Indigenous food takes on new meanings
Photo credit: Nikao Media
by Agnes Chung
“These are seaweed salt dusted grilled prawns. Over here, we have Alder-smoked salmon pate on wild rose glazed bannock,” says Denise Sparrow pointing to the delicious appetizers on the kitchen counter. Sparrow is the owner of Salishan Catering, winner of the 2011 B.C. Aboriginal Business Award.
Indigenous-inspired cuisine is among the top 10 food trends for 2018, cited FoodService and Hospitality magazine. Calgary-based Chef, Ryan O’Flynn told the magazine he believes First-Nations influences are “the future of Canada’s international culinary identity.”
A necessity of life, food, like language, has the power to serve as a channel for cultural expressions and outreach.
From Coast Salish food to prayer house
Sparrow says that food is a way to introduce and share her rich Coast Salish culture, which stretches back centuries. She credits her grandmother and mother for her lessons on food traditions and caring for the gifts of the land and oceans.
Coast Salish cuisine, like most indigenous cooking, uses locally-harvested seasonal ingredients. Seafood (particularly salmon and seaweed), herbs and berries are the most popular ingredients used in Coast Salish cooking, according to Sparrow.
Many of the plants and berries used by her ancestors not only serve as food sources but also teaching tools for young people and visitors to learn about the community’s history.
“Three quarters of my catering is salmon. Everybody wants a West Coast experience,” says Sparrow, whose specialties include barbequed and smoked salmon.
“We started out building a salmon brokerage business to support God’s ministry on the reserve. My sister was approached to start a Christian business for God,” shares Sparrow, who has a background in Christian support and outreach work.
The brokerage business evolved to operating a concession stand for her aunt. Growing requests for Sparrow’s cooking spurred the birth of her now-thriving catering business. Her blessings provided the resource to build a prayer house for the Musqueam community to hold church activities on the reserve.
Sharing culture with street bites
Mr. Bannock, Vancouver’s first indigenous food truck has been serving fusion indigenous cuisine on the streets since its debut in January this year. Owner Paul Natrall, a Squamish Nation member told Capilano Courier that it’s an easy and delicious way to share his food and culture.
Indigenous food is not limited in its flavours, as illustrated in the two Indigenous cookbooks, A Feast for All Seasons: Traditional Native Peoples’ Cuisine, and Modern Native Feasts, written by Wet’suwet’en Nation chef and lecturer Andrew George Jr. The recipe books pay homage to a food culture which endured cultural genocide.
Reconciliation and decolonizing
The renaissance of Indigenous culture is emerging at a time when our nation is trying to undo past wrongs. Food can connect and heal. Indigenous food actionists like Rich Francis and Cezin Nottaway are using food to reconcile and decolonize by rebuilding food sovereignty and reviving food traditions in Indigenous communities.
Francis, a Top Chef Canada finalist, authored a cookbook called Closing the Gap: Truth and Reconcillation Through Indigenous Foods. His soon-to-be-released food and travel series called Red Chef Revival will provide viewers with a better understanding of pre-colonial Indigenous cuisine, and the impact of colonization.
During his taping in Maskwacis, Alberta earlier this year, Francis told CBC News that the series “will bring that positive message to the Indigenous community that food can be used for healing and bring friends and family together.”
After decades of injustice , poverty and social sufferings endured by Quebec’s indigenous groups, Algonquin chef Cezin Nottaway was referred to in The New York Times – that “she sees her embrace of traditional cooking techniques as nothing less than ‘decolonizing herself’.”
National Indigenous Peoples Day – June 21
This special day is designated to recognize and celebrate the heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Learning more about cultures reduces misunderstanding and build friendships. What better way to learn about Indigenous cultures than to savour those tasty foods, and in the process, pick up a few language phrases?
FirstVoices is the quick and easy app to Indigenous languages. At the third annual #BCTech Summit in Vancouver last month, Alex Wasworth of First Peoples’ Cultural Council demonstrated how FirstVoices can provide quick access to learn Indigenous languages.
The innovative Indigenous language app is designed for Apple and Android mobile devices. The media-rich app has keyboard software for over 100 languages, including every First Nations language in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many indigenous languages in the United States.
Users can choose their keyboard(s) of choice within their email, social media, word processing or other apps. They can also create their own thematically organized flashcards and bookmark words or sentences to develop their own lists.
The app is available for download or use by non-mobile device users at firstvoices.com.