Updated: Feb 6
Recently we enjoyed an excellent fine-dinning experience at Salmon n' Bannock, on West Broadway. Vancouver is a multicultural, foodie city where organic is popular and the environment healthy. So other than a 'shout out' to an excellent restaurant, why an article?
Well, shockingly, this is Vancouver's one and only Indigenous owned and operated restaurant....
Let that soak in for a moment. Somewhere around 5% of Canada's population identify as First Nations, Metis or Inuit. In British Columbia that population is closer to 6% - or 270 000 people.
Ever since the retreat of the last ice age over 10 000 years ago, people have lived and thrived in an area now know as 'Canada.' Early European traders, colonists and imperialists became quickly dependant upon this land's Indigenous peoples for food and survival.
Historically the west coast provided such an abundance of food that cultures competed with generosity rather than war - this is Potlatch culture.
Oh - and the government banned the Potlatch from 1885-1951 as an act of assimilation.
For dinner we shared a variety of salmon and wild mushroom dishes as starters. I, of course, had bison (with native asparagus) for my main and we consumed wild Ojibway rice and copious volumes of Bannock with a cedar jelly. Bannock is most easily described as fried bread (although every recipe is different). It originated with Scottish traders in western Canada in the 18th century and has been adapted to local tastes. Oh, and I had two glasses of a rose from a First Nations vineyard in central BC.
None of this food was unfamiliar to us and it was certainly delicious.
This leads to the almost too obvious question; "if these are indigenous dishes, why then are they so rare?" Indeed, if Indigenous people constitute roughly 5% of the population, shouldn't an Indigenous presence represent at least 5% of the restaurant environment?
Yes, salmon is extremely popular in Canada. Bison (buffalo) continues gain popularity as the species gradually recovers from almost complete annihilation. In the north, people enjoy moose and char and even further north and east seal is more than a delicacy - it is a staple.
Canada is gradually confronting its legacy of genocide. As part of Prime Minister John A. MacDonald's plan to build a country, Indigenous children were stolen from their homes and locked into Residential Schools. These schools operated through to the 1990's and roughy 1/2 who entered, died.
We simply cannot talk about this too much. If there is going to being healing, forgiveness and recovery, there must be a path forward. Salmon n' Bannock is offers a model.
Environmentally it makes sense to eat more directly from the land. Culturally food is extremely important and economically Canada's vibrant and multicultural restaurant sector is a huge employer.
Working in tourism, I can attest to the market demand for First Nations experiences. Rather than just taking a photo of some (granted magnificent) totems that have been moved to specific places for effect, let's invest in Indigenous bnous people - and integrate the very cuisine from which so many cultures thrived for millennia.