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Ba’wezhiganag? Luskinikn? Palauga?: Delicious!

By Robin Buyers

Jacob and Robin cook Bannock in the Na-Me-Res kitchen. Photo by Betsy Anderson

Whether named in Anishinaabemowin, Mi’kmaq, Inuktituk, or any of the languages indigenous to Turtle Island, what is known in English as “Bannock” is a staple in Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit communitiesfrom coast, to coast, to coast. In one of my now-lost languages, Gaelic, the word is “bannach,” English taking the Gaelic root.So was Bannock introduced to First Nations communities by Scottish fur traders? No, and yes.


Unleavened breads were common long before Europeans arrived, using flours crafted from cama, cattail, or bracken fern rhizomes or, on the west coast, black tree lichen. Mixed with water and sometimes fat, these breads were baked in a variety of ways, including—as many campers know—by wrapping the dough around a green stick and carefully toasting it over the coals of a wood fire.


As maize/corn was traded along north-south routes among the agricultural communities of Turtle Island, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and other Nations made corn breads, often cooked on hot, flat stones.


But once Europeans arrived, wheat flour entered trade routes old and new, and soon began to replace more traditional ingredients.


Members of the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Group, friends, neighbours, and summer staff got a lesson in contemporary versions of Bannock this June. For our June 14 th Ode’min Giizas/Strawberry MoonSacred Fire and Ceremony, we feasted on Anishinaabe Chef Charles Catchpole’s superb Baked Bannock.


Some then went on to volunteer in the Sagatay kitchen on the 18 th , shaping and deep frying 400+ Bannocks for the Na-Me-Res Traditional Pow Wow at Fort York.Bannock is a standard menu item for today’s Pow Wows, often as the base for “Indian Tacos” such as we made, with chile, tomatoes, lettuce, and other toppings.

 

Indigenous-owned catering companies such as Chef Catchpole’s, or popular restaurants such as Tea and Bannock in Leslieville feature their own versions, no two the same.

Wheat flour slipped quietly into First Nations foodways, sadly to become part of British colonial domination, first as a trade good, then as a ration (along with lard, sugar, and eggs) supplied by government agents to “Indian Reservations.” Once removed from their Land, Nations were removed from their traditional sources of food, and dependence on wheat-and-lard-based Bannock was  the alternative to starvation.

 

Yet as First Nations experience a cultural renaissance, Bannock remains celebrated, whether as PowWow-style Fry Bread or the creations of Chefs returning to the Breads of their more distant Ancestors. We are grateful to be able to share in the deliciousness, and, we hope, decolonization.

For more information on the history of Bannock, see The Canadian Encyclopedia.

 

For more on Chef Catchpole and his products and services, see CharGer Foods at Mnopgwad.

 

The Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Group is grateful for a Park People Sparking Change grant for funding the Ode’min Giizas Celebration, and to Nancy Debassige for inviting us to cook for the Na-Me-Res PowWow.

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