The Salmon Recipes

On the last day of public hearings into Enbridge’s oil tanker and pipeline proposal in Prince Rupert, Metlakatla dancers started the meeting by drumming, dancing and singing. Leslie Rowlands recalls that powerful moment.

“First Nations leader Gerald Stewart stood up in the hearing room on the very last day and hour of the hearings and beat his drum, challenging us to aim higher, to push harder. We couldn’t let all of that passion and emotion just slip away,” Rowlands says.

The young man stopped his drumming and then challenged the room, “Is that it?”

The answer was a defiant no.

“We couldn’t just let all those stories disappear, but we were feeling empty and exhausted at that point. We needed Gerald’s spark to ignite us again,” Rowlands says.

Charged by a collective passion and unwillingness to have their home compromised by an oil spill, about 80 local residents began meeting at the Fisherman’s Hall, brainstorming the perfect way to continue their stories. Soon a cookbook, The Salmon Recipes, gave life to a heartfelt community experience.

The book’s editor, Luanne Roth, says the idea of a Pacific Northwest cookbook sprang up rather naturally.

“I knew the stories I had heard at the Joint Review Panel had the power to win Canadians over. We had zero money. The only books selling these days are cookbooks . . .  bingo.”

More than just a cookbook, The Salmon Recipes describes life and culture on the north coast through stories, photography, and poetry.

“We were upfront with people, explaining that the purpose of the cookbook was to celebrate our north coast culture and introduce ourselves to the world. The ultimate goal was to oppose Enbridge’s plans to build pipelines and a marine export terminal here on the north coast,” Rowland says.

The Salmon Recipes was put together through the combined efforts of more than 100 volunteers. Roth and Rowlands started contacting people during the summer of 2012 to ask them to contribute their talents, recipes and photography. Through word of mouth, the project quickly took off.

Poet and children’s writer Susan Musgraves agreed to contribute a poem early on, which helped get more contributors and volunteers on board. Next up, northwest photographer Mike Ambach joined the project. And then photographs started pouring in from people in the community.

Roth would spend long hours working on her laptop from her fishing boat, reading, selecting and organizing the most powerful stories from the hearing transcripts. “I got the stories from individuals who sweated for months to use their ten minutes of time in front of the judges in the best possible way,” she says.

Rowlands says the surprising and delightful part for her was having the privilege of viewing so many beautiful photos that local photographers shared. “It was a treasure box and very exciting, like kids in a candy store. The photos alone stand up for this coast,” she says.

One of the greatest challenges Roth faced creating The Salmon Recipes is something most of us take for granted in our daily lives: the ability to instantly communicate with whomever we please in a variety of ways.

“It’s really hard to get time from many of the coastal First Nations people, especially the volunteers and leaders. They’re so busy. A little village has all the work of any community plus treaty negotiation, resource management, environmental management, etcetera – things federal governments usually do for communities.”

Roth desperately wanted permissions from Fanny and Clarence Nelson from Metlakatla. She contacted Fanny through about her tenth route – a friend of a friend of a friend – but Chief Clarence was down the south coast waters gillnetting late in the season without his cellphone.

“Someone turned me onto a fisheries officer who knew his favorite nephew’s phone number and he in turn had a secret number for Clarence. I held my breath when he answered. He sighed a sigh I could hear over the waves and wind in the background… and then he said yes.”

The recipes were tested and photographed at potluck dinners and barbecues around Prince Rupert and the book was launched at the Museum of Northern BC. They invited the whole community, and shared in a great feast. Chief Murray Smith gave a traditional welcome and Reverend Ha’eis Clare Hill from the Gitga’at Nation in Hartley Bay blessed the book.

“More speeches followed and the wine, smoked salmon and seafood dishes were wonderful. The evening was well attended and a huge success. It truly was the celebration we had envisioned,” Rowlands recalls.

The Salmon Recipes brought together a community that has its culture, history and future threatened.

“The important thing is to help spread the word in our campaign against Enbridge. I believe this cookbook became our therapy,” Rowlands says.

The Salmon Recipes has already sold its first 2,000 copies and is into its second print. As noted by Andrew Nikiforuk in the Tyee, the book is a sweet and gentle reminder that salmon, not oil, make up the Pacific Northwest’s distinct cultures.

Hit recipes to look out for: Norwegian fishcakes, Icelandic pickled salmon and baked salmon with lemon sauce. Or try one of these recipes!

The Salmon Recipes is available to order online for $19.99.

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