Osekwan Minic: Traditional Processing of Blueberries, an Economic Project
In Wemotaci, Association Nikawi is the instigator of the Osekwan Minic project, whose aim is to increase economic independence for women, while enhancing their valuable know-how in the processing of wild blueberries.
The objectives of Association Nikawi are to defend the interests of Wemotaci women and make sure their voices are heard, improve their living conditions, promote cultural knowledge transfer between elders and young people, and organize activities or workshops to facilitate integration of women in every area. This good idea goes back to 2015 when the Association decided to start the Osekwan Minic project. Following is a brief overview.
A Process Passed on from Generation to Generation
The community of Wemotaci is located on a forest territory where blueberries grow abundantly. The population has been harvesting and processing this small fruit in the traditional way for many years. In anticipation of the long winter months, women were turning blueberries to paste, a unique technique done the traditional way in a pot over a wood fire, which made it possible to preserve it for a very long time.
Blueberry processing is accomplished by following very specific steps. First, they are harvested in and around the community by women, who then take their harvest to Osekwan Minic. On site, blueberries are sorted, graded, before being washed. They are then ready for processing or freezing. Once the processing step is completed, the blueberry paste is packed in sterilized jars which are then sealed in an autoclave and labeled. It’s important to specify that all women have received training in food hygiene and sanitation, a course provided by Health Canada; this allows them to develop products compliant with standards.
These blueberry paste jars are then sold at community events or in other First Nations activities. In November 2018, women were invited to participate in the Wendake Christmas Market. Proceeds will help organize events for women and families of the community.
The Spin-off Developments of Osekwan Minic
Osekwan Minic is a project that makes it possible to create major socioeconomic spin-offs. First of all, it’s a wonderful opportunity for women to contribute to the economic development of their community. The project has led to the creation of jobs (six female pickers in 2018 and one coordinator), which is an incentive to enhance livelihoods for women. And given that women often find themselves as the economic support of their families, the social impact of Osekwan Minic affects even more people. But, even more important. The fabrication of blueberry paste is an ancestral technique that has been almost forgotten in the community. Through Osekwan Minic, Association Nikawi was able to revive it, and it is now being taught to the young people via workshops.
In the summer of 2018, a nutrition student of the Atikamekw community was hired to coordinate the project. She documented all the transformation processes and developed tools directed towards achieving, in a near future, a certification for the blueberry paste. Eventually, all this documentation could be used with the aim of replicating the project in other communities, which, in itself, represents a significant impact.
Several Partners Involved
To bring this project to fruition, Association Nikawi was able to count on the collaboration of the FNQLEDC Women Entrepreneurship Advisor, Emmanuel Bertrand-Gauvin. Other partners, such as Status of Women Canada, the Conseil des Atikamekw de Wemotaci and the Youth Centre of Wemotaci also contributed to making this Osekwan Minic project, possible. Finally, since December 2017, there is a partnership developing between Association Nikawi and the Innu communities of Ekuanitshit and Mashteuiatsh. This partnership allows for the sharing of each group’s expertise and for economies of scale when the time comes to market the product.
The FNQLEDC would like to acknowledge the tremendous work of the Osekwan Minic team and wishes a long life to this wonderful project!
To discover other projects and initiatives led by women, we invite you to visit our women entrepreneurship section.
Photo: Association Nikawi