthy.

For most of my life I thought of spices as only salt and pepper. Our food up the coast never featured much in spice as we did not have access to worldly dining options and we did not know much about spicing up meals.

It was amazing to find myself in the land of spices. In India, the people use a large variety of spices and in all sorts of combinations depending on the region you are in. All Indians use whole or powered chillies, pepper, black mustard seed, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, ginger, coriander and garlic.

One popular combination is called garam masala, which is five or more dried spices and often includes cinnamon and cloves. Garam masala varies from chef to chef depending on the region of the country. Some meals that I enjoyed with this base included meat, fish and vegetable curries. India has many vegetarians and I discovered that the veggie meals in this country are so tasty that meat is not missed all that much. Chickpeas and a variety of lentils replace the meat.

It is difficult to find many meals with beef as the cow is considered sacred in Hinduism, the ancient religion of India. This is based on the main teaching of the religion, which is all about preserving life, being kind and having respect for a docile animal like the cow. It also comes out of a practical reason, as cows are a source of animal power in ploughing and milling and of course for milk. The cow’s dung has always been used in India for burning as fuel and as fertilizer. I have seen cows all over India and even in large cities like Delhi.

I grew up sipping tea. Tea is a popular drink with the Cree up the James Bay coast. Mom always had a huge pot of tea on the stove to give us all a drink of energy whenever we needed it. We socialized around tea at home and over a campfire out on the land. When I was a child enjoying my tea I did not realize that it originally came mostly from India. The British introduced tea to my people when they came from Europe. Originally the British were introduced to tea in India.

I was very happy to enjoy so many wonderful teas on my travels in India. My favourite was Masala Chai, which is a mixture of Indian spices and herbs, black tea and hot milk. It has a real zing. In North America we know this drink as Chai tea but in India all teas are referred to as chai. To make sure you get the Chai we know in North America you have to order Masala Chai.

India is a vast country with a population of 1.2 billion people. The culture is rich and there is so much history. However, it is not an easy trip as there are so many poor people struggling to survive. It is difficult to get around easily unless you are using aircraft to travel. It is a complex country that is emerging as one of the top economies of the world and India produces and consumes huge numbers of products.

I am thankful to all the wonderful people I met on my voyage in India. They were all amazed to meet a Canadian Indian. I made sure to let them know that I am called an Indian only because Christopher Columbus decided that was who we were when he landed in the Americas, which he thought was India. Everyone had a good laugh at that.

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