Chef's choice: Holly Joseph and Theodora Sam 

Upcoming Spirit Within festival a chance to learn more about First Nations culture and traditions

click to enlarge A taste of culture Theodora Sam and Holly Joseph point out the rose hip bush at the interpretative forest walk beside the SLCC
  • A taste of culture Theodora Sam and Holly Joseph point out the rose hip bush at the interpretative forest walk beside the SLCC

Holly Joseph and Theodora Sam know about food; food that most people don't know about.

Raised in Mount Currie, Joseph and Sam spent their childhoods learning about pine mushrooms and how to find them hidden in the forest floor. They learned about stinging nettle and how to pick it without getting stung, and how it can help ward off a cold when you put it in soup or drink it in tea. They learned about the unique way of picking xusum, or soapberries, little orange/red berries that look like fish eggs.

"It's an acquired taste," laughs Joseph, as Sam nods in agreement.

Both grew up eating xusum, both love the bitter taste.

Joseph and Sam point out all their childhood lessons, as they walk through the canopied forest nature walk behind the Squamish Lil'wat Culture Centre.

"I think it's important to get knowledge out there," said Joseph, a lively tour guide at the centre.

That's just what they intend to do as part of the team at the SLCC putting on the second annual Spirit Within festival, expanded to four days this year and celebrating First Nation's artists, musicians and cuisine.

Among other things, Joseph and Sam are involved in the festival's Afternoon Tea event that will showcase traditional teas, bannock, First Nations' treats and storytelling.

Sam is the lead chef at the centre. She has been there for about three years.

Bannock — baked or fried — is an important part of the menu. Sam explains that it's simply flour, water, baking powder, salt and sugar and it's like a biscuit or a scone.

It may not be a completely traditional recipe; it's been modified to suit more contemporary tastes — a traditional dish with a current twist.

It can be paired with tea for a yummy snack.

Joseph, it seems, can find a way to make tea from just about anything — rose hip and rose buds, stinging nettle and Devil's Club. It's all ripe for the taking; you just have to know where to look.

Joseph points to the rose hip, the pinky berries flourishing on a bush at the edge of the centre.

You have to wait 'til after the first frost, said Joseph, before you pick it.

Then just put one or two in a cup and pour steaming hot water over.

"It's good to have all the time," she said. "It's just really, really good tea."

Close by is Devil's Club — a multipurpose plant in Mount Currie.

"Our people use it more for spiritual purposes," said Joseph, explaining that they would take a seven-inch chunk of the root and put it over windows and doors.

"If you make it into a tea it's good for somebody that has put 'bad medicine' on you," she said, explaining that bad medicine is someone thinking bad thoughts about you.

Joseph puts Devil's Club in her small medicine bag, which she wears around her neck when she is performing, and some on her drum so that it has a good sound.

"When I was sick, my dad would make me a Devil's Club tea because it heats you up from the inside," she explained.

It's these insider insights to the Lil'wat and Squamish Nations that make this Afternoon Tea different from any other.

Sam and Joseph's passion for keeping the traditions alive is evident in the way they tell the stories about their traditional food. They know people often look askance when they head out into the bush to gather, or stop the car on the side of the highway when they spot some xusum.

But to them, it's a way of life; it has been this way for thousands of years. They want to see it carry on for thousands more.

They are passing their knowledge onto their own kids, who come picking with them.

"I'm either picking, canning or drying; that's what you've got to do in the summer time," said Joseph.

Sam added: "Once you're not able to do that, you really miss it."

The Spirit Within Festival takes places from Sept. 26-29. The Afternoon Tea is just one of the featured events. Other highlights include an artist market, contemporary dancers and a sunset celebration and BBQ with First Nations bands. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children.

To learn about the other events during the Spirit Within go to


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