Food was always central to my upbringing as a kid. My parents loved every and any kind of dish you could imagine. They taught me that food was not just something to eat, food was something to experience and share with others. During my exchange at the University of British Columbia (UBC), I got to know the community through many diverse foods and cultures. From salmon to ramen to curry to bao to poutine there were so many things for me to try. It was often through meals that I got to learn more about others, the love they put into their food, and the culture they carried with them.
Granville Island Market
I went to the Granville Island Market after moving into my dorm at UBC. Like the Pike Place Market in Seattle, this market showcases just some of the best foods Vancouver has to offer. Before my mother and sister returned to Seattle, we decided to go on a food tour at the market. We tried fried fish & chips, smoked salmon, coffee, cheese, charcuterie, gourmet bread and most of all these really amazing donuts. I loved the market so much that I biked from campus to buy produce a few weeks later.
Indigenous Student Lunches
Each week, the Indigenous community comes together for an Indigenous student lunch. The community holds the lunch at Sty-Wet-Tan, the Great Hall in the First Nations Longhouse. Each lunch begins with a welcome from the Musqueam Resident Elder sʔəyəɬəq (Larry Grant). By welcoming us to Sty-Wet-Tan, sʔəyəɬəq goes beyond acknowledging the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. He teaches the community about the history of the Musqueam people, speaks in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, and reminds us to take pride in the culture and knowledge we carry as Indigenous people. I felt more connected with the community and got to know other Indigenous students thanks to these lunches. I think these lunches are a valuable practice that the University of Washington should adopt to help Indigenous students forge stronger connections within their community.
Through spending time at the student lunches, I learned about the many other community events on and off-campus. The Indigenous community at UBC holds so many events that it was hard to keep track of them all. Among them were film screenings, ribbon shirt workshops, panel discussions, and beading circles, to name a few. These many opportunities gave me the ability to practice my culture and learn about others. I was also able to go to a program called Musqueam 101. This program forges a stronger relationship between the Musqueam and UBC community. A relationship built on respect and reciprocity. The two communities meet every Wednesday night on the Musqueam reserve to share a meal and listen to speakers.
The night I went to Musqueam 101, I had the opportunity to listen to Kwakwaka’wakw artist, David Neel, share his family history through his artwork. It was amazing to see the many mediums he works across. As a carver, jeweler, painter, printmaker, writer, and photographer, I’m not sure if there is a medium he hasn’t worked on. I also learned that David Neel is the grandson of Kakaso’las (Ellen Neel), the first female totem pole carver. I first learned about her when I went to the Museum of Anthropology early on in my studies abroad, so it was neat to see that knowledge come full circle and have the opportunity to meet her grandson face to face. When I had this experience, I was reminded of the Lakota phrase, Mitákuye oyásʼiŋ (all my relations). Mitákuye oyásʼiŋ refers to our interconnectedness to everyone and everything. I experience that sense of interconnectedness often when I engage with Indigenous communities both at home and abroad. It is probably one of the aspects I love the most about my community, to feel so connected to our ancestors that we don’t know where our past ends and our future begins.
I also enjoyed cooking meals in my kitchen. In my dorm, I shared the living space with five other roommates, so cooking gave me the opportunity to get to know them and share a meal. Cooking also served as a way for me to de-stress after completing big assignments. I would cook so much food that my roommates came to know me really well. One day, I cooked a whole pan of twice stuffed baked potatoes and my German roommate, Anna, thought that I made them all for myself. I had to explain to her that I grew up watching my mom cook and that she always cooked meals for an army. So, when I began to cook I really only knew how to cook for large groups. To this day, I still don’t know how to cook for just one person. After that, Anna loved taste-testing the food I cooked because a lot of it was unfamiliar to her. She ended up asking me for the twice stuffed baked potato recipe later on.
It was through these kinds of interactions that I got invited to join my roommates on a hike to Joffre Lake. The night before the trip one of my roommates said she had an extra seat and asked if I wanted to go with them. I didn’t know where or how long the hike was, but I said yes and got my bag ready to leave early in the morning. The night before I took a look at the map. I learned that it was three hours north, through Coast Salish territory, and past the Squamish Nation. The park rests on the traditional territories of the St’at’imc peoples including the N’Quatqua and Lil’wat Nation.
The hike took us through three different glacial lakes, each one more striking than the next. While hiking, we met these birds called ‘whiskey jacks’. One of my friends told me that if I put my hand out they would land on it in search of food. So, I sarcastically put my hand out and said “like this?” and sure enough one perched right on my hand. Later on, I learned that ‘whiskey jack’ is actually a mispronunciation of the word for the trickster spirit, Wisakedjak (Wee-sah-kay-jak) in many First Nations’ stories. After learning their real name, it made sense why they were called tricksters. These birds were very clever and mischievous.
Looking back, It is hard to believe that most of my experiences were wrapped up in the food I ate. I learned that food bridges cultural gaps throughout my time abroad. Everyone has to eat and I learned so much just from sharing a meal with someone. I am grateful that my parents taught me their passion for food. Food is one of the most important ways to connect with communities both at home and abroad.
-Pȟeží-ȟóta Náǧi-wiŋ (Lakota) 2019/20 Corbett Scholar
The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program, housed at the Canadian Studies Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at the University of Washington to spend two semesters at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria; and for students from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria to spend three quarters at the University of Washington. More information about the program and how to apply is available here.