Nearly 150 people gathered for a cultural exchange over food, music, stories, and traditions at the Saik’uz First Nation band office on June 2.
Hosted by the Nechako Creative Communities Collective, the Multicultural Dinner and Sharing Event began with grace led by Saik’uz Councillor Ernie John in the Carrier language. Participants then lined up table by table for a buffet of appetizers, main dishes, and desserts from various cultures in Vanderhoof.
Melanie Lebatch, one of the organizers of the event, recounted the words of her grandmother on the importance of bonding over food.
“People do their business, but you always sit down and eat a meal together,” Lebatch said, adding that most ingredients were locally sourced to not only support businesses in the area, but also to take care of the land that people reside on — a Carrier tradition.
“We would like to continue this event, sharing dishes from different cultures.”
Presented dishes include French macarons, Indian lentil stew and curried chicken, Filipino casava cake (also known as kakanin in Tagalog) and chicken adobo, half dried bear meat, salmon in crust, tourtière from Quebec, Swedish meatballs, and bannock.
Mark William, preparing bannock for not only the multicultural dinner but also many previous community events as well, said his recipe came from his mother.
“I used to watch her make bannock,” William said, adding that the bread’s airiness came from salt and baking powder.”
Darlene Barfoot, one of the event’s cooks, learned to make Filipino spring rolls and Indian curry chicken from food workshops that preceded the dinner.
“I enjoyed it and loved it, learning to make dishes that I’ve never tried before,” Barfoot said, adding that though she loved spices that were normally present in curries, they were not added for the event — to keep flavours mild for participating elders.
Cristy Brennan conducted spring roll making workshops as part of the cultural exchange dinner.
Brennan first moved to Canada from the Philippines seven years ago, and her initial attraction to the area’s indigenous people was from skin colour, she said.
“When I first met [First Nations], I ask if they are Filipino,” Brennan said adding that she found similarities between First Nation and Filipino friendliness.
“They love to laugh and joke…I get along with them easily.”
For Cathy Hobson, whose family came to Vanderhoof in 1940s, enjoyed the variety of foods from different cultures presented at the event.
“It’s very nice for Saik’uz to host a multicultural thing,” Hobson said. “It’s community building, reaching out to other cultures.”
As the evening wound down with dessert and Indian chai, Lisa Striegler from the Nechako Healthy Community Alliance performed an Irish song that illustrates partiers getting drunk and others’ response, accompanying by beats from the Irish drum bodhran.
Former Saik’uz Chief Colleen Erickson presented a selection of her original poetry, including a piece called Still Water, that was inspired by the Nechako landscape.
“Our people are considered speakers for the land, as the land cannot speak for itself,” Erickson said. “We as speakers must pay attention.”
Representatives from the local RCMP detachment and district council also attended the dinner.
“Because when you have food together, you become more interactive with each other,” said Mayor Gerry Thiessen. “Thanks for the opportunity to be part of it.”
To conclude the evening of cultural exchange, Councillor Ernie John invited cooks and guests to a campfire for post-event cleansing with spruce smoke — a Carrier tradition.
Though balsam, softer and more fragrant than spruce, is usually used, the smoke is good cleansing for the soul, John explained. For example, a house is smoked when its occupants died, in order for the dead to be laid to rest.
Balsam branches are also used for bedding during hunting trips.
“Because we’re mostly bush people,” he said. “We’re so sensitive in our culture about being on the land.