Food is not just about great taste and nutrition. And you’ll discover exactly that when you visit Salmon n’ Bannock on our Majesty of the Rockies luxury guided tour. As you sit down to a specially prepared lunch, you’ll find the experience is so much more than just a delicious meal. You’re visiting the only Indigenous-owned and operated restaurant in Vancouver. You’re eating traditional and authentic Indigenous foods and flavours, passed down by elders. And you’re coming together at the gathering place created by proud Nuxalk Nation’s member Inez Cook. As the founder and owner of Salmon n’ Bannock, and the author of children’s book ”The Sixties Scoop”, Inez Cook is an incredible educator and an advocate for Indigenous people in Canada. This is her story…
The story of Inez Cook
Inez Cook was born in Bella Coola B.C., a proud member of the Nuxalk Nation, one of the first Nations of Canada. When she was just one year old, she was forcibly taken from her mother by the Canadian Government and given to a white family to raise in Vancouver.
Cook was one of an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children stolen under the Sixties Scoop, a government policy of cultural assimilation and systematic erasure beginning in the 1950s and lasting until the 1990s. There were also cases of child welfare services selling Indigenous children for tens of thousands of dollars to white adoptive parents across Canada. To this day, the true number of victims remains unknown as many forced adoption records were destroyed or disappeared.
While Cook says she is one of the lucky ones who had a loving adoptive family, she said she always felt out of place and had no information about her biological family while growing up. She knew she was adopted but did not know she was born Nuxalk, or that she was stolen from her parents in Bella Coola.
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The inspiration behind Salmon n’ Bannock
As Cook grew into adulthood, she felt a strong yearning to learn about her Indigenous heritage. Food became the major catalyst for her reconnection with the Nuxalk Nation. As she worked in different food industry jobs over the years, she realised there were no Indigenous restaurants in the whole of Vancouver. She dreamed of opening her own restaurant.
One day, Cook drove past the sign of Indigenous-owned Kekuli Cafe in Kelowna that read “Don’t panic…We have bannock!” (traditional Indigenous bread). That sign inspired her to make the decision then and there to open a restaurant that would pay homage to her Indigneous heritage.
Cook wanted to create a space that represents Indigenous foods, traditions, and culture with pride. She wanted to build a gathering place where people could come together to share food and stories. In 2010, Cook achieved this dream, opening her restaurant, Salmon n’ Bannock.
The food of Salmon n’ Bannock
After months of research and learning about First Nation cooking techniques and native ingredients, Cook built a remarkable menu. She wanted the restaurant to showcase traditional methods like smoking and preserving food. She also wanted to use Indigenous foods and dishes that First Nations people traditionally hunted and harvested. Her menu includes foods like bannock, bison, wild sockeye salmon, game meats, maple syrup, wild boar, and Ojibway wild rice. Cook would use seasonal and foraged ingredients and even bought wild huckleberries from a First Nations elder who carried a gun in case he needed to scare off bears while foraging.
Cook says she learns more about Indigenous dishes and foods every day at Salmon n’ Bannock and that the restaurant does not represent any one First Nation. Instead, it’s a thoughtful and authentic menu of Indigenous food. It’s also a celebration of Cook’s heritage and identity – a proud Native woman.
Indigenous dishes with modern influences
Cook then took the traditional ingredients and dreamed up modern twists. Take pemmican, an important Indigenous food, traditionally made with dried meat and berries. Cook has revived this dish by making a delicious, rich Pemmican Mouse. It’s made with smoked and dried bison mixed with sage-blueberries and cream cheese, and paired with their perfectly toasted bannock.
She also transformed wild sockeye salmon into the Urban Salmon Burger, served with signature bannock, lemon aioli and house made pickles. Salmon is spiritually significant for many Indigenous people as it represents the Circle of Life in the way it is born in freshwater, lives in saltwater, then returns to freshwater to spawn and die. Cook marinades and smokes the fish using dry white sage, a sacred herb used in smudging practices in important ceremonies. Freshly baked bannock bread is then symbolically split in two to form the bun for the salmon. The breaking of the bannock shows that everyone is welcome at the table here.
The beauty of bannock
Bannock, which plays a starring role in this aptly-named restaurant, is a traditional Indigenous food with a complex history entwined with colonialism. Scottish fur traders first introduced a version of bannock to Canada, however, Indigenous peoples adopted bannock and it’s made differently all over the country. Bannock plays an important role in Indigenous cultures and is an essential dish at potlatches, a traditional ceremony and feast for First Nations communities.
In British Columbia, bannock is known as the “Aboriginal staff of life” and cultural knowledge and stories are often shared over a basket of bannock. It’s a cultural tradition and a staple comfort food made in many different ways. At its most simple, it’s a mix of flour, water, baking powder and salt, and it can be fried, baked, or cooked on an open fire. It can be pillowy soft and deliciously crumbly.
Cook has her own fond memories of bannock. She used to make it at summer camp as a child, cooked over the fire and drizzled in corn syrup. Today, Cook’s signature bannock embraces the diversity of this dish. She serves it scone-like with butter and berry jam and as crackers with salmon mousse. She whips it into a bun for a wild samon burger, and as bread topped with mushrooms, melted brie, sage-blueberries and bison gravy. Cook says that Indigenous people all made some kind of bread, pre-colonialism, and today she makes bannock to reclaim this Indigenous dish. She wants her food to be seen as a proud declaration of Indigenous food and culture.
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How the restaurant helped Inez Cook find her family
As more First Nations members began visiting the restaurant to try out the food for themselves, Cook was questioned by Nuxalk peoples on her authenticity. After sharing her biological mother’s name – Miriam – with a Nuxalk woman, Cook’s uncle soon showed up. He told Cook he’d been looking for her for a while and had promised her mother Miriam he would find her one day.
Sadly, Cook’s mother had passed away before she could meet her, however, Cook’s uncle gave her restaurant a Nuxalk blessing and invited her to her community for an emotional three-day potlatch. There she reunited with her Nuxalk Nation and was able to meet hundreds of relatives. She also received her regalia and traditional Nuxalk name, Snitsmana, which means “protector of the sacred dance, and lively”. Through this experience, Cook was able to learn about the culture and traditions of the Nuxalk. She felt she could embrace her Indigenous roots, all while gaining a sense of belonging and new understanding about herself.
Educating through food
Over the last 12 years, Salmon n’ Bannock has remained Vancouver’s only Indigenous-owned and operated restaurant. It’s one of the best establishment’s on the city’s dining scene, and exclusively hires Indigenous and First Nations staff. Her team includes members of Nuxalk, Carrier Sekani, Cree, Haida, Long Plain, Muskoday, Ojibway, Pinaymootang, Squamish, Tsimshian, and Quw’utsun Nations and Indigenous groups, along with a Maori employee from New Zealand.
Cook also uses the restaurant to educate and advocate through food. In 2018, she and Jason Eaglespeaker published “The Sixties Scoop”, a children’s book that shares the truth about Canada’s genocide. Cook says she never learned about this at school when she was growing up and believes the best way to educate future generations is by teaching children.
Indigenous food sovereignty
Cook says we still have a long way to go in fighting misinformation and achieving food sovereignty for Indigenous communities. She says that some foods, like wild game, still have to go through several strict regulations before they can be served. With over 600 Indigenous nations across Canada, it’s absurd that Indigenous people are not allowed to serve their traditional food. Cook says there needs to be commercially approved kitchens in all Indigenous communities so health inspectors will approve them of serving these foods.
Indigenous land acknowledgements
Cook also campaigns for airlines to include a proper land acknowledgement in their pre-touchdown anniuncements when arriving into Canada. She also wants the “Welcome to Vancouver” sign to include the recognition that the city is set on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They were the original inhabitants for 9,000 years before the Europeans landed here, and they never ceded or signed away their land. Cook says that land acknowledgement is a small but significant step towards showing respect for Indigenous people and righting past wrongs.
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Breaking bannock – the spirit of Salmon n’ Bannock
Food is something that has always brought people from all cultures together. This is particularly true for Cook, for whom food has led her to reconnect with her family and culture. She dreams of the day that Indigenous restaurants are no longer a rarity in Canada and wants Indigenous food to become part of the common dialogue – as regular as going for burgers, sushi or tacos. She envisions her restaurant being a place where people can learn about Canada’s First Nations people, by sharing stories and traditions through food.
So when people come to her restaurant to break bannock, they’re not only tucking into a beautiful meal – they’re helping to preserve and celebrate Indigenous cultures.
Would you like to experience Salmon n’ Bannock? You’ll visit this fantastic restaurant on our Majesty of the Rockies luxury guided tour, where you’ll break bannock over a delicious Celebration Lunch made with traditional ingredients and flavours.