Tuesday, 20 September 2016




If you visit Victoria, BC, you should definitely check out the Royal BC Museum’s Food Truck Festival. Unless, like me, your ferry departs at 10am and the festival doesn’t open for another hour. 

Next summer for sure. Photo by the author.
Luckily, the Songhees Seafood & Steam was conveniently located by the dock. Fresh bannock with house-made blackberry preserves hit the spot. It paired especially well with Resilience of the People, an exhibit at the Robert Bateman Centre and produced in partnership with the Songhees Nation.

Songhees Seafood & Steam is a collaboration between Songhees Nation Chief Ron Sam, Clipper Navigation, Inc., and Victoria chef David Roger. Their mission is “Food + Culture + Community. And really, really good food.” (source).  

This food truck is more than meets the eye. Photo by the author.
The truck is part of a movement to reclaim indigenous foodways. In Minneapolis, Tatanka Truck is reclaiming “aboriginal tacos” by replacing the fry bread with locally-available corn cakes. Both trucks have a social responsibility: to offer restaurant education and jobs to aboriginal people. They’re also revitalizing indigenous foodways through experimentation and education.

I grabbed my food truck brunch and boarded the boat. The sweet, crispy mouthful brought a wave of memories.

As a kid growing up in the Northwest, picking blackberries was one of my chores. The berries on my morning bannock were definitely the sweet and plentiful Himalayan variety, not the seedier native species. Himalayan blackberries are invasive to British Columbia and Washington state, where they were introduced by Europeans, much like me. 

Can confirm: really good food. Photo by the author.
Years ago, when I was an undergrad working at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, I fell into conversation with a Coast Salish carver. I can’t remember his name any more, but I remember the crinkle of his eyes when he smiled. At that age, I was in the first throes of white guilt. As a descendant of Scottish missionaries, I felt like I had no right to be there.

I must have seemed confused and apologetic because the man said something like, “You know bannock isn’t a First Nations word? The Scottish settlers recognized what we were making from their homeland.”  Fried carbs are a fairly global food, I thought. A lot of people find it comforting. His story bridged a divide for me. He revealed a history we had in common, in spite of historic and ongoing power imbalances.

A list of questions followed:

How did fry bread become associated with First Nations foodways?

According to Zoe Tennant, “originally a Scottish bread, brought here in the bellies of ships carrying fur traders and early settlers during the late eighteenth century, bannock—bannach in Scots Gaelic—was adopted and adapted by Indigenous nations across the country.” Read more of her interviews First Nations artists in Ontario here.

Where did the ingredients come from?

Some people call flour, milk, lard, salt, sugar, and baking powder the “five white gifts.” On reserves, they were government-issued survival foods. Find recipes and debate here.

What’s the difference between bannock and fry bread? 

I'm not sure, but the names might be regional. Or it may depend on whether the cook uses lard or not. If you know more, I'd love to hear from you. The Southern Foodways Alliance gives a perspective from “the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians” below:

The carver at MOA showed me what museums can create: an environment where hospitality and generosity can inspire curiosity and better understanding - a bit like sharing a meal. 
Whether you call it bannock or fry bread or avoid it altogether, it gave me an entry into the diverse experiences of indigenous people in North America.

If you have more to share, feel free to leave a comment or contact me. 

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