Food plays such an important role in many cultures around the world. But for First Nations like the local Squamish and Lil’wat, food was, and continues to be the driving force in shaping their distinct cultures.
Now, with the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) hosting a weekly barbecue throughout the summer, guests can have a truly First Nations experience by sampling some traditional Lil’wat and Squamish ingredients prepared with a modern twist.
“An important thing that we offer as part of our culture and tradition is the food component,” said the SLCC’s guest services coordinator Josh Anderson. “We’ve found that a lot of guests want a food component with their museum experience. We brought the barbecue on board with the opening of our new awning and mezzanine deck, and the interest sort of blew up.”
The menu features several staples of the Squamish and Lil’wat traditional diets, like West Coast salmon, bison, venison and the universal First Nations side dish of bannock. Anderson said it was important to incorporate these traditional ingredients into the menu that would still appeal to the modern palate, like the juicy venison slider served on a ciabatta bun with cheddar cheese and a tangy corn salsa.
“We don’t want to completely scare the guests away with the different types of traditional foods that we may have to offer on our menu,” Anderson said. “It’s an excellent mix and we try to keep it as close to our traditional foods as possible. But with that modern day twist added to it, I think it makes it that much more phenomenal.”
The main course featured on this summer’s menu is a succulent cedar plank salmon filet with a subtle maple glaze. Salmon are a particularly vital foodsource for the Squamish Nation, with no part of the fish going to waste. Any leftover fish are typically sun-dried to be eaten later. Salmon also play an important role in traditional Squamish ceremonies.
“The Salmon Chief told (the Squamish) in the long ago that the salmon will keep coming back every season as long as we put the bones back into the water,” said SLCC Youth Ambassador and member of the Squamish Nation, Swo-wo Gabriel. “They say that when the salmon (bones) hits the ground, new salmon will spawn.”
Also featured on the museum’s menu is the First Nations’ staple bannock, although the SLCC’s version, which is freshly baked with cheddar cheese and sage, doesn’t resemble the traditional bannock that would have been eaten hundreds of years ago.
“Bannock would traditionally be made out of a whole bunch of different tree lichen that acted almost like flour,” Gabriel said. “Plain bannock from back in the long ago wouldn’t taste very good by itself, so people would take the bannock and add some dried berries or fish to flavour it.”
Over the years, food has served not only as a valuable trading commodity — like ts’wan, the wind-dried salmon typically prepared by the Lil’wat that was highly coveted among other nations — but a way to forge ties with nearby communities.
“We would trade with other nations to get their food,” said Gabriel. “A whaling nation like the Haida would typically bring their whale to the Squamish and have a big celebration. We’d all get together and have a feast, or what we call a sla7ashin.”
For museum guests awaiting their own sla7ashin at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre this summer, the museum’s buffet menu also features bison smokies on a pretzel bun, seasonal potato salad, mixed baby greens with blueberry maple vinaigrette made in-house, wild rice ad barley mushroom pilaf, and a mixed berry crumble for those with a sweet tooth. Fair trade Spirit Bear coffee Mighty Leaf tea and non-alcoholic beverages are also available. Wine and beer is also available for purchase.
The First Nations barbecue is held every Tuesday until the end of September. Guests will be taken on a guided tour of the museum before the meal. It is $58 for adults, and $48 for children under 12.
Groups or individuals can reserve a seat at the barbecue by calling 604-964-0998, or by emailing the SLCC’s sales and event coordinator at email@example.com.