Rodney Commanda instructs on how to make and cook Bannock on a Stick.

By Kelly Anne Smith

NIPISSING FIRST NATION – Many people gathered at Nbisiing Secondary School in Duchesnay Village on the summer solstice to celebrate the Indigenous way of life and learn from the many teachings on offer.

The Nbisiing Anishnabek Culture Centre hosts the National Aboriginal Day Celebration. The day-long event is designed to educate on culture, languages and ceremonies. The day was full of fun activities as well as teaching booths on wild tea and bannock, traditional medicines, and cultural arts. Youth in regalia gave pow wow presentations on the types of dance.

Nipissing First Nation’s Culture and Heritage Manager Glenna Beaucage says the event was busy with the good weather. “It grows every year. There are many teachings provided for non-indigenous visitors. It’s part of the journey, to take our neighbouring communities and let them know we have always been here. And we are not something to fear. We can live side by side. We can’t ignore each other’s presence. We are all here so we must be open.”

Next year there may be a more inclusive title of the National Day of Indigenous Peoples Celebration with Prime Minister Trudeau pledging to change the title of the federally designated date. People are calling for the day to become a national holiday.

Nbisiing Secondary School grounds were busy with interested visitors and Indigenous participants and volunteers. Rodney Commanda has volunteered for four years showing people the culinary art of Bannock on a Stick.

The Nipissing First Nation member is passionate about demonstrating how to prepare bannock to keep the tradition alive. “People have to learn how to do this. I helped people make about fifty bannock patties today.”

Commanda shows me the ingredients of flour, baking powder, salt and butter and talks about the different ways bannock can be cooked. “It can be cooked on a rock and in a pan. It is constantly flipped in a cast-iron pan but you have to be patient. That way, it can take two hours. This way (on a stick) it can be ready in about 15 minutes.”

The cook has margarine, butter and jams to coat and fill the cone-like warm bannock.

“People seem to prefer margarine over butter and they love the jams. It’s a big hit. ‘Cause when it’s done, you can butter on the inside or outside. And then fill it up with jam.”

Long sticks are prepared as a spear with the point being left a bit rough so the bannock doesn’t slide off into the fire.  “Lean it off to the side. Keep it close to the fire, but not far away. See that part of the fire? That’s an incredible heat that will burn it too fast.” Commanda has placed branches in the ground to brace the bannock spears in prime baking positions.

“Pull yours back. It is cooking the outside but not the inside.” The inside must be baked just right to produce a cone. The hollow can be filled with an infinite amount of culinary choices.

Eight hungry patient people are sitting, kneeling or standing in a circle cooking their bannock on a stick and gently and slightly, turning their spear. Commanda says not to be shy about getting close to other people when setting up the bannock spears. “Today I had a row of five of them where the heat was coming from.”

Commanda uses cedar spears because they are straight. “You could use pine or whatever is a straight tree. Even cedar will bend when they get older. They would wobble as you are turning them.” He points to a neighbouring fire pit with a large tripod spit to hang a goose for spinning over the fire. “There were Canada geese, ducks and rabbits going. Cooking geese over a fire is a Cree tradition.”

Jules Armstrong was content with the successful day as the Culture Events Coordinator for Nipissing First Nation. “It takes a lot of different people to do it. Not everyone knows how to cook beaver or goose on a fire pit so we have to get specific people or families that have that knowledge. It’s set up so people can go and ask and learn those teachings.”

Back at the Bannock on a stick fire pit, Commanda perks up and points to someone’s bannock. “It’s cooked perfect there, eh?”