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  • Nerida K

Cooks with Stones: Winner of the 2022 Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award

Cooks with Stones is the top winner of ABC Life Literacy Canada’s 2022 Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award.

Last week we were lucky enough to attend the award ceremony, share knowledge and celebrate with other inspiring literacy programs and award winners. We also recently had the closing ceremony and graduation for our 2022 Cooks with Stones program participants. So, this week on our blog, we thought we’d take a closer look at the program and all the partnerships that made it happen.

Cooks with Stones

Cooks with Stones was created as part of our Going the Distance Project for the Iyarhe Nakoda Eyithkabi, which means Mountain people of Nakoda (also known as Stoney Nakoda). It’s a unique program that supports youth to build traditional skills and knowledge, literacy and essential skills, culinary skills, confidence and meaningful work experience in tourism and hospitality.

Created for, and by, the community

Creating the program was a journey itself, driven by the Stoney community with Going the Distance, Regional Community Facilitator and Stoney Nakoda and Chiniki First Nation member, Wyanne Smallboy-Wesley. Organizations and employers were invited, from inside and outside the community, to work in partnership and build customized solutions for the workplace and community.

“I like FESA’s approach of ‘Starting where you are’. We were able to put our resources together with the community and our partners. We were able to let our partners know this is what the community wants and help them where they are. It’s not following a book, it’s helping us write
that book.” - Wyanne Smallboy-Wesley, Going the Distance and Pathways, Regional Community Facilitator

Further Education Society (FESA) helped build connections and supported partnership, program, and curriculum development. We also helped to adapt and deliver Indigenous Workplace Learning Circles, a literacy and essential skills program we developed in consultation with Elders and Indigenous communities to support learners in their career development.

Stoney Nation Consultation, a department of Stoney Tribal Administration and knowledge keepers and researchers of Stoney Nakoda First Nation traditional land and stories, helped by guiding and delivering the program, assisting with Elder and ceremony protocols, and supporting participants.

Chef Rich Francis, Executive Chef at Seventh Fire Indigenous Cuisine, Canada Top Chef Finalist, and creator of the Red Chef Revival series mentored the participants and shared his expertise in Indigenous Cuisine, Indigenous Entrepreneurship, and food sovereignty in Cooks with Stones pilot program in 2021.

Chef Scott Iserhoff, was the partnering chef and mentor for participants in Cooks with Stones 2022. He is the founder of Pei Pei Chei Ow, an Indigenous food and education company inspired by the land, life and seasons that surround us and the Indigenous ways of cooking outdoors.

Stoney Nakoda Job Resource Center and Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino hosted the participants for culinary and workplace essential skills training and provided food and workplace safety tickets for job placements.

Pursuit Banff/Jasper, a collection of attraction and hospitality experiences in iconic places,

in Alberta and British Columbia joined Cooks with Stones as an enthusiastic and supportive employer partner. Pursuit offered a 4-week rotating internship to the participants.

Before the Cooks with Stones program started, FESA, Wyanne and Stoney Nakoda Consultation ran a series of ‘Stoney Nakoda Storytelling’ culture and literacy exchange workshops for Pursuit. The workshops focus on storytelling, literacy and the traditions of the Stoney people and the relationship of these to the workplace.

“This was very enlightening and will be very useful for our guides. We don’t always have the opportunity to learn more about other cultures around us, so it was a really great experience. I would love to see more of these in the future to help us further understand our surroundings from the perspective of the Stoney people.” - Pursuit employee, Stoney Nakoda Storytelling

The Cooks with Stones program

The result of the Stoney community’s work, partnerships and support is a holistic

9-week program, providing youth with traditional knowledge, learning from the land, workplace essential skills training, culinary training, mentorship, internships, accommodation, and transportation.

Traditional Knowledge and Skills Camp

Cooks with Stones starts with a Traditional Knowledge and Skills Camp at Kootenay Plains, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. This is a one-week traditional Eyithka camp with Elders learning about traditional skills that are transferable to the workplace. Activities and learning include a daily smudge, traditional land use, land mapping and traditional names of places and hunting grounds, horse riding, hunting and scouting, learning about kinship and traditional roles, storytelling, Stoney language and literacy and Tipi teachings.

Chefs cook with participants using wild meat and ingredients and a fire oven pit they build.

Culinary training

The second week is a culinary training camp with the Chef. Participants learn about Stoney Nakoda Nation history and tourism, decolonizing foods, Indigenous cuisines and food sovereignty while touring and training in the Stoney Nakoda Resort Restaurant kitchen. Training in the kitchen features menu and event planning, food inventory, line cooking and using resources from nature for different methods of cooking.

“In the Cooks with Stones program, I remember fond memories of working with my peers in creating a Indigenous Cuisine dish while in my traditional territory of the Eyahhey-Rocky Mountains and having fun while cooking outside under the sun.
The big impact that I feel was most appealing was learning about my Indigenous literacy skills that I already had which I can take with me to begin work experience.” - Cooks with Stones participant and current line cook with Pursuit Banff/Jasper

Indigenous Workplace Learning Circles

During weeks 3 and 4 (as well as parts of the first two weeks) FESA facilitators Wyanne Smallboy-Wesley and Shawna Linklater support participants through Indigenous Workplace Learning Circles (IWLC).

IWLC helps foundational learners, people new to the workplace and people returning to work. The program builds on participant’s strengths and incorporates traditional culture and language with employment readiness training to build their confidence and literacy skills. Participants practice and talk through real workplace scenarios, explored traditional transferable skills, practised resume writing and job interviews, were mentored, and helped to complete work and food safety tickets.


Participants spend their final weeks on a rotating internship with Pursuit at different restaurants throughout Banff. Pursuit, who also owns Brewster bus lines, provides a bus each day to pick up and drop off the participants.

Graduation and evaluation

At the end of the nine weeks, a graduation ceremony is help to celebrate the participants and honour the Elders guiding the program.

All the Cooks with Stones participants are invited to provide feedback about their experience in the program. They share what they learn, what was important and what else could have helped them, providing valuable lessons and guidance for future programs.

“We would love to continue the program and build our partnership with FESA and First Nations and hopefully expand to another community. We’re excited about growing the program. Now that we have a skeleton, we can take it and develop it into something that people look forward to.” – Stakeholder

If you’re interested in Cooks with Stones and our current Pathways project or have further questions, please contact Aimee Lo, Executive Assistant at FESA,

Lastly, thank you to Cooks with Stones many partners, donors and funders, including:


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