Organizers address concerns about upcoming ‘reconciliation-themed’ event

A graphic from Tourism Kingston’s “20 things to do in March” blog post, which lists an upcoming ‘Kingstonlicious’ event as #20. Image via Tourism Kingston website/social media.

After members of the local Indigenous community voiced concerns over an upcoming Tourism Kingston event called “Call to Action 83: What does reconciliation taste like?”, those with the local organization behind the event have responded.

Alison Migneault, Director of Marketing and Communications for Tourism Kingston, explained that the catalyst and goals for the event, noting that Tourism Kingston has had a “culinary strategy” for several years. Part of that strategy is the Kingstonlicious events, which Migneault noted were initiated a few years ago “as a mechanism to support restaurants during stay-at-home orders and other things through the pandemic, with always with a view of at being a legacy piece for us, and a way to support restaurant partners in the winter season.”

“Alongside that, we’ve also undertaken some education and some other initiatives around Truth and Reconciliation and better understanding of the Indigenous community. There’s a lot of conversations happening on the tourism side of things – globally, not just… at a municipal level – about how tourism can support truth and reconciliation, support authentic experiences, that bring groups together and share knowledge,” Migneault said in an interview with Kingstonist.

“And so that was the lens through which we were approaching this event, really bringing that culinary piece together.”

That began about a year ago, she said, when Tourism Kingston “recognized the opportunity for a Reconnect Festival and Event Grant,” a 50/50 matching grant through the provincial government aimed at supporting festivals and events. The organization applied for that grant in February 2022, and received word that they had been approved for it the following summer. The funding, which was “a little less than $20,000,” Migneault noted, was matched by Tourism Kingston to put on the event, who felt it would be perfectly suited for its Kingstonlicious events.

“The vision for this event really was to support Call to Action 83, which calls for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to make work or produce work together for reconciliation. Of course, in this particular instance, the work is culinary arts,” said Migneault.

From there, the work began on “curating the event and how it could come together,” part of which was bringing on Dr. Terri-Lynn Brennan of the consulting firm Inclusive Voices in the fall of 2022. Brennan worked with Natalie Goldenberg-Fife, who works with Tourism Kingston on Kingstonlicious and other culinary projects.

How were the chefs and beverage purveyors selected?

While the event will take place over the course of just one day, the chefs and beverage creators involved “have been collaborating for quite some time,” Migneault said, noting that Goldenberg-Fife and Dr. Brennan did much of the selecting and recruiting of those participating.

“Right away, once we had secured a venue, we began to reach out to various Indigenous chefs, both some that I knew [and] some that Natalie knew, to get an idea of who was available, who was interested. But we also took into consideration the diverse identity of Kingston and specifically that this is shared territory between the Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee,” said Dr. Brennan.

“We wanted to ensure that our chefs represented that diversity and that identity… we also wanted to try and go, you know, a little bit local, a little bit not-local, just to mix it up a bit,” she continued.

“So, we have some local representation there with the chefs, an Indigenous chef and an Indigenous beverage purveyor. And so we’re getting that that local vibe, and that local knowledge, as well as some folks that are coming in with different identities.”

While Dr. Brennan and the representatives from Tourism Kingston said that there are at least one Indigenous chef and Indigenous beverage purveyor from the Kingston area involved, the discretion to self-identify as Indigenous has been left to those participating. The profiles Tourism Kingston has published for the culinary artists participating were submitted by the participants themselves, so disclosing their cultural identity was a choice those participants made, Brennan explained, noting she “thought it was very interesting” that some of the locally-involved Indigenous participants had chosen not to share their Indigenous identities.

“But that was a choice,” she said. “That was the choice of the writer.”

The organizers noted there are also Indigenous chefs participating in the event who are from the Tyendinaga and from Algonquin communities “just north” of Kingston.

What do you say to those locally who kind of feel that this is nothing more than a ‘wine and cheese show’ under the guise of reconciliation?

“Well, I mean, you know, everyone’s going to have a different opinion, coming into what this event is or could look like. And certainly, as an inaugural event, we’re trying it out as it is. It is meant to be part of the Kingstonlicious program, so there is that kind of follow-through on how that very successful program has rolled out over the last few years,” Dr. Brennan began.

“I would say that… a majority of the people who are coming are Indigenous from the community. There was availability for [a] price point that… [allowed] for that accessibility of the local [Indigenous] community participating.”

Dr. Brennan went on to say she thinks that “as a first time around with this type of event, we’ve found so far it’s been very successful… [It’s] a good learning opportunity on everybody’s part, to understand how to work with community in doing this kind of thing. Because it really is not about one voice… I’m supporting a lot of conversations between the community and understanding where the community is at and what is appropriate, or what might not be as accommodating,” she explained.

“But we’re giving it a go. It is under the [theme] of what reconciliation stands for, which is reciprocity – starting to build those relationships and understand how to mold and evolve these relationships and what it means to be in a reciprocal relationship, Indigenous and non-Indigenous is, you know, that’s the name of this game, I think, for everybody involved.”

As for whether they plan to make this an annual event, it’s too early to say, the organizers said. However, Migneault pointed to a foundation of reconciliation-based work Tourism Kingston has already undertaken and wants to continue to build on, including the Indigenous Market held in Springer Market Square on Sundays last market season, as well as the display of Indigenous artworks hosted in the Visitor’s Information Centre.

“So for us, it’s another example of our commitment to working with the community, and supporting truth and reconciliation,” Migneault said. “And I think… based on the response, I know there’s been lots of conversations. I expected there to be conversations about this event, to be honest, [about] the intention of the event… we hope people will come and engage and have conversations. And sometimes those are challenging and backward – okay, that’s how it should be. But the response has been strong.”

Initially slated to host 80 attendees at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts as well as the Juniper Café in the adjoining Tett Centre for Creativity, the event has now grown to involve 117 attendees.

“And of the 117 tickets that have been booked, 78 are for the Indigenous community. And… through our consultation with Terri-Lynn, and through really thoughtful discussion that went into the programming of this event, we identified that … that cost could be a barrier. And so we made those tickets complimentary, and I’m really glad to see the response, that a lot of those tickets are going to the Indigenous community and that there’s been interest to attend the event.”

There’s been a lot of discussion about alcohol, and those who have spoken with Kingstonist have raised the presence of alcohol as one of their major concerns. How did you come to the conclusion that alcohol would be involved?

Migneault said that the programming of the food and drink component of the event “was to stay true to Call to Action 83 and we paired Indigenous and non-Indigenous chefs and beverage purveyors.”

“So, the food and drink being presented came from that group and through their engagement,” she said.

“There were discussions, of course, about alcohol, whether or not to have it, the presence of it, the role that it’s played historically,” she added.

Originally, Migneault explained, one of the six beverages being presented as part of the event’s menu was to include alcohol, and that beverage was to be served on the patio of the Juniper Café, “giving those who are attending the opportunity to opt out of engaging in the space where alcohol is.” However, “based on the feedback of the community, those conversations have continued,” she said, and were handled by Dr. Brennan.

“Upon the last review and the last exchange… More and more community members and leaders were vocalizing a deep concern about alcohol being present in general, because of what it means as a violence-item used in the past for colonial assimilation, and one could argue – and I do argue – it’s still going on,” Dr. Brennan said.

“So, as an inaugural event, as something that we’re trying out and learning from over the weekend, it was decided that we have pulled that one drink that that had alcohol in it… and in the name of, again, reciprocity between [Tourism Kingston] and the Indigenous community, it’s great. And I’m hoping, you know, for an amazing event with good minds and good hearts.”

For the record, event organizers said there will be no alcohol present for “Call to Action 83: What does reconciliation taste like?” and that there were only ever plans to have one alcoholic beverage on the menu.

There has been some mention of musicians, outdoor activations, and local art which is not referred to in any of the advertising. Will there be an artwork and/or musical aspect to the event?

Migneault explained that, like with many events, some of the features have been kept as a surprise to be revealed on the day of the upcoming Kingstonlicious event.

“I don’t want to say surprise, but there’s… the ability to experience it in-person, as it’s happening without really fully expecting it,” she expressed.

There are aspects of the event – such as the decision to remove alcohol from it – which hadn’t been advertised, as Migneault outlined.

“In addition to that, Terri-Lynn has engaged a couple of local Indigenous artisans who will be present, we have an installation going into the Art Media Lab at the Isabel sharing some history about Kingston through an Indigenous lens, we also have some outdoor activations, as well as open-fire cooking, and we have an educational fire taking place,” she said.

“So, it is really meant to be a full day of exploration of engagement and connection. And we hope that people will come – those who have tickets, obviously – and really be able to experience all of those different opportunities throughout the day.”

Where are the proceeds going, or is this event one that will only break even, after covering costs?

“It’s certainly not a revenue-generating event for Tourism Kingston in any way, shape, or form,” Migneault said, pointing to costs like the venue rental, as well as renting the tables, chairs, and linens.

“Of course, we’re also providing honorariums, to all of the chefs and culinary folks who are involved, as well as the artisans. And all of those components sort of come together to balance the budget, essentially,” she continued, noting that organizers had discussed having proceeds go to a charity or something similar. However, when discussion around removing the ticket-cost barrier for Indigenous attendees came into play, Migneault said, “We came to the conclusion that removing… that barrier of access was a sort of more appropriate way to ensure access to the events. So, as opposed to charging everyone a ticket price and then doing a contribution somewhere after that, we opted to remove costs.”

Finally, Megan Knott, Executive Director of Tourism Kingston weighed in with specifics she felt were important to note.

“I think that this event has built on a foundation that we started pre-pandemic in terms of working with local artists. Displaying artwork, for example, at the Visitor Information Center. Working on reducing barriers and creating a Sunday Indigenous market for performers, curators, [and] producers, and ensuring that there’s no cost to anyone involved in that particular event… Tourism Kingston removes all of those barriers through our support system… as well as any kind of permitting or other type of paperwork that’s needed through the City,” said Knott.

Knott also noted that Tourism Kingston looks forward to seeing growth of the Sunday Indigenous Market. “We’re happy with our connections that we’ve been able to make so far,” she enthused.

“And [‘Call to Action 83: What does reconciliation taste like?’] is… an example of another, I think, marquee event, essentially, that allows us to grow in those connections regionally, not just locally, which I think is also really important,” Knott concluded.

“I say that because, to some that might think, ‘Oh, this is lovely, it’s a one-and-done kind of event,’ there’s been a lot of work in our community to make sure that we’re balancing connections with programming. And this is just another example of our commitment.”

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