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‘Our Food is Medicine, Our Spirits are Hungry’

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

February 15, 2023 - Emilee Gilpin

This story was originally published on the Coastal First Nations website.

From the river to the smokehouse to catering important meals in big cities — Ximana Nola Mack is speaking her truth and giving people a taste of her people’s foods and food culture that she says is so worthy of protecting.

Nola was raised up in a smokehouse, she says, the place she learned to express love. Her connection and dedication to her traditional foods was instilled in her at a young age and has carried into all aspects of her life and work. Nola just designed an Indigenous fine dining menu for an important feast held at the Bill Reid Gallery to set the table between three levels of government dedicated to improved marine management.

“I’m Nuxalk and Carrier. My mother is from Bella Coola, my father from Fort St. James. My Nuxalk name ‘Ximana’ means bright light woman,” Nola says over the phone. “Every year, both of my families would come together… we’d invite my Carrier family to come down. In Bella Coola, we’re called ‘salmon bellies,’ known for our salmon. Up north, they’re known for their moose meat, so we would definitely trade and barter.”

Nola says she remembers being as young as five years old, helping herself to dried fish, half-smoked fish, always having a table of moose meat and other traditional foods around. At 11 years old, during summer break from school, her dad woke her up and told her to get outside and help her grandmother cut fish — a practice that continued for the rest of her life.

“I had to get out there and help her. She was old, an Elder. My grandma was just in heaven in the smokehouse, she wanted to live out there. That was my first experience feeling a sense of accomplishment, appreciation,” she says.

That’s where we learned how to express our love for each other.”

On Feb 2, Nola was invited to cater a dinner hosted by Coastal First Nations (CFN), meant to ‘Set the Table’ for work moving forward on Marine Protected Areas in the Great Bear Sea. The dinner closed off the fifth Marine Protected Areas Congress IMPAC5 which ran from Feb 3-9 in xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) territories. CFN CEO Christine Smith-Martin saw Nola in Montreal at the COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference in December, where she was showcasing Nuxalk food culture and sharing about the importance of Indigenous food sovereignty and thought she’d be the right fit for the event.

Nola teamed up with Executive Chef Dino Renaerts from Bon Vivant Catering, his mentee Andrew Brazeau-George from the Wet’suwet’en Nation and a few of their staff, to prepare a one-of-a-kind meal held at the Bill Reid Gallery. Nola brought Nuxalk gold with her — dried salmon, dried seaweed, oolichan grease, barbecued salmon, and a collection of specialty spices and flavours to customize the meal.

Photo by Michael Ruffolo

The team prepared bison meatballs, mixed berry bannock, salmon barbecue stew with seaweed and grease and clam fritters and prawns for a starter. The main consisted of barbecue fish with herring eggs, wild rice with seaweed, stinging nettle and herring eggs, oolichan and pickled beets. For desert, they served soapberry cheesecake with mixed berry compote and a transitional rosehip and stinging nettle tea. The food, a product of Nola’s family, community and many coastal people’s ways of fishing, harvesting, trading and preserving, truly set the table and gave the guests a taste of what it is they’re committing to protect.

“It’s been a long time coming to get here,” Nola tells the room after they finish their meal and applaud the Chefs. “It wasn’t an easy journey and I’m not afraid to tell my story.”


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