Food as fuel
Clam fritters, cockles chow mein, fish hash, herring eggs and kelp and frothy soapberries.
Traditional foods whipped up and sold at the tournament offer much-needed fuel for the athletes and their observers.
The main canteen is a family affair run by Arnold Clifton, hereditary chief of the Gitga’at First Nation, who has a recipe for clam fritters he won’t divulge with anyone.
“That was my grandfather’s recipe and a lot of people have been asking for it. He doesn’t give it out. As soon as it’s there it’s gone,” he said.
Every day during the tournament, the Clifton family brings in 32 large Ziploc bags of raw clams to fry up a batch.
Preparation begins the night before. The family gathers all the vegetables, meat and other ingredients for the dish they plan to cook the next day. The dishes are ready by noon.
People often ask Clifton if they’ll open for breakfast but he said lunch and dinner are more than enough work for them.
The family has been doing the canteen for so long they can’t remember when they started. But by now they know what people want and how to prepare and harvest the seafood for the dishes each and every year.
“We don’t do clams and cockles until October when it’s cold. It’s a family thing too. Our family goes out and harvests this stuff. A lot is from Hartley Bay and we get a lot of donations from family in Bella Bella,” Clifton said.
Another big seller is fried octopus, but the dish is a lot of work, and they don’t always have time for it.
All the dishes are available on different days, so you have to swing by around lunch or dinner for each day of the tournament to experience Coastal First Nation cuisine.
Plates can cost between $5-10 dollars with a combination. Prices have gone up over the years due to the rising cost of harvesting and gas, Clifton said.
Once you’ve tasted the savoury side of the local First Nations foods, the Nisga’a run a table selling Indigenous ice cream, Sxusem, a treat made from soapberries.
No dairy is involved. The berries are whipped up with a mixer until the mix foams and stiffens. One bottle of water is added for every half pint of berries and 2.5 cups of sugar to cut the bitterness.
“Traditionally it’s always mixed with water and add sugar to taste but now they’ve added Kool-Aid and bananas and other berries after it’s whipped,” said Sabrina Clifton, program manager at the Nisga’a Hall.
They go through well over a case a day of soapberries a day.
This is the biggest fundraiser of Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Dancers who take turns whipping up the berries between 11 a.m. and serving the last bowl at 7 p.m.
Last year, the dancers picked the berries as a group, but typically they trade or purchase from people in the Kitwanga or Aiyansh area where the berries are found.
The money raised from the tournament is for travel. After the 2017 tournament, the dancers went to Hoobiyee in Vancouver. They raised $54,000 to take 88 dancers to the new year celebration.