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Native Culture, Cuisine, & Good Will: Tours, France also savoring French Culture, Cuisine, History and Politics

AIM Interpretive Center Achieves Success in Tours France

By Norma Renville & Jack Swanson

After two years of planning and development work conducted by American Indian Movement Interpretive Center (AIMIC) board members, staff and consultants the AIMIC sold over 750 bags of White Earth’s Organically Certified Wild Rice at the Foire de Tours in Tours, France.  The Foire, which is similar to our State Fair, is an international fair held each year with feature themes that have included Portugal, Italy and Japan in the past. Minneapolis, Minnesota was the theme of the Foire this year because it marks the 25th anniversary of Tours, France and Minneapolis being Sister Cities.

AIMIC wanted to take advantage of the Foire theme being Minneapolis, Minnesota and also the fact that Tours is one of four cities in France that are designated a Cité de la Gastronomie (a city of gastronomy) by the French government to launch our wild rice venture. The people of Tours really appreciate and understand specialty food items, like wild rice, and how food can be used to develop friendships and bridge cultures.

AIMIC staff along with two board members, three volunteers and a consultant departed to France on May 1, 2017 and arrived in force at the Foire De Tours on May 3, 2017.  The hard work began to provide the visitors with an authentic American Indian Cultural Experience like no other in coordination with the Meet Minneapolis Staff, the Mayor of Tours and Denis Schwok the Chairman of the Board for the Foire de Tours.

The Meet Minneapolis Staff were able to defer to our request to send singers and a drum group to the Tour De Foire as the AIMIC planning committee members knew that the drum was the heart of the people and it would bring to life the center of our culture and spirituality through songs. Midnite Express was selected and they are recognized as a nationally acclaimed drum group in Indian Country.  Rodney Stanger, one of the Midnite Express singers, also spoke French and was able to communicate to the crowds the songs that were sung and the Native Pride Dancers who performed.  The plaza was packed at the three daily performances and all the visitors were mesmerized by the singing and dancing.  The Native Pride dancers consisted of two women dancers who are a jingle dress and a traditional dancer and two men dancers who are a traditional and hoop dancer.  Each performance was different as the hoop dancer varied his performance and the traditional dancer danced a warrior’s’ dance changing his performance and jumping into the crowds to the delight of the visitors.

Artist, Wolf Bellecourt, painted two tipis and AIMIC staff carried the tipis to and from airports, hotels finally arriving at the Foire De Tours.  The tipi poles had to be debarked and they were erected under the direction of Clyde Bellecourt, Executive Director for AIMIC with the assistance of AIMIC staff and volunteers.  The commitment and hard work dedicated to this effort was repaid in kind when the visitors of the Foire went in and out of the tipis taking pictures in amazement.  Unknown at the time, the AIMIC staff was breaking down stereotypes of American Indian people and building a cultural understanding as the people of France learned about the beauty of American Indian Culture and History.

Large groups of visitors went through the Meet Minneapolis Expo Center and over 3,000 samples prepared by the Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman and his staff was given to the visitors at the AIMIC table. Presentations in French through translators were effective in communicating the process of harvesting the wild rice known as “Riz Sauvauge” in French and the difference between patty rice and true organic wild rice.  It was common for visitors to sample and purchase a bag of wild rice and then return the following day to buy more.  A young boy sampled the wild rice and convinced his mother to purchase a bag of wild rice, as he loved it.

The visitors also purchased AIM merchandise such as patches, hats, postcards and beadwork.  They especially liked the beaded dream catchers.  A Tours City Official said the visitor feedback she received was that the people of Tours would like the opportunity to purchase more beadwork in the future.  Some of the visitors spoke English as they had lived in the United States previously and through conversations American Indian history and culture was shared and some lifelong friendships were forged.  The visitors who spoke limited English conveyed a message of love and mutual respect to AIMIC staff and volunteers.  Executive Director for AIMIC and founder of the American Indian Movement, Clyde Bellecourt was a special attraction in his own right as visitors flocked him asking for autographs and photos.  Clyde also managed to do a radio show and a TV interview in Paris France.

Visitors could also try wild rice at the L’étoile du Nord (Star of the North) restaurant. The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman and his staff did not disappoint the Foire de Tours Visitors at the restaurant. Over 350 pounds of wild rice was served as Chef Sean Sherman provided the recipes for a delicious menu incorporating wild rice in all of the dishes. These dishes included Indian tacos, walleye, venison, buffalo. Food presentations were given by Sean Sherman as the restaurant was packed with visitors, other chefs on the benefits of eating wild rice and traditional American Indian foods.

Overall, the trip to Tours was a great success and the time at the Foire was invaluable in teaching the French about our culture and developing lasting meaningful relationships. With the success and the growing interest for wild rice, the AIMIC is currently working on developing a wider distribution chain for wild rice and we are looking to expand into the European market.

A big Miigwetch to AIMIC Board Member, Diane Gorney whose vision of bringing wild rice to her beloved France was realized and in her own words said, “this trip was a success”.

Norma Renville is AIM-IC Operations Manager.

Jack Swanson is AIM-IC Communications and Marketing Director

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