The October 12th traditional First Nations Pit Cook at the Pender School brought drama, special knowledge and a delicious salmon feast to the nearly 140 students. Tsawout Elder Earl Claxton Jr. and Knowledge Keeper John-Bradley Williams shared W̱SÁNEĆ culture and tradition while engaging the students in constructing the steam pit and preparing the salmon for cooking over hot coals.

The drama came when John-Bradley released the steam cloud and the pit was enthusi-astically closed in near record time with everyone following their assigned task. Earl Jr worked one on one with older students preparing the salmon for the fire pit while John-Bradley shared W̱SÁNEĆ stories with the younger ones. One class had prepared a special selection of indigenous teas including rosehip, huckleberry and spruce for eve-ryone and shared information on the health benefits of each tea.

Opening the steam pit was an exercise in anticipation and participation. The reward was a bounty of steamed potatoes, carrots, yams, onions, squash, artichokes and apples, some of which were harvested directly from the school garden. All the rest of the vege-tables and some of the salmon were generously donated by Pender Tru-Value and manager Mike Gray. The maple wood smoked salmon was done to perfection and many came back for seconds and some for thirds.

The Pit Cook was first recommended by Tsawout Chief Harvey Underwood when mem-bers of the Historical Society, the Pender Reconciliation Circle and St. Peter’s Parish met with the Tsawout leadership team in May to discuss ways to share cultural knowl-edge. A modest grant-in-aid from the CRD helped support the event.

School staff embraced the event and the students and some parents participated with enthusiasm. Many students enjoyed a unique cultural experience and some learned a new skill. Before the feasting began, John-Bradley Williams and Earl Claxton Jr. taught everyone how to say thank you, HÍSW̱ḴE in the SENĆOŦEN language with palms gen-tly raised upward. The whole event felt like a second thanksgiving with a First Nations cultural theme and a focus on Pender youth.

Story: Paul Michael Petrie
Photos: Anna Herlitz