For more than a
decade, Salmon n' Bannock has been serving indigenous cuisine and
stories in Vancouver.
Inez Cook at her restaurant.
For much of her life, Inez Cook knew nothing about her biological
family. Though her birth certificate identified her as adopted,
she had no idea that she was born a member of the Nuxalk Nation,
one of the First Nations of Canada, until she reached adulthood.
At the age of one, she was forcibly taken from her parents in Bella
Coola by the Canadian government and given to a white family to
"I didn't know anything about it growing up," Cook says. "There
was no information. Zero." Although she is close with her adoptive
family, she was always aware that she was different growing up.
Known as the Sixties Scoop, this practice of systematic erasure
actually lasted from 1951 to 1991. Cook is just one of an estimated
20,000 indigenous children who were stolen under the policy. In
some cases, child welfare operatives sold the children for tens
of thousands of dollars to their adoptive parents. To this day,
the exact number of victims remains unknown, in part because many
of the forced adoption records mysteriously disappeared or were
destroyed. Cook might never have reconnected with the Nuxalk Nation
were it not for food. As the years passed, she felt a growing need
to understand her indigenous heritage. She worked various jobs in
the food industry before it hit her that there wasn't a single indigenous
restaurant in Vancouver. With the 2010 Olympics coming to Vancouver,
and the whole world watching her city, she opened Salmon n' Bannock
to create the kind of representation she felt was missing.
From the beginning, Cook was quick to disclaim that Salmon n' Bannock
did not stand for any one First Nation. The history of indigenous
foods is often complex and impacted by colonialism. Even bannock,
the titular flatbread that features prominently on Salmon n' Bannock's
menu, has a history entwined with colonialism. Indigenous people
first adopted the simple flatbread, cooked on a bannock stone, from
Scottish fur traders. Much like with fry bread in the United States,
not everyone feels comfortable with its place in the indigenous
culinary canon, but the bread is a staple at potlatches, a traditional
gathering practiced among indigenous people particularly on the
Pacific Northwest Coast.
A spread of dishes at
Salmon n' Bannock. COURTESY OF LAWRENCE LU
"Indigenous people all over the world have their own ways of making
bread," Cook says. The Scottish may have introduced a version of
it, but at this point, it has an important role among the indigenous
communities that adopted it. "Bannock is made differently all over.
It has just a few simple ingredients and it's our bread."
After a lot of listening and research, Cook built a menu emphasizing
wild sockeye salmon, bison, game meats, and seasonal or foraged
ingredients with a long history among indigenous people across North
America. Much like James Beard Award-winning chef Sean Sherman,
also known as the Sioux Chef, or Indian Pueblo Kitchen, an indigenous-owned
New Mexican restaurant, Cook is not afraid to put her own spin on
traditional recipes. Many of the recipes, such as a pemmican mousse
of smoked and hand-ground bison meat with sage-blueberries, feature
The initial response was not what Cook had hoped for. Some of the
media coverage, she says, treated indigenous cuisine as a marketing
ploy, a concept Cook still finds tokenizing and insulting. "I go
crazy when people call this a theme. We're not a gimmick. We're
Meanwhile, some members of the First Nations were skeptical of
her coming in as an outsider. Some questioned if the restaurant
was a form of cultural appropriation.
"Nobody knew me," Cook remembers. "The restaurant industry didn't
know me. The indigenous community didn't know me. There was as lot
First Nations members began coming by the restaurant to see the
place for themselves and to get to know Cook. One visitor in particular
seemed curious about how little she knew about her biological family.
After Cook said that her mother's name was Miriam, the stranger
seemed satisfied. Shortly thereafter, Cook's uncle showed up at
the door. "He said he'd been looking for me," she says. Although
Cook's mother passed away before she had the chance to meet her,
she was able to reunite with the Nuxalk Nation. "I've since met
hundreds and hundreds of relatives," Cook says. "Once they found
me at the restaurant, I went up for a three-day potlatch. I received
my regalia and my traditional name and I met 500 relatives. It was
In the 11 years since its founding, Salmon n' Bannock has become
an established fixture in Vancouver's dining scene. Cook has continued
to wield the visibility afforded to her by the restaurant to educate
and advocate. She makes a point of hiring exclusively indigenous
and First Nations staff. Long Plain, Carrier Sekani, Haida, Muskoday,
Nuxalk, Ojibway, Squamish, Pinaymootang, Tsimshian, and Quw'utsun
are all represented on Salmon n' Bannock's team, in addition to
one Maori employee from New Zealand.
Members of the indigenous
community participate in a rally in Vancouver on July 1, 2021.
XINHUA / GETTY IMAGES
"Just before the pandemic, we brought one of the top Maori chefs
here from New Zealand," Cook says. "We did 11 courses with 11 wine
pairings, all indigenous wines. Then one of our customers said,
'I'm Maori, would you consider hiring Maoris?'"
While educating through food is a start, Cook believes the work
left to be done runs far deeper. When she was growing up, there
wasn't a single mention of Canada's genocide in the school curriculum.
In 2018, she and Jason Eaglespeaker published Sixties Scoop, a children's
book designed to teach the next generation the truth. "I think the
best way to get the word out is through the children," she says.
Earlier in 2021, radar uncovered an additional 1,300 unmarked graves
of murdered indigenous children near the former sites of residential
schools, a government-funded, nationwide system of 139 schools created
to stamp out indigenous culture. The public outcry was immediate.
On July 1, the anniversary of Canadian Confederation, protestors
gathered at provincial capitals to demand the government do more
to acknowledge its crimes. Between 1883 and 1997, an estimated 150,000
indigenous children were taken from their parents and placed in
these institutions. According to Canada's Truth and Reconciliation
Commission, school administrators committed acts of torture and
sexual assault, and were responsible for the murder of at least
4,120 children. Many experts believe the real number of casualties
to be closer to 15,000.
Students in Boy Scout
uniforms at Shingwauk Indian Residential School, Sault Ste.
Marie, ON. SHINGWAUK RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS CENTRE
"The last residential school closed in '97that's not history,
that's recent," Cook says. "We have broken souls in Canada that
need healing. The indigenous people knew all along. Their kids didn't
On September 30, Canada will observe the National Day for Truth
and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, a day of remembrance
for the victims of the residential school system, as a national
holiday for the first time. Already, there has been pushback from
multiple provincial governments, including Alberta. "I'm grateful
I'm not in one of those provinces, but that is enraging," Cook says.
"It's just so hard. It's such a loud voice of ugly, and people are
For now, Cook will continue to do her part to fight misinformation.
She looks forward to the day when an indigenous restaurant is no
longer an anomaly in Canada. "I always say that food brings everyone
from all cultures together," Cook says. "I think [going for indigenous
cuisine] should be as obvious as 'Let's go for sushi.' It should
be part of the regular dialogue."