Couple keeps culture alive with bannock in a warm teepee

For Barbara and Clarence Nepinak, making bannock in their teepee set up at The Forks is more than just an annual winter tradition. It’s part of how they pass down their culture to the next generation.

Barbara and Clarence Nepinak have been setting up their teepee and making bannock at the forks for 19 years

Clarence and Barbara Nepinak have been making bannock in their teepee at The Forks for nearly two decades. (Jules Runne / CBC)

For Barbara and Clarence Nepinak making bannock in their teepee set up at The Forks is more than just an annual winter tradition; it's part of how they pass down their culture to the next generation.

For nearly two decades the married First Nations couple —  Barbara is from Ebb and Flow and Clarence is from Pine Creek — have invited people into their teepee to warm up and share some food.

"[Since] we started 19 years ago in 1999, we are now having the grandchildren of the folks that were coming to us then," Clarence said in an interview on CBC's Weekend Morning Show.

Barbara is tasked with making the bannock, which she prepares at home and brings in individually wrapped portions. Clarence's job is maintaining the fire and preparing the sticks used to cook the bannock over the fire.

One of the most enjoyable aspects for Barbara is getting to share her culture with new Canadians.
"For them it's a real experience and they don't understand that our people used to live in teepees a long time ago," she said.

"Most of them will not know what bannock is. So when we explain to them what it is and they actually eat it, it turns out that they have something similar to that."

Barbara has modified her bannock recipe to accommodate dietary restrictions of certain cultures. For example, her recipe doesn't use lard.

Now in their 60s, Clarence and Barbara have been married for 48 years. They've started teaching their 13-year-old granddaughter about their traditions.
This teepee will stand at the Forks for seven weeks. People can go inside, eat some warm bannock and learn about Indigenous culture on Sundays between 1:30 and 3:30. (Jules Runne/CBC)

"Traditionally the role that we have is looking after the spiritual well-being of our grandchildren," Clarence said.

Their popularity has grown over the years. On one day last year they received more than 300 visitors within a two hour period.

"Our community has been ostracized for so long and now we're slowly making an impact in the greater community and so many people have come."

Sunday marked the start of a seven-week stay at The Forks. The teepee is set up near Busker's Corner, people are welcome to come anytime between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Sundays.

For Barbara and Clarence Nepinak making bannock in their teepee set up at The Forks is more than just an annual winter tradition; it's part of how they pass down their culture to the next generation. 0:57

With files from Nadia Kidwai