Nunavut Day marks the passing of two acts: the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act and the Nunavut Act. The first deals with land, water, and wildlife management rights, conservation, employment, and reparations. The second refers to Nunavut breaking away from the Northwest to become a territory in its own right. Let’s explore what indigenous dessert options, like the native bannock, are available to us to help celebrate the public holiday.
When we think of the belly-warming foods linked to the Nunavut First Peoples, it’s hard to go past all the hunting, trapping, and fishing options like caribou, moose, ducks, trout, and char. But what about some native plants to help balance that protein-rich diet? Of course, there’s foraging through the woods to find Canadian gems like blueberries, cranberries, cloudberries, and crowberries. But surely there has to be some sort of baked good to pass around? Well, look no further than the Indigenous symbol of survival, the native bannock.
The native bannock is a flat quick bread. Many people will normally prepare it with flour, baking powder, sugar, lard, and either milk or water. If you’re thinking these don’t really sound like traditional ingredients, you’re right. The one most people are familiar with originated in Scotland. Here, people historically used this bread in rituals to welcome the changing of the seasons. They still make it there today, generally with raisins to produce a delicious type of fruitcake.
Contrastingly, the original native bannock of the Nunavut First Peoples and other First Nations was said to be made from corn and nut meal, root and ground bulb flour, then sweetened with various tree syrups. It was government rations of European ingredients in response to restrictions on land and food sources that caused this shift to more European ingredients. Understandably, for some it is a reminder of colonialism. For others though, it’s viewed as the food that was necessary to help them survive when little else was available.
Still popular today, bannock is the perfect addition to any communal meal. Some may prepare it with a variety of methods. These include placing the wheel of dough directly onto or buried under hot coals from a fire, wrapping it in green vegetation, and toasting it over a fire, even cooking it on a stick. If you don’t have a fire handy, there’s always the indoor oven. As we’ve seen, the Scots add raisins to theirs, but what can a Canadian add? Berries, herbs, and even pemmican. This last one is common in Indigenous cuisine. It is an energy-sustaining combination of tallow, dried meat, and dried berries.
On the topic of berries, another dish native to the people of Nunavut is akutaq. This is a dessert of berries and thoroughly whipped fat. It’s said to be a type of native ice cream. The tallow used in akutaq can come from any animal, sometimes even fish. But traditionally, it comes from the caribou and moose found in the north.
Like most people, perhaps you’ll just celebrate Nunavut Day with pancakes and a barbecue outside, but what’s stopping you from sharing some type of native bannock, or better yet, sharing a kind of northern-style ice cream made from locally sourced ingredients? Whatever you choose to do, have a happy Nunavut Day, everyone.