Vancouver, British Columbia (CNN) — Salmon, elk, bison and boar. The prized oily fish oolichan. These staples of Indigenous cuisine in Canada reconnected restaurateur Inez Cook with her First Nations heritage eight years ago.
Today, she’s still discovering and sharing that heritage with diners at her Vancouver restaurant Salmon n’ Bannock.
Cook’s restaurant is one of a number of places in the seaport city where visitors can learn about the cultures of the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia.
"We have the mountains, we have the ocean. We already have a beautiful backdrop, but if you can come here and actually engage in some of the cultural activities of the First Nations people, it just adds so much more to the trip," said Cook, a veteran flight attendant who had long dreamed of owning a restaurant.
She was adopted out to a white family as part of the Sixties Scoop — a period from the 1960s into the ’80s when the government of Canada removed thousands of Indigenous children from their families.
It wasn’t until Cook opened Salmon n’ Bannock during the Winter Olympics in 2010 that she rediscovered her past. Nuxalk people came to investigate when they heard about the restaurant and quickly connected her with members of her birth family to the north in Bella Coola.
"It’s catapulted into so much more than a business. It’s brought me back to my roots and my heritage," said Cook, who received her traditional name and met hundreds of relatives in Bella Coola during a three-day potlatch, a traditional social, ceremonial and economic gathering.
British Columbia is home to nearly 200 First Nations, about a third of all First Nations in Canada. First Nations, Inuit and Métis are the three groups of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
There are more than 200 Aboriginal tourism businesses in BC, according to the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia. That’s an 85% increase over 2006.
Salmon n’ Bannock’s staff represents a range of Indigenous peoples. Baker Nicole Johnny is from the Musqueam Nation. Jeremy Belcourt, who recently left his position as head chef, is from Nuxalk ancestry and the Cree Métis.
Bannock, a traditional quick bread that takes its name from the Scots, is made from scratch daily at the restaurant and served with berry jam and a crisp, subtle cedar jelly.
It’s also a building block for elk and bison tacos and burgers and served alongside main dishes such as elk brisket with celery root mashed potatoes, birch-glazed wild sockeye salmon and braised free-range bison back ribs.
Wines from Indigenous-owned wineries pair with ingredients from land and sea, including occasional offerings of smoked oolichan, a nutrient-rich fish highly prized for its oil. Skwachàys Lodge has 18 hotel suites envisioned by Indigenous artists. Salmon n’ Bannock is the only Indigenous restaurant serving dinner in Vancouver, but there’s a new brunch option — plus unique, art-filled accommodation — at Skwachàys Lodge Aboriginal Hotel & Gallery.
BigHeart Bannock Cultural Café serves weekend brunch — baked bannock French toast, bison sausage hash and more — at the lodge on Pender Street on the border of the city’s Gastown and Chinatown districts. Brunch is open to both guests and non-guests in the dining room behind the lodge’s art gallery.
The lodge, owned and operated by the non-profit Vancouver Native Housing Society, has 18 striking hotel suites envisioned by a group of Indigenous artists on the top floors.
The Water Suite focuses on orca and salmon and features the smooth, undulating edges created by running water. Other suites pay tribute to traditional symbols and objects created by Indigenous peoples.An artist-in-residence program occupies much of the rest of the lodge, offering subsidized housing and career development […]
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