The history and political significance of bannock has changed over the years. Bannock has meant many things to many Indigenous people throughout history, from pre-contact to the fur trade to present times. Before contact, Indigenous people made their own types of bannock and breads using camas bulbs, lichen, moss, cattails, roasted acorns and other plants and roots that were Indigenous to their traditional territories. After contact, Indigenous people began to use wheat and oat flour brought over by the Scottish during the fur trade. Flour was a non-Indigenous food but soon became the staple ingredient in bannock, and in the lives of Indigenous people.
In the beginning, flour was used in fur trade for food to Indigenous people. Bannock was easily made while conducting daily activities at home, or hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering out on the land. Bannock consists of simple ingredients, usually flour, water and animal fat. Quickly mixed, kneaded, and shaped, bannock was easily prepared and cooked on a stick over fires.
As time went on, colonization started to dramatically control and change the daily lives of Indigenous peoples, and in the process changed the relationship they had with bannock. Where bannock was once an easy food to make out on the land or along trap lines during fur trading, it became a necessary staple for Indigenous people to feed their families and stave off starvation. It sustained them when they were forced to give up their mobility, much of their traditional food sources, and their traditional lifestyles, and were relocated from their traditional territories onto reserves.
The reserve system in Canada aimed to imprison and isolate Indigenous people and it forced them into a state of dependency. Under the Indian Act, Indigenous people were not allowed to leave the reserve without a pass from the Indian agent, and everything Indigenous people did was controlled. Indigenous people’s ability to feed their own families through traditional ways was replaced by food rations, usually consisting of flour and lard.
When my mother was a young girl living in her home community of Peguis First Nation, she said that, “If you ate bannock, that was a sign that your family was not making bread and if you weren’t making bread, you were eating bannock and that meant you were really poor, but we were all poor anyway!”
The direct result of this disconnection to the land was poverty, poor health, and a drastic change in traditional lifestyle. Colonialism still negatively impacts the daily lives of Indigenous people and communities today, in homes where bannock is still prepared regularly to feed families. The lack of running and potable water, housing insecurity, unemployment and the high cost of food — especially for northern communities — affects the health of Indigenous peoples. There are still many Indigenous families that continue to make bannock out of necessity. The issue of poverty and health for Indigenous communities is a daily reality. Life is a fight for survival.
It is important to recognize what bannock means to Indigenous people: on the one hand, this food kept Indigenous people from starving in some cases; on the other hand, bannock is food not inherent to our cultures, but of colonial imposition. Bannock was introduced when the colonization of Indigenous people began. Bannock, and similar processed foods which are not a part of our traditional diets, have caused many health problems like diabetes and obesity in Indigenous communities. As Indigenous communities heal and work towards decolonizing in political, social, and economic ways, it is important to remember that decolonizing diets is a part of that process. Food choices matter and they play a significant role in Indigenous health, identity and culture. There is room for bannock in Indigenous food resurgence and food sovereignty movements. It is empowering to make our own types of bannock/bread with the ingredients Indigenous people used before contact within their traditional territories, and perhaps my next bannock will be one made with ingredients Indigenous to this territory.
While I never thought bannock would one day hold any political significance at all, I realize it does. Bannock is a part of my Indigenous identity and culture. Nowadays, I view bannock a little differently when I think of this food and what it has meant to us as Inninew people. I can survive without it, but I do not want to and I still make the kind of flour bannock my grannies used to make us. This is my nostalgic treat for a lovely side dish to my tea, chili, or stew. For generations, my family has been making and eating bannock. I still love my bannock. It’s delicious!
Kinanâskomitin, thank you! Ekosi.
2-3 tbsp bacon drippings or 1/8 c of lard or shortening
1/8 tsp salt if using bacon drippings, 1/4 tsp salt if using lard/shortening
2 tbsp baking powder (makes it fluffy)
2 cups white or whole wheat flour
1 cup warm milk or water
(I prefer the bacon drippings and warm milk, just for the hint of bacon flavour, as I feel it makes a softer bannock as opposed to using lard and water.)
Preheat oven to 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix all of the dry ingredients together. Cut in drippings or lard and mix together. Make a well and pour warm milk/water into centre of dry ingredients. Gradually add dry to wet with a fork until mixed.
Knead dough into a ball (knead as little as possible) and press bannock into shape. Poke bannock with fork and place into a hot oven for 30 minutes at 375 degrees or until toasty brown. Stand upright and let sit for a few minutes to settle. Serve as a treat or side dish with whatever you like. Feeds two people.
Lorilee Wastasecoot is a third-year Political Science and Indigenous Studies student at UVic. She is Inninew (Cree) with some Scottish ancestry. She grew up in Winnipeg, and is from Peguis First Nation and York Factory Cree Nation in Manitoba. She has been a visitor on the Lekwungen, WS’ANEC’, and Wyomilth traditional territories of the Coast Salish Nation since 2010.