In Indigenous cultures, giving back is an important value. It’s also an important principle at Fraser River Indigenous Society (FRIS).
What does that mean? For example, who is a powerful and rich person? Is it someone in authority and with a lot of wealth?
If the world around us is anything to go by, the ones who we believe are ‘powerful and wealthy’ have taken more from us than given back.
But the Kwak´wala speaking people believe that a rich and powerful person is someone who gives away the most.
That is what you see in action at the traditional kitchen and games night hosted by FRIS.
Walking into the kitchen and dining area, the room is filled with people busy in conversation. Despite the constant echo, a sense of calmness had wrapped the gathering, like a blanket on a cold night.
The evening began with a game of guess the celebrity where I was Madonna and I almost couldn’t guess it. But, I did pretty well at Pictionary.
Laughter. Connections. Community. That sums up the experience.
Although I had never met any of these people before, the sense of familiarity and warmth was infectious.
This is what FRIS aims to continue doing, ensuring that all Indigenous community members feel a sense of belonging.
“During COVID-19, we didn’t meet in person, we met on Zoom. But, for the traditional kitchen, we need to come together to share. It’s not just about the food, it’s about the conversation, connection and sharing our cultural teachings,” said Jillian Currie, the event coordinator at FRIS.
The casual gathering was made special with two freshly baked bannocks, a popular bread in Indigenous cultures with other snacks on the side.
Jamie Saucier (SAW-see-AY) baked one of them. She identifies as Métis with ancestry from Miꞌkmaq First Nation, Huron First Nation and Interior Salish First Nation.
Saucier shared that bread has been a big part of her family due to her French heritage but it was also a food of substance in the past. When Europeans started taking over Indigenous land, bread was considered a more wholesome food as it was easier to make.
Although the Scottish brought the bannock and it was exchanged during fur trade with Indigenous peoples, it’s now considered an important part of Indigenous cultures.
Bannock is served with everything and varies depending on the diet of Indigenous peoples. The Salish people eat it with Hooligan (Eulachon), an oily type of fish and its grease, Saucier shared.
It’s not yeast bread so, it absorbs whatever you eat it with, she added.
Currie is Metis and has Inuit and Cree ancestry. She shared how bannock is baked in her culture.
“Inuit people serve a very dry and hard bannock because they would dip it. However, over here, we have more oily foods so we’re going to have a softer bannock.”
After colonization, the Potlatch Law in the Indian Act 1880 criminalized potlatch gatherings.
Depending on the Indigenous culture, the potlatch ceremony was a gathering with food and people to honour and mourn the dead, to celebrate birth, passing of duties, marriages and more. It was a celebration where people sang and danced.
Saucier shared that the colonizers considered this practice unnecessary and called Indigenous people crazy for practising it.
The third clause of the Indian Act read, “every Indian or other person who engages in or assists in celebrating the Indian festival known as the ‘Potlatch’ or in the Indian dance known as the ‘Tamanawas’ is guilty of misdemeanor and shall be liable to imprisonment.”
But the ban was beyond just the gathering. Currie shared that it was an umbrella term to ban them from practicing their culture, dressing in regalia, and speaking their language.
“Many hid and still did the ceremonies. But that hiding and doing ceremonies; what is that teaching your children? [That] we should be ashamed and we cannot share it with others. So, it’s lost. There was a big space where traditions, languages were not taught.”
But through the traditional kitchen and similar gatherings at FRIS, they are collectively reclaiming the potlatch.
For all the games played at FRIS gatherings, there are winners who receive gifts at the end of the evening. Just like they would in a traditional potlatch gathering.
Across Canada, there are more than 600 bands and over 65 Indigenous languages. Through such gatherings, FRIS is aiming to bring diverse Indigenous cultures and traditions together.
“When we come together, we have the same values; Creator, family, land, animals all bind us together. Food is just a reason but, the rest is sharing teachings,” Currie shared.
She added that this evening is unique when people come together to talk and cook. It provides an outlet to relieve stress, just to laugh.
As we continued chatting, the room next door was filled with infectious laughter and happiness.
Outside of the hustle and bustle of daily life, the society provides these people with a chance to be silly, loud and happy amidst the global chaos.
As the night drew to an end, Saucier wrapped leftover bannock for me to take home.
And I thought about the Indigenous belief of enoughness: not keeping more than you need and giving to those who might need a bit extra.
It was my dinner that night.