British Columbia

First Nations culinary experts explore traditional Indigenous cuisine

First Nations chefs and culinary experts seek to remind Indigenous people about their culinary roots, while educating others on traditional dishes and ingredients. For the first time ever, West Vancouver's Harmony Arts Festival features an Indigenous showcase.

Local chefs and culinary experts are bringing Indigenous cuisine to the forefront of the foodie scene

Culinary expert Inez Cook at her restaurant Salmon n’ Bannock, which she co-founded. (Submitted)

First Nations culinary talents in Vancouver are looking to bring their food to the forefront.

This year is the first time in 28 years that an Indigenous showcase is featured at Vancouver's Harmony Arts Festival.

"At the district of West Vancouver we've been doing lots of learning about the Squamish Nation and the Coast Salish territories, and we wanted to feature that here at the festival," West Vancouver's manager of special events, Christie Rosta, told On the Coast guest host Angela Sterritt.

The festival is on until Sunday, Aug. 12, at Ambleside Landing in West Vancouver on the unceded land of the Coast Salish people. 

'Food from the land'

Earlier this week at the festival, a  sold-out  Indigenous feast featured slow-cooked bison, clams steamed in bentwood cedar boxes and 'oolichan in a blanket' — little fish wrapped in pastry. Oolichan is a delicacy for Indigenous people on B.C.'s North and Central Coast.

Rosta created the menu for Tuesday's Indigenous feast with local culinary expert Inez Cook who  provided knowledge about traditional foods. 

Cook, of the Nuxalk Nation, is the owner of Salmon n' Bannock in Vancouver. It is the city's only First Nations restaurant.

Cook described the menu items for the Indigenous feast as "food from the land."

‘Oolichan in a blanket' at the Indigenous feast at Vancouver’s Harmony Arts Festival. Oolichan is a delicacy for people indigenous to the Northwest coast of B.C. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

Latash-Maurice Nahanee of the Squamish Nation curated the art exhibition at Harmony Arts Festival's Indigenous showcase and says food is another way to share culture.

"We believe that family meals are such an important way of showing your love for each other … by sharing a meal and sharing time together out of your busy day," Nahanee told Sterritt. 

Festival-goers will be able to visit the region's first Indigenous food truck, Chef Paul Natrall's Mr. Bannock.

Exploring Indigenous culinary roots

Those interested in exploring Indigenous cuisine can do so even after the festival ends.

The BigHeart Bannock Cultural Café is headed by Lauraleigh Paul Yuxweluputun'aat of Coast Salish, Interior Salish and Carrier heritage. She provides brunch at the Skwachàys Lodge on Pender Street in downtown Vancouver every weekend.

Inez Cook's curated menu at the Indigenous feast included bison that was slow-cooked for 24 hours. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

"Their mandate at the cafe is really two-fold," On the Coast food columnist Gail Johnson told Sterritt. "It's to revive the palate for wild foods in Indigenous urbanized settings. And they also want to educate and inform those whom they call Canadian allies about the foods their people have been eating for millennia"

These foods include alfalfa nettles, licorice roots, spruce tips and cedar.

"Even though what they're doing is old — thousands and thousands of years old — it's still new to a lot of non-Indigenous people," says Johnson.

Yuxweluputun'aat's brunches feature homemade strawberry sweetgrass jam, Salish herbal jam with hibiscus flowers, bison sausage and wild boar sausage patties with elderberry aioli.

"It's all about reminding Indigenous people about their culinary roots, and nourishing everybody that walks in the door," says Johnson.

Left to right, Lauraleigh Paul Yuxweluputun’aat and Larissa Grieves of BigHeart Bannock Cafe. (Gail Johnson)

 Listen to the full story here:

With files from On The Coast and Angela Sterritt 


Laura is a journalist for CBC Saskatchewan. She is also the community reporter for CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories. Laura previously worked for CBC Vancouver. Some of her former work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, NYLON Magazine, VICE Canada and The Tyee. She holds a master of journalism degree from the University of British Columbia. Follow Laura on Twitter: @MeLaura. Send her news tips at