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Exploring the indigenous cuisine in Canada

It is impossible to tell this story without first acknowledging the state of the country – and the world. At the time of this writing, there are more than 14 million confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, of which over 110,000 are in Canada.

As expected, the virus and policies to slow its spread had a significant impact on businesses. Small businesses are particularly at risk because they simply don’t have the capital to withstand extended periods of downtime.

Those in the food service industry in particular have been hit hard – as Inez Cook and Paul Natrall, owners of Salmon n ‘Bannock Bistro and Mr. Bannock Indigenous Cuisine, respectively, can testify.

The cook says they made “lemonade” in the bistro after firing 80 percent of their employees. In response to government restrictions, they reduced their a la carte menu and offered takeout and food
Delivery free of traffic. With the increase in foot traffic at their Broadway location after restrictions were relaxed, they were able to recruit staff.

Meanwhile, Natrall, who is at home with his partner and six children during the shutdown, is working hard with a limited menu and focusing on pickup and delivery. “It’s definitely hard times at the moment,” but he remains positive: “Super excited. This is my passion and what I do. I hope it all clears up and I can just bounce back and work hard. “

A history of deletion

The greater Vancouver area is a collection of culinary delights with more than 5,000 restaurants ranging from fast food to fine dining and everything in between.

In a city so rich in culture and diversity, you wouldn’t believe that trying local foods is so difficult. After all, Vancouver is home to three local First Nations:

  • xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam)
  • Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish)
  • Səl̓ílwətaʔ / Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh)

And yet Salmon n ‘Bannock is the only local restaurant. Mr. Bannock is the only food truck. Together, these two facilities make up the entire indigenous food scene in Vancouver.

If you’re wondering how this is possible, you’re not paying close enough attention to it. According to the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canada and its Aboriginal policies wanted for over a century “through an assimilation process that the Aborigines no longer exist as separate legal, social, cultural, religious and racial entities …”

The assimilation of indigenous peoples in Canada took place through various initiatives such as the Indian Act, which was directly responsible for the school system in residential areas. Over a period of 120 years, an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children suffered irreversible harm – sometimes death. In the 1960s, during what is now the Sixties Scoop, thousands of children were taken from their families and placed in non-indigenous homes, with their cultural identities erased.

Cook was only a year old when she was taken to Scoop by her mother and her Nuxalk Nation family during the Sixties. She said she was lucky enough to be placed with a family she loved – people who “really honored the land and honored the seasons of food … everything came fresh from the garden.”

When Cook began reconnecting with her cultural identity as an adult, “a lot of things weren’t that difficult … I actually understand a lot of these things and why you eat for the season and why you honor the food you get for each season. “

Yet Cook’s story is only one of thousands that, when interwoven, tell a story of cultural genocide. The fact that a city like Vancouver, lauded for its multiculturalism, only has one indigenous restaurant and food truck, could be evidence of the ongoing cultural oppression that indigenous peoples face.

An advocate of indigenous cuisine

Even when Cook says she doesn’t always feel local, she always knew that one day she would open a restaurant. She would call it Chez Moi, and it would be in a house with a doorbell. You wouldn’t know what’s on the menu until you’re seated – just like you wouldn’t have asked, “What are you serving?” someone who just invited you to dinner.

It wasn’t until Cook saw a sign on the highway to the wine country in Kelowna that said, “Don’t panic, we’ve got Bannock,” did all the frills come in [her] Head. “She then made the decision to open a restaurant that celebrates her ancestry and culture. Her vision had always been to take her customers on a culinary journey; it was only then that she realized the journey was on that they would follow her would be their own.

Today Salmon n ‘Bannock presents the best flavors of land and sea, but for a modern palate. All game products are free-range and organic, and all seafood is wild – most are caught off the coast of British Columbia.

One of the bistro’s most popular dishes is a smoked sage salmon – the sage is “the same sage you smear with”, according to Cook, which “gives it a really nice, earthy taste.” She also recommends the bison pot roast, which has been simmering slowly for 24 hours. When the dining room is open, the daily specials – including the tuna rice bowl with a cedar jelly marinade and Saskatchewan ojibwe wild rice – showcase the culinary flair and mastery of the kitchen.

When asked what people should know about indigenous food, she simply replies, “It’s always growing and it’s delicious – and it’s not just a thing.”

The future of indigenous cuisine

In fact, indigenous food isn’t just one thing – just ask Paul Natrall of Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation, owner of Mr. Bannock’s indigenous cuisine: were known for being wind-dried … Each region has its own flavors and practices. “

Natrall, who completed the Vancouver Community College’s year-long Aboriginal Specialty Cooking Program, has been drawn to the kitchen since childhood. While his grandmothers were preparing meals in the kitchen, he had to collect blackberries, apples and pears that went wild on their reservation.

The matriarchs in his family passed on much of their culinary knowledge and traditional healing methods to him: “We would use frog leaves [aka plantain] for cuts and scratches – any type of flesh wound you would have. She would say to just grab some frog leaves and bandage them wherever they have been injured. “

He didn’t necessarily know it at the time, but Natrall admitted that he was lucky enough to have his family with him, including his uncle, who went hunting and brought back fresh deer, elk, and moose. Wild is something he likes to experiment with. “I bugged some of my colleagues: I said I was doing Kentucky
fried quail. “

Given the many family and professional factors influencing Natrall over the years, it is not surprising that he looks for ways to pass his knowledge on to the next generation. He is the director of the Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations (ICAN), whose mission is to “connect, influence and share communities through genuine indigenous people
Dining experiences. “

Recently he was with ICAN in Whitehorse, Yukon. They were shadowed by six students, and Natrall was the students’ sous-chef helping them execute their menu and stay organized. Together they prepared roasted char, which was served with maple glass candy, seasoned with chilli flakes and sage – a little French-indigenous fusion, as he called it.

“The way in which I contribute to the dissemination of knowledge is only tangible,” says Natrall, who won the BC Indigenous Business Award Young Entrepreneur of the Year in September 2019. Natrall said this was a real honor to be recognized. “I didn’t expect this at all – I just worked hard and worked towards my dream of being my own boss and presenting indigenous people
Food culture. “

A light at the end of the tunnel

As the restrictions on COVID-19 wane, Natrall is “very busy” offering a limited selection or delivery of some of its signature dishes, including DBK – Cherry Wood Smoked Duck Breast, Chinese 5-Spice Bacon, Kimchee and Home Korean BBQ Sauce between two pieces of bannock. He is also working on developing a franchise model and planning upcoming programming with ICAN.

Salmon n ‘Bannock, currently focused on its “dine out” business while working on its upcoming reopening, recently passed its 10th anniversary and Cook says she looks forward to being inspired [her] Team relaxed again with COVID-19 restrictions. “To put this milestone in perspective, the bistro’s manager Darnell Stager says it best:” It’s a milestone for any restaurant, but absolutely spectacular for an indigenous female-owned restaurant. “

Sage Smoked Salmon Burger (Courtesy Salmon n’Bannock)

Parsnip Salad by Mr. Bannock (courtesy of Mr. Bannock)

The suppression of storytelling

Darnell Stager, manager of Salmon n ‘Bannock explains that many of the nations in what we now call Canada did not have written languages, so knowledge was passed down orally, often during the feast. “Group dining and group cooking has always encouraged an oral tradition,” he says.

Tragically, this tradition has been all but destroyed by initiatives like the residential school system that prevented Indigenous children from speaking their native language. Today, indigenous peoples around the world are campaigning for the revival of the language to prevent these languages ​​from being lost forever.

Fight for food sovereignty

According to the Movement for Indigenous Food Sovereignty, the continued oppression of indigenous peoples is written into Canada’s laws and regulations, including those related to food and grocery procurement. Unfortunately, many traditional indigenous ingredients are not available through commercial markets and are therefore not allowed to be served in restaurants.

The Indigenous Food Sovereignty Movement seeks to remove these restrictions and restore the inherent right of every nation to make its own food choices. That way, these ingredients (like eulachon, a melt-like fish that’s part of the traditional Nuxalk diet) could be served in restaurants, which would shed light on traditional indigenous cuisine and also employ indigenous food producers.

Amy Wood is a writer, environmentalist, mom, foodie, and co-founder of Shine Bootcamp. Find her on Instagram @ amy.would.
Bailey Pitt is a Metis Cree writer, artist, and activist who enjoys educating people about Canada’s indigenous history.

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