The Grade 7 students of Journey middle school had a traditional Aboriginal pit cook and salmon roast on Journey’s back field. First Nations elders from Saanich, Pacheedaht, Scia’new (Beecher Bay) and T’Sou-ke Nation taught students how to prepare a steam pit, identify and select plants used for steaming and cook salmon over a fire.
Two fires were built, one for the steam pit and one for roasting the salmon. Once the raw fish had been cut up and the fire had lots of coals, students skewered pieces of salmon onto sticks then stuck the sticks in the ground close to the heat. It took quite a while for the fish to bake but it was well worth the wait!
While the fish was cooking, students prepared a steam pit for the vegetables. Skunk cabbage leaves along with salmonberry and thimbleberry branches were placed over the hot coals at the bottom of the pit. Burlap sacks full of potatoes, onions, yams, garlic and apples were then placed on top of the vegetables and quickly covered with sand to seal in the heat.
We interviewed two of the First Nations elders who helped make our pit cook and salmon roast the success that it was. We talked to Earl Claxton Jr. from Saanich Nation about the plants used in pit cooks, “We used plants such as salmonberry, thimbleberry, skunk cabbage leaves and kelp for keeping in the moisture. Sword fern was commonly used in T’Souke pit cooks.”
After a long wait of about three hours, the steamed vegetables were dug out of the pit and served to a horde of hungry students. Before we dug in, Chief Russ Chipps of Scia’new Nation welcomed all students and staff to the traditional lands of T’Souke Nation, T’Sou-ke Elder Shirley Alphonse blessed the food and Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones shared a few words with us. Everyone seemed to enjoy the feast! There weren’t many leftovers!
For our final interview, we asked John Bradley Williams of Saanich Nation (and Ahousat) what made him come to Journey to teach us about pit cooking.
“It’s what I do for work and I just love doing it. I like all the amazing students here. I’ve been doing pit cooks for about six years now so roughly 150. I do this with a lot of other schools and I enjoy them all.”
It was a great day and a fun way to learn new things. We are very grateful that we were able to experience a new way of learning through food. On behalf of all the Grade 7 students at Journey, we wish to thank the elders of Saanich, Pacheedaht, Scia’new (Beecher Bay) and T’Souke Nation for visiting our school and sharing their knowledge with us. We hope the pit cook will become a Journey tradition now that we have our very own permanent pit cook on our school grounds!
Grade 7 students Tia H. and Madelyn F.