Copenhagen Food Magazine
The night was clear and the crickets were singing their songs. As the fire crackled and sucked in the last oxygen, it slowly died off to merely a dusty grey smoke and a little fine ash.
Thin cotton clouds were scattered on the night sky, partially covering the bright light from the full moon.
As a large cloud was getting closer and closer to dimming the moonlight once again, I gave the signal to the other brave warriors to be ready to attack.
Three, two, one… “Yaii, yaii, yaii!” We charged over the grassy hill and attacked with lightning speed and precision, catching the sleeping cowboys by complete surprise, and it was all over within a few dramatic minutes….
Successful in battle, we collected the well-deserved scalps and got ready to mount the horses and head home for some toasted bread with Nutella and a glass of milk.
Even though the battlefield was my grandparents’ barn; my squaw, my first cousin Betina; and the sleeping cowboys, my sister and other cousins, the admiration for the American Indians was as real as it could be for a five-year-old little boy from Denmark.
Past, present, future and back….
In a taxi on my way to JFK Airport in New York, I’m thinking about that afternoon at my grandparents’, many, many moons ago.
I wonder who these people are today; what has become of them and their culture.
I’m flying into Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada, where my friend Sean will meet me. Sean has helped me put this trip together; he’s my man on the inside, a native, or First Nations, as they call themselves in Canada.
We start the car and drive east toward a remote mountain area, on the high plains of what today is a part of eastern British Columbia.
We are attending a powwow hosted by the Skwlax nation.
After driving for five hours through some of the most breathtaking landscapes I have ever seen, we arrive at Talking Rock.
Still in the car, I can already hear the singing and the drums and it’s so powerful that it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
The arena is filled with dancers, young as well as old. The men from each tribe represented here take turns drumming and singing their own songs, while the dancers display their beautiful and dramatic dances, representing death, war, love, spirits and maybe a lost time that they all try to hold on to and never forget.
I feel honored to be here, to be a part of this amazing gathering where they celebrate their ways as they have done for hundreds of years.
I’m met with a proud and honored response, as I ask them to take their picture.
The past meets the present and the future, in the eyes of the young and old.
As the sun is going down, we leave the powwow to the continued thunder of the drums and singing. As I lay in bed trying to sleep that night, the singing, the drums and the faces I’ve met that day keep on playing in my head. My heart rate is still racing and my thoughts and memories of these amazing people are flying wild.
The next morning we meet Rick and Andrew at a local breakfast spot.
Now with those names, you would expect two British-looking white guys in Bermuda shorts, nice loafers and a polo shirt with a popped collar, but no.
Rick and Andrew are both First Nations and as far from the above description as possible.
Andrew is a well-known First Nations chef who has published two cookbooks on traditional native recipes.
As a young boy he was sent up to the mountains where Westerners were mining for gold and other precious metals, to try and make some money for the tribe. He quickly learned to cook over an open fire and the miners liked his food.
After he’d spent years high up in the mountains, the elders of his tribe decided that he had a higher purpose and gathered money amongst their people to send Andrew to a culinary school.
Today Andrew is not only a chef but also a chief of his tribe. He’s the second chief, so when the elder will return to Mother Earth, Andrew will be responsible for leading his tribe safely into the future.
Rick is from a local tribe, located on the shore of the mighty Fraser River, and he will take us to his reservation to go fishing.
On our way to the reservation, Rick tells us about the river and the life surrounding it.
He tells us about the mountain goats that have returned to their mountains after they had been gone for many years.
The salmon run has been low again this year, but he believes we will be successful today because the mountain goats have returned and that is a sign.
The goats are connected to the mountains, the mountains to the river, and therefore to the salmon and, evidently, to the people of the river, the fisherman (me) and their tribe.
A few hundred yards ahead, two huge signs signal the entrance onto reservation land and warn of trespassing.
We enter and drive through a lush area with overflowing blackberry bushes on each side of the narrow dirt road and to the left, we start getting small glittering glimpses of water, the mighty Fraser River, where monsters live.
Not only salmon, but 10- to 15-foot-long creatures — the illusive and mystical white sturgeon — also call this river home.
Today we are after the fat and delicious Chinook salmon.
We take a boat upstream to get to the best fishing spot and as we jump onto land, I notice big bear-paw imprints in the wet sand — we are not the only fishers here!
I’m getting my rod ready as Rick comes up to me: “You are not a part of this river,” he says. “When you are not a part of the river, you will not catch salmon.”
He tells me that I need to merge into the river, become one with it, and it will grant me what I came here for.
So now my man Rick is telling me that I basically have to dive under, to have the river welcome me? Thanks for the heads up!
Now what’s a white boy from Denmark supposed to say to that? “I don’t want to get my hair wet”? “I feel that’s it’s not necessary”? “I always (read mostly) catch fish”?
Risk upsetting not only Rick, who has gone to great lengths to bring me here today, but also Andrew and Mother Nature and not to mention the river?
OK, river it is…. I put my rod down and start walking closer to the water’s edge when Andrew comes to the rescue. “ In my tribe we offer something to the river if we fish or to the mountains if we hunt,” he says.
OK, now I like this idea much better!
I was thinking of sacrificing my hat, maybe a shoe or even cutting my hand to donate some blood, but Andrew tells me that tobacco is the answer, and for the first time in my life, I agree, tobacco is the answer!
Rick donates a cigarette and Andrew tells me what to do.
As I hold the tobacco between my fingers I turn to the four corners of the world while thanking our mother (earth), the spirits, the river and the tribe for letting us fish here today and catch a salmon.
As I lastly thank the river, I blow the tobacco into the water.
Having cleared our mission with the appropriate authorities, the fishing begins….
First cast and I feel the strong current of the mighty river as I’m struggling to keep the lure under control.
Second cast and fish on! Judging from the looks on everyone’s face, no one had really expected fish this fast.
The fight is on. The salmon is extremely strong and filled with the power generated by the mighty Pacific Ocean where it has spent most of its life.
It stays deep and doesn’t show itself for the first 10 minutes, and as soon as it starts getting closer to the surface, it takes another run and leaves the line on the wheel, speeding off once again.
The fight is now slowing down as the fish slowly tires and we finally see silver below the surface. We land a beautiful 12-pound Chinook salmon — the river has given us our fish.
We prepare the fire and get the sticks ready to cook and smoke the salmon, butterflied, fireside.
With the fish sizzling in the background, I reflect on the river and the mountains behind it and this moment all of a sudden becomes very surreal.
This is what I’ve seen in movies and read about in books, but here I am fishing with Indians, or First Nations people, on the high plains of a land that once had thousands of Thunderbeasts roaming the grassy, never-ending fields on the plateaus in the mountains, and the river is giving us our salmon. Incredible!
As the salmon cooks, I continue to fish but there is nothing is happening. It is as if the salmon had been warned, or maybe told, not to bite.
From a distance, I see Andrew walking towards me; he’s holding half of the cooked, split fish head in his hand.
“You have been given a salmon by the mighty river and you will now become one with the salmon.”
He tells me that I have to pop out the eye of the salmon from the inside of the head and eat it; it will make me see what the salmon sees.
Then I have to suck out and eat the brain and I will now know what the salmon knows and I will forever be one with the salmon and sea, think and feel what the salmon feels and therefore always protect it, and the river and oceans it lives in.
Those words kept spinning through my mind as the gooey and mushy eye and brain were going down my throat, and it was the ONLY thing preventing me from throwing up!
Definitely not my ideal texture choice, but I’m now one with the salmon, and what more can a white fisherman from Denmark ask for?
The day ends with Rick inviting us to their tribe’s longhouse where his wife and family have been cooking our dinner for hours.
Before dinner, Rick and Andrew drum and sing for us in the big empty longhouse, which sometimes holds up to 1,300 people for ceremonies like marriage, death or when the elders consult the spirits for guidance.
As we eat amazing grilled salmon and venison stew, Rick’s niece, Little Blue Hair (Sage), keeps a dead stare at me but when I start making faces at her, she finally cracks up and from that moment on, she’s right next to me for the rest of the night.
She tells us about her secret hiding spot that no one knows, where she sees things, secret things.
After dinner she takes me by her hand and whispers, “Come, I have to show you something.”
Through the darkness we finally get to her hiding spot, beneath the seating area of the longhouse. “This is where is see things,” she tells me. “This how I know.”
As Little Blue Hair knows what the medicine man and the elders know when they consult the spirits, I wonder if these people, the First Nations people and other aboriginal peoples of the world, know if there will still be salmon in the rivers, fish in the sea, or game in the forest a few generations ahead of us.
Hopefully they can help the rest of us become protectors of the earth, to see the world as they see it through their eyes — or the eyes of a salmon.