This story is part of the Black on the Prairies Project, a collection of articles, personal essays, images, and more that explores the past, present, and future of black life in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Log into the Black on the Prairies project here…
Melissa Brown fell in love with cooking at age four. Now Jamaican small business owner Anisinabe fuses her two cultures into a unique culinary style, giving clients a taste of something new.
Brown was raised by a single mother, Anishinaabe from Red Lake, Ontario. Her mother grew up in bushes with no running water and often cooked over a fire.
“My mother cooked a lot of stews, a lot of meat, fish, everything that she knew as a child. You know, nothing too extravagant, ”Brown said.
Brown’s father is Jamaican and met her mother when he lived in Winnipeg in the 1980s.
Although Brown said that her childhood relationship with her father was “sporadic” and “fickle,” she traveled with him to Jamaica for a month when she was 12. It was then that she was introduced to a whole new culture and new outlook on food.
“It was definitely a culture shock,” Brown said.
“Their lifestyle, their openness – they are very outspoken. You will see people dancing in the street and the music playing loudly. “
In Jamaica, she was introduced to dried chicken, banana and bread cooked over an open fire.
It wasn’t until she took a break from university that she was able to start experimenting with her cooking style.
“That year I started cooking and started researching more indigenous food because I had a year to do nothing,” Brown said.
“It was then that I immersed myself in Jamaican and indigenous food and fell in love with my passion for cooking.”
Black on the prairie7:11Melissa Brown reveals her indigenous and Caribbean identity
Melissa Brown from Winnipeg grew up without strong ties to parts of her Ojibwe and Jamaican identity. When she rediscovered her long-standing passion for cooking, Melissa accidentally found the remedy needed to reconcile her two ancestors. 7:11
She serves in Winnipeg today. She said her plates – and especially her bannoks – are popular with indigenous and black communities.
Brown grew up in western Winnipeg. She said her mom spoke Anishinaabemovina and was shy compared to the family she met in Jamaica.
Brown was culturally raised as an Anishinabekwe and found it difficult to connect with her Jamaican identity.
“All my friends were indigenous, and if they were not, they were half black, half indigenous, like me,” Brown said. “Many of us grew up in the West End, but we all considered each other indigenous because our mothers were that way.”
She said it took her a while to feel proud to be an indigenous woman because she was constantly reminded of all the problems that indigenous people face.
She said that studying cooking helped her learn to appreciate her unique roots.
“The more I got educated, the more I began to find my culture in cooking.”
Now a mother of three, she dreams of opening a kitchen cooperative and passes the teachings on to her sons.
“I’m just trying to make them proud of who they are.”
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