A Day of Fireworks

Jun 21, 2021

When I drove home that night, after explaining our history to museum day-trippers, exploring our culture, and experiencing our foods with those looking to learn our names and our lifestyles, I remember thinking that I didn’t know what Indigenous People’s Day meant to me. Then, over the hills of the country roads back home, I saw fireworks. Red, yellow, and white against a black silhouette of crops and tree lines. Bursting with celebration, fireworks spiraled out into the night from the community I had visited for school as a child, and for friends as a teen. I was not from the community, having roots far West and some East, but the span of their love could be exemplified in the sky-scraping bursts of light. This was when it clicked, Indigenous People’s Day was a day to feel excited about being Indigenous.  

I am grateful now for the opportunity to see another Indigenous People’s Day, and to witness it in a new home, to celebrate the day upon new soil, and light fireworks for new friends. But, I would be remiss if I were to say that fireworks were the only way to celebrate, and I would be further remiss to not share with you how I personally like to celebrate Indigeneity and Indigenous Canada on Indigenous People’s Day. The way we teach our children to see the world is to see everything in connection with everything else, the following is my attempt at that. This is my attempt to show the environmental and community-building lessons we can take from something as simple as a snack.

Indigenous People’s Day is a chance for us to share in Indigenous cultures across Canada and lift Indigenous voices. Part of this lifting includes too, the environmental perspectives of Indigenous people across Canada (and the world). Many perspectives which have been too often pigeonholed into perceptions of Indigenous knowledge being relegated to only Indigenous spaces, with little honour given to our knowledge in racially mixed company. Our knowledge is ever connected, interconnected, and intended to relate to everything and everyone. Our recipes tell us how to interact with the land, our stories of Turtle Island’s animals tell us how to treat one another, our ecology can be found in every teaching, recipe, story, and relationship that we’ve learned and enjoyed.

I’d like to share with you a recipe, a book recommendation, and a bit of a soapbox sermon with you which (hopefully) can fill your mind, belly, and heart as we experience and celebrate Indigenous People’s Day this year, as well as ecology-based discussion about the importance of Indigenous inclusion in educational and environmental action.

Bannock (the way I make it) 

[Ba-eh-no-ik, bah-nik, bae-nok, baon-nik]

3 (ish) cups flour 

Just under 1 (ish) cup of water and 1 tablespoon (ish) milk

1 happy pinch of salt 

A palmful (roughly a tablespoon) of sugar 

Half a pack of shortening (or a ½ cup veggie oil, or half a brick of countertop butter, or a ½ cup of margarine)

1-2 palmfuls of baking powder (~2 tablespoons)

Step 1: Mix, toss, or shift the dry ingredients together,

Step 2: Add water and fat, and then mix, knead, or pound the contents of the bowl with a wooden spoon until you have a bowl of slightly sticky, slightly crumbly, bread-before-its-risen style dough.

I like folding mine a few times, allowing for layers to develop, but you don’t have to.

Step 3: Set the oven to 425 degrees, once preheated, put the Bannock on or in whichever dish it best suits (cookie sheet, cake pan, anything goes, just as long as you can get the Bannock to look like a big cookie without being the width of a brick),

Step 4: Watch a sitcom, check the Bannock during commercial breaks, and take it out right before the credits roll (or the Netflix scroll urging you to click ahead to the next episode pops up, either works).

Alternatively, squish the Bannock into a warmed pan with some butter, add more butter to the pan. Flip it after you’ve called your mom and caught her up on the week’s events, serve it once she finishes telling you about her week’s events (~7 minutes per side, medium to low heat). Just be sure to grab it before either of you start telling stories of folks you know back home getting married, getting pregnant, or graduating

Alternatively (continued), fry little Bannocks (about the size of your hand, or your head, depending on if you’d like to top with taco fillings, jam, or use the little Bannocks as hot dog buns) in some hot veggie oil (1-2 cups at medium high heat, or just enough for the Bannocks to be fairly submerged, but not so much that they sink out of view). Gently slide the minis into the oil, grab a sweater and loiter in the fridge looking for frybread toppings. Flip, repeat the fridge search, then serve (~4 minutes per side depending on the size of the Bannocks/frybread).

Unfortunately, I don’t have a recipe card to forward your way, so we can call this recipe inexact, but I do strongly feel that this is the best way to cook Bannock. Some make flour bowls on their counters, some swear by milk, others by water, but we all share (regardless of preference or dietary restrictions) the joy that comes from breaking bread, sharing meals, and cooking for loved ones.

I’ve tasted countless Bannock recipes, cooked in countless different ways, but no matter how the Bannock has been prepared it still brings me back to my first experiences sharing in my Indigenous history and experience with others, accompanied by sweet water or cedar teas, sweetgrass or tobacco smudges, in large or small groups, speaking traditional languages or English; Bannock still fills my heart with joy before I can even begin to eat it. 

Bannock is a simple dish, but it is a powerful one. Bannock represents a union between us, a shared knowledge, and a shared taste, and it is the one thing everyone and anyone can cook (even if some of us [me] can figuratively burn cereal). More complex dishes may have been lost alongside other pieces of culture, some may only be known to those able to work in translation, but Bannock remains because of its simplicity and because it can be easily passed on in secret, or in reclamation. 

The same can be said about Indigenous ecology.

Stay with me here, we’re going to get into a little bit of allegory a la postmodernism; bannock is Indigenous ecology, practiced differently by each of us, but at its base, ever present in our ways of seeing, knowing, and living.

Ecology is simple, ecology demands simplicity, it can be shared without fright, it can be shared with edits or family traditions included, it is shared not in excess nor in expectation of recompense, it is a staple of our lives moving forward, just as Bannock served as a staple dish for our ancestors. Bannock was shared with settler folk and Indigenous kin alike, so too the teachings of the hunt, the fish, and the harvest were shared with settler folk and kin. Likewise, Indigenous ecology demands to be shared, the beauty of our relations needs to be spread far and wide.

Just as bannock can be our union, communities working together in climate action and land protection are creating a union towards a better future.

Bannock can be made at 10AM or 11PM, in a kitchen or by a campfire, in cold weather and hot, and so too can ecological progress be made. Ecology does not need you to discuss her in an office, or in professional terms; ecology can be welcomed in your living room, your kitchen, your backyard, or on your walk to work. Some may feel ecology happens through plant-based diets, others may feel ecology is present in hunting trips and freezers full of venison.

Some swear by milk, others by water.

Real home cooking comes from fingernails unafraid of hot non-stick,

Sizzling corned beef,

Comes to you on plates chipped, with designs worn,

Crispy potatoes, from the can,

Cooked with only fingers, and the nearest utensil,

Knife, fork or spoon,

Holdovers of the prairie carriages are welcome here,

The ancient butter dish is free to wax or wane, we’ve got recipes for each,

Recipes for each season of the moon,

Hunting, gathering, or grocery store line up suffering,

Sweet delicacies resting by the screen door,

free for those who enter, or hugging you goodbye as you leave,

Spices are included, and aged,

These are my mothers chilis,

They have sat on every shelf I have met.

I will save you the background and will instead ask that you never take one person’s perspective on Indigeneity as universal; this way we can start with modern Indigenous ecological precepts instead of with colonially penned history watered down to make easy reading. With that out of the way, I’d like to point you towards the Honourable Harvest.  

In Kimmerer’s masterpiece ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’, we see that the honour she bestows onto her harvest is not just an honour of the systems used to ensure sustained yield but is also an honouring of the harvest itself. This is why baked Bannock is ready to be eaten, for me, after I’ve called my mom, or ready to be flipped when the commercials come on, if I make it in a pan. The process of our harvest is something to be gained too, the end result is second to how we act in order to receive it. Ecology can be artistic, shared, cultural, and scientific, but the end result is not where we will always find those virtues. It is through the process of commemorating nature in art, sharing eco-friendly tips with friends, hunting with family as a tradition instead of relying on the agroindustrial complex, or studying the beauty of nature that we find why the end result is worthy.

Kimmerer explains that by harvesting, we also experience love, kindness, and relation to that which we are taking. We are to not simply find the reddest and shiniest berries in the piles of plastic clamshells, no, we are to extend our love and respect to each beautiful berry we pick. Picking intentionally so no other organism is denied the excitement of early strawberries, and so no strawberry is denied her right to blossom and grow.

I mentioned simplicity earlier, when talking about the minimalism of Bannock, and I hope you did not think I was implying a diminutive legacy for the dish, rather, I wish to praise it for that simplicity. 

Real home cooking is in the blood of burned fingers and hesitant eyes,

Real home cooking is displaced,

Real home cooking is ancestral,

Even if she still has to introduce herself to you.

Real home cooking likes smokey maple syrup,

Harvested softly from the trees you pass on your walk home,

Real home cooking devours ground venison,

Paprika, salt, onion powder and pepper,

Real home cooking spreads her arms wide for pint upon pint of wild strawberries.

We learn first what is simple, we cover the basics before we jump into something with both feet, we teach our young how to conduct honourable harvests before they have to feed themselves and their children, and how to walk before they run.

Unfortunately, we have reached a point where the Honourable Harvest is no longer one of those common “simple” lessons we learn as tots, regardless of our backgrounds. So, as we celebrate this Indigenous People’s Day, I want you to find ways that we can celebrate the simple. The grandiose tradition of the exploitative harvest is beginning to show its impacts, on our earth, our cultures, and our day to day lives. So, my challenge to you is to find meaning in the simple, the minimal, and the common. Walking to work instead of driving, spending time outdoors instead of spending electricity to be indoors, or growing and harvesting strawberries in your backyard, or breaking bread (or bannock!), while sharing ecological knowledge with the people you are close to. Small actions can help to reduce our negative impact on the earth, while also helping us to learn a little bit more about the ways of seeing present in the unceded land upon which we live and learn.

Author: Violet Eliza-Sioux, Indigenous Programming Coordinator (Student Intern), The Gaia Project

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