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Community Feature: Kevin Wesaquate

June 16, 2020
Stew Coles
The Prairie Lily boat floating down the river in Saskatoon on a summer day.

The project began for me as a child growing up on Piapot First Nation. It really began as I picked Misaskwatomina (Saskatoon Berries) with my Kokom and Mosom. Finding shade in the Qu’applle Valley underneath trees as we picked berries. These memories are precious and are moments that bind families together. These are memories that many Indigenous families as we harvested this food from the land.

I had an opportunity to make a change as my Spoken Word poem offered some hints of how that change could be felt and impact our Community:

I imagine place where we trade in protein bars for pemmican, where we could pick wild berries in our communities.

Read the whole of Kevin’s Spoken Word poem Misaskwatomina here.

At one particular planning meeting with the group Locals Only, I stated that we didn’t need millions of dollars to make a difference. All we need is some shovels and Misaskwatomina plants to make our space for future generations to come. It was a poetic envisioning of how we could become a healthier community. It was a poem filled with gratitude for the youth at St. Francis Elementary school and I wished for ways that they could keep growing in a good way. I wanted to empower them with my poem. I also wanted to make note on the special use of these berries with ‘Pemmican’, which has been a survival food of the Nehiyawek for thousands of years. The poem goes on to make many references about building a healthier future, but the action of growing and planting a healthier future should remain foremost.

The first event took place in Victoria Park just south of Riversdale pool. About 50 people gathered to help with planting 250 Misaskwatomina plants. This event took place on May 26th 2018. A Plaque that commemorates the event and participants near the site reads:

ka-misaskwatominahtakahk Kevin Wesaquate

Planted May 26, 2018

The Key to building a healthier future is fostering mutual respect for the land and all of its indigeneity. The ‘misaskwatomina’ project, which was created by artist and poet, Kevin Wesaquate, is a symbol of reconciliation for generations to come.

As a poet and storyteller, Wesaquate wants to continue the Indigenous traditions that connect the Nehiyawek to the land. With this project, the artist hopes to share the practice of misaskwatomina berry picking.

Misaskwatomina was part Locals Only (2017 to 2019) a series of artist projects focusing on food security, mentorship, and youth leadership. Locals Only was led by AKA Artist-run, in partnership with CHEP Good Food. Misaskwatomina was made possible with support from the Meewasin Valley Authority and the City of Saskatoon, with special thanks to Carmen Blackstar.

An additional 500 misaskwatomina plants will be planted sometime near the end of June 2020 at the same location, along the South Saskatchewan River. The opportunity to keep this project ongoing with the help of AKA- Artist-Run, Meewasin Valley Authority and CHEP Good Food has been a positive experience. The planning to include youth volunteers from the St. Francis Elementary School has been brought to a halt because of Quarantine measures to reduce social distancing in Saskatchewan. I appreciate the measures and feel that the safety of the public and community should come first. Staying hopeful that this project can continue, I will do my best to take every precaution necessary to ensure our volunteers are kept safe.

Carmen Blackstar has served as an elders helper and has been very informative to myself during this process and has offered teachings in respect to the misaskwatomina project. Carmen has had a similar project in planting and growing misaskwatomina in the past. Her knowledge and input into Indigenous protocols have been valuable to me. I wouldn’t be able to push forward with this project with confidence if I had not had her blessings.

Misaskwatomina Past

Hot reservation’s sunshine upon my face
my shoulders and my back
Dusty back roads into the valley
Off roads into coulees leaving two trails and bending grass
Oh soft sweet grass, glistening under moccasin steps
My hands slightly touch and I think perhaps
Another day
Misaskwatomina whispers out today
We walk into the brush to reach out and

Shake an old friends hand, following Nokomis
And Nimosom off the prairie path. Pails in hand 
One by one we pick off branches

Like birds rabbits and deer chirping,
and we tease and laugh
Memories that strengthen with every taste
Savoring and building our strength
Naturally off the land as if we’ve never left
We give our thank you for generations
Past and present we are the
Ancestors of today still eating

Poem by Kevin Wesaquate.

Read Kevin’s spoken word poem, Misaskwatomina, here.