Pit cook at Signal Hill – Kúkwstum̓ckalap

I’ve hosted a few Thanksgiving dinners over the years, but never attempted to prep a feast on my own. Knowing my culinary skills, no-one expected it of me… but also, it’s always been more fun to have a host of people tackling the prep, dividing and conquering, bickering and bouncing off each other. The number of guests has fluctuated over the years – just before COVID-19, I think we peaked at about 25… We seem to cook the same volume whether there’s 8 of us or 28… but the effort is significant, even with all those helpers, and I’m glad it’s an annual event, not a regular Sunday thing, and I’m glad it’s a communal event, and not expected of me as some kind of servant/matriarch. (Honestly, there are days where I’m stirring a soup and trying to read my book at the same time, and thinking, it’s a good thing I’m not living in pioneer times because a family that depended on me, would be dead.)

So, I’ve been watching the photos of Signal Hill’s pit cook, in absolute awe of this small stellar crew of human beings, who initiated this beautiful offering for the elementary school community. They corralled donations of vegetables, and transformed those roots into trays of peeled, cut, oiled and herbed vegetables. They showed up under floodlights at 4:30am!!! to prep the coals. (I resent having to get up that early to catch a plane to fly somewhere lovely… getting up to prepare a feast for 400 students feels epic.) They hosted elders and shared traditional knowledge. Somewhere along the way, they even managed to break a backhoe.

I am grateful, beyond words, to those humans to go above and beyond, who lend their skills, their energy, their sleep hours, their knowledge, their time, and come together to create something so epic…

I’m an ideas person, I love coming up with fun ideas, and I’ve written a few grants in my time… and what I’ve learned is that those two parts of any project are the easiest. Once the vision is cast, and some grant money awarded, the dream has to be brought to life.

Claire Fuller and Lisa Vertefueille, two women who have poured their hearts and time into the Signal Hill Community Garden and Pit Cook

Our Signal Hill school community is so fortunate to have people willing to do that.

5am prepping the fire for the pit cook

As the PAC noted on their facebook page (where many of these photos are shared from, in addition to Claire Fuller and Lisa Vertefeuille, and the Signal Hill Circular): “The whole school celebrated the cooking of vegetables in these traditional Indigenous methods of cooking salmon on a Taq’sa7, cooking vegetables in a pit, and enjoying bannock made in the school kitchen, and more salmon cooked on the BBQ. What a wonderful way to deepen a connection to land on the Traditional territory of the Lil’wat Nation, using vegetables harvested from the school garden.

Thank you to Tanina Williams and the Lil’wat knowledge keepers who generously shared these traditions, and to all the local people and businesses who supported this day: Village of Pemberton , Sabre Rentals Ltd. , Steph at @achefslife, Pemberton fire department, SD48, @continentalpole, the local farmers who kindly donated some additional veggies, and the incredible admin team and teachers at Signal Hill!

This event was supported by the Province of British Columbia Civil Forfeiture Fund.”

The school shared: “After harvesting vegetables from our garden in the last few weeks, students and staff prepared “the pit” and sticks for the salmon this week. Then, at 4:30am this morning, staff and volunteers got the fire going to warm the bricks in preparation for lowering the vegetables into the pit. The whole school and community members joined this morning to sing and drum and celebrate the lowering of the food. Then it was covered to cook for hours. Meanwhile, staff, volunteers, and students cooked bannock, and the T’aqsa7 (BBQ’d Salmon). Chef Stef and her crew from A Chef’s Life also made additional BBQ Salmon for the whole school. Then, after all the hard work, it was time for a feast! What an amazing way to come together as a community and celebrate and learn. Kúkwstum̓ckalap to all our amazing volunteers, community elders, staff, students, and our super amazing PAC for making this all come together!”

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