Story by Emilee Gilpin
Art Napoleon had taken a few sips of coffee and was just settling in for an interview tucked away at one of his preferred greasy diners near his home in Victoria, when someone walked in and recognized him.
"I'm waiting for Moosemeat and Marmalade tomorrow," an excited woman said, as she walked by with a friend, "It's all set to record."
Napoleon is one of the co-stars of the popular APTN TV show Moosemeat and Marmalade, which features chefs from two entirely different walks of life, Napoleon a bush man, and Dan Hayes, a classically-trained chef from central London, England. The first three seasons follow Napoleon and Hayes across Europe and Canada as they visit new territories, seeking permission to hunt, fish, harvest and share the bounty.
Throughout the show, the hosts tease and give each other a hard time. They don't let each other trip, slip, or get seasick, without playfully tallying it all up. The men share their love of hunting, and they've gone out together a few times off air, but they truly do come from entirely different upbringings and worldviews, and they often struggle to reconcile their differences on screen.
Napoleon grew up in the deep woods, on the Saulteau First Nations Reserve on Moberly Lake, Northern British Columbia. His mother died when he was a baby, so his father gave him to his grandparents, who raised him in an all Cree-speaking household, in the bush, on the land, he told me, once we were settled in with coffee in hand.
The first episode of the fourth season of Moosemeat and Marmalade, was released last Thursday. This season upholds the production's effort to shed light on food practices and traditions of urban Indigenous populations and takes viewers on a culinary journey, from Nunavut to Spain to Vancouver to Denman Islands.
Napoleon and Hayes explore topics of food sustainability and food security, traditional cooking, and ways to create minimal waste and show respect for the food sources and communities visited.
Napoleon said he and Hayes play up their personalities for the show.
"We exaggerate our personalities. We're a little louder and more animated on the show," Napoleon explained. "Dan loves hunting. He respects people, gets along with the elders, makes friends with them, and is sincerely interested in their stories."
Napoleon said he finds the less glamorous part of producing Moosemeat and Marmalade a challenge - fighting for funding, working in post production, translating episodes into Cree, and meeting deadlines. The reason he keeps doing the show, he said, is because "it's working."
"It brings people together. People enjoy the show - Native and non-Native. You're able to look at something in a light way, and teach people, without hitting them on the head, laying a guilt trip, or screaming around," he said. "If you use humour, and are gentler with your approach, you attract more people."
Moosemeat and Marmalade, is being produced by Mooswa Films Inc. with the participation of the Canadian Media Fund, in association with APTN and the Bell Fund, and Napoleon said there are some exciting scenes in store for the fans. In some episodes Hayes leads the show, and in others, Napoleon leads, and those are his favourites, he laughed. Those are the episodes where the team gets to interact more with community members and get out on the land.
In Season 4, they visited the community in Nunavut and headed out on the territories on snowmobiles.
"If you break down out there, you could freeze your ass off," he said. "You get to see how people really live... I have nothing but good memories from that trip... it was amazing."
Beyond the adventure of traveling to new territories and hunting, fishing and cooking with new techniques and teachings, Napoleon said the most important message he hopes to spread is that climate change is real and people need to wake up to it, before it's too late.
"Sometimes I hope for a real apocalypse, so the world can have a good humbling."
"People are sleepwalking. Some people know about climate change, but don't want to think too much about it. They want to enjoy their lives and not be stressed... other people have total blinders and don't even think it's a real threat," Napoleon said.
He grew up learning about big changes to come, through prophecies shared by his elders.
"They drilled them into us. Every damn family on my reserve all grew up on similar prophecies, about hard times coming ahead," he said. "That impacted my view of the world. You can say I'm an alarmist, or all doom and gloom, but I see it as hopeful. If we realize the reality, maybe people will wake up and create a better world."
Napoleon learned to hunt from his uncles, and to fish, smoke and cook from his grandparents. When somebody got a moose, their whole family would become jovial and enjoy a big celebration, he remembered, looking past me, into times come and gone.
"We didn't often hunt with vehicles - we went on foot, or pulled a toboggan, or used horses... or we'd drive in as far as you could and packed it out by hand. We'd have a backpack and load it with as much meat as we could carry... the whole thing would take half a day at least."
Napoleon remembered his first meals with a smile. The older people would bring bannock, salt and tea and boil it up while others skinned the animal, he recalled.
"We'd eat right after the fresh kill. Moose ribs will always be my favourite... summer moose had more flavour," he said.
Napoleon's smile soon faded.
"I'm scared. The numbers are all down. All the hunters know it, but the government won't admit it," he said, serious now. "Sometimes I hope for a real apocalypse, so the world can have a good humbling. We'll reach a certain point where climate change can't be denied... maybe we've reached that point, but some people still don't get it."
We discussed climate change as a monster with many heads, caused by extractive industries and practices, logging, excess hunting and fishing, pipeline construction, fracking and mining. Napoleon expressed his worry about damage to dwindling wildlife populations due to new pipeline construction.
"When you cut a new pipeline, it's damage you don't get over, because it creates a corridor for predators like wolves. Wolves are very smart and they'll take advantage of those corridors, making it easier to kill caribou and moose, and the government blames the wolves and we'll have a big cull,” he said.
“... The access created also makes it easier for non-native hunters to go deeper into the woods, so there's nowhere for animals to hide... they'll take their ATVs and snowmobiles up in the alpine, where the caribou are on their last leg."
Napoleon said when the “apocalypse” comes, it will be the people with the knowledge of the land, and the skills for survival, who will be sought after.
"You've got to be a jack of all trades. It's not just one specific knowledge, you've gotta be a generalist," he said, offering advice on how to be well equipped for more desperate days. "You might be able to pull a trigger, or have a good shot, but do you know how to skin the animal? Butcher it properly? Do you know the different cuts of meat, how to take care of it, turn it into jerky, build a smokehouse? You've gotta learn many skills to survive."
He told me he's prepared to move deeper into the woods, in a cabin with a generator, solar panels and a well, but when pressed, he said it's more of a goal in the making, than any kind of backup plan.
I asked him how he thinks people can move away from a dominant capitalistic culture that consumes more than conserves.
"You have to start getting back in touch with the seasons and cycles of the land," he replied. "Everything has a season - a season for rabbits, beavers, huckleberries, moose - if you don't learn them, you go hungry."
Napoleon goes home every August. He takes his kids with him and they drive up the mountains and pick berries, muskeg and sweetgrass until they smell like medicine and their hands are stained blue.
His son Julian followed his father's conservation footsteps and works as a Caribou guardian to protect an endangered population of caribou in northeast B.C. Napoleon's daughters followed his musical path, sing and play instruments, and when his youngest daughter, who's 11, is ready, he'll take her out to hunt her first moose, he told me.
"When we say our connection to the land is intimate... I'm not sure people get what we mean."
Napoleon said his daughter will go hunting for her first moose when she's ready. Seeing an animal die for the first time is a memorable and important experience, he said, and accepting death as a part of life makes you resilient, and a little more prepared for the things that happen.
"This society tends to hide death," he said. "The generation before me, nobody was born in hospitals, they were born on the land, in the cabin or the teepee. They were born with midwives and when people died, we buried our dead with no undertaker. People got buried on the trail, if they couldn't be brought home, so we have graves all over the territory."
Having ancestors and relatives buried across your territories gives you a different appreciation for the land, Napoleon said. Having grown up with the seasons, knowing the hills, trees and waterways like relatives, gives you a deeper appreciation for the land, he said again.
"When we say we have an intimate connection, I'm not sure people really grasp what we're saying," he said.
Though Napoleon's home community had lost many cultural practices and traditional laws through colonialism and assimilation, he eventually met others who invited him into their sweat lodges, law lodges and ceremonies. He made a four year commitment to fasting at Sundance as a younger man.
"I learned discipline and commitment," he said, speaking about his summers working as an oskâpêwis (Cree ceremony helper) and fasting. I shared the story of my first fast at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in a Cree culture camp this past summer. We spoke about what it's like to spend four days praying, suffering, connecting, and the teachings involved in the ceremony.
We spoke about how it feels to take that first sip of water after four long days of no food or water.
"When you don't have water, you appreciate how valuable it really is. You learn how to take suffering, once you understand that you're suffering for others, not just yourself,” he said.
But dominant cultures aren't always imbued with teachings of gratitude, discipline and sustainability, instead promoting ways of being that distant humans from other forms of life, permitting the poisoning and pollution of the water and land, wildlife and connected ecosystems.
"Some religions and cultures teach people that they have dominion over the earth," Napoleon said. "Our old teachings aren't like that... When you have to give thanks all the time for everything you get from nature, you learn to appreciate it."
People carry an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude about the earth, their food and the state of the climate, he said, making it easier to mistreat and abuse it. But he carries hope in his heart, because he knows people, like his neighbour Ian, who maintains gardens better than anyone he knows and is married to a welder. Ian and his family make an effort to build genuine relationships with Indigenous peoples and they would be some of the first people invited to join his apocalypse team, he half-joked.
"Anybody who shows respect for Indigenous ways and has a genuine interest in learning - not just a curiosity for their own personal wellbeing - those people make a difference," he said.
"It's soul food and it nourishes us in a way that's beyond physical."
When Napoleon isn't cooking meat or fish, he enjoys going to restaurants that serve "comfort food." He's not into high-end dining.
"I'm more into hideaway spots," he said, half-way through a Cobb salad. "...friendly places, where people treat you kindly... where they're hospitable."
Hospitality was a teaching passed onto Napoleon when he was a young boy who before Grade. 1 only spoke and understood Cree. Napoleon said the people he grew up with wouldn't bother to ask if someone wanted tea when they came in, they would just bring it, and food too. There was an understanding about how precious food was, especially given the amount of time and effort it took to bring it home.
"People don't realize how much goes into it - the fuel, the bullets, the license, hauling an animal back, taking days to dry and smoke it.. and it becomes so much more valuable, knowing it's the food of your ancestors, from your territory," he said. "It gave its life and you have to earn it. It's not the same as going to the store and picking up a dead piece of cow."
It's soul food, he said, and it nourishes in a way that's beyond physical.
When Napoleon isn't out on the land or filming Moosemeat and Marmalade, he agrees to speaking gigs, a bit of consulting work and is currently writing a constitution for his home band - he doesn't sit idle long.
He's also working on another show, which is at the early stages of production, but he's excited about its focus. The show explores alternatives to capitalism and highlights Indigenous trade economies and cultures in a real way, not in a way that romanticizes Indigenous realities, he said.
"The romanticists of Indigenous peoples are just as difficult as anybody," he said, which was a strong statement given the amount of racism Napoleon grew up with during his elementary school years. "People act like Indigenous peoples never had sexism, violence, or that everything was perfect and equal... which is bullshit."
First of all, he said, Indigenous peoples are really diverse; not everybody had, or continues to have, the same teachings. "There were real issues in our communities too," he said, "and we weren't always conservationists, but people adjusted and we become more conservation minded."
What the English language calls conservation and sustainability are concepts more deeply imbedded in his mother tongue, the Cree language. He said there's a profound connection between language, culture, governance and how it relates to the environment.
Napoleon doesn't blame people for not knowing about the vastness of Indigenous histories and cultures - the facts weren't always made available. He hopes shows like Moosemeat and Marmalade and his new project, might change that.
"We'll explore cultural approaches to Indigenous businesses - like green energy, clean energy, how cultural values are used... people walk us through their operations," he explained. "There's history too - we'll look at old economies, like our old trade economies, and trade cities, where tribes would gather, like Ottawa. We explore old trade routes... like all the major highways in Canada are built over old trade routes, and some people still don't know that."
This next show is for "thinkers," he said, and will highlight the voices of economists, chiefs, elders, business people, capitalists and anarchists, exploring ideas that might disturb a culture of complacency.
When Napoleon finished his salad and coffee, he paid the bill and walked back to his black truck, "perfect for hauling moose," he joked, before heading home with a head full of ideas and a heart full of hope for what may be a deeply humbling apocalyptic future.