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Incorporating Indigenous food and culture into hospital care

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Introducing B.C. salmon as a regular menu item at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital and increasing cultural humility has been an upstream push for José Morais, manager, Food and Nutrition Services.

While the fish is a dietary staple for many patients before admission, that cultural link diminishes once they’re inside the hospital, as Pacific salmon is served only occasionally as a menu item.

“Thirty per cent of our food spend has to be on local products,” José says. “But it’s not that easy to do. While I can source locally grown fruits and vegetables in the summer, almost all of my protein products — with the exception of chicken — are imported from outside the province.”

The Forensic Psychiatric Hospital (FPH) sits near the shores of the lower Fraser River. On most summer days, José, a recreational fisher himself, watches First Nations fishers cast their gillnets into the river’s brackish water in search of Pacific salmon. Since time immemorial, the fish have been a significant food source for B.C.’s coastal and interior Indigenous peoples. It started José thinking about ways to access this local catch.

“I see First Nations on the river all the time. I knew there had to be a way I could access it so that it qualifies under the provincial guidelines pertaining to locally produced food.”

While Pacific salmon are as iconic to B.C. as western redcedar, the commercially caught fish that José purchases don’t comply with the 30% rule. Why? While they’re caught in B.C., they’re processed in China. “It’s actually considered ‘imported’ salmon, even though it’s caught right here,” José explains.

After several failed attempts at sourcing First Nations caught salmon, José was stuck. But a First Nations business venture in the Okanagan is set to return “Product of BC” branding to Pacific salmon, and FPH will be an early institutional beneficiary. Through José, FPH is working with Syilx, also known as the Okanagan Nation Alliance, to procure B.C.-caught and processed sockeye and chinook salmon to meet provincial local food regulations. By supporting the Sylix venture, FPH is also contributing to First Nations’ desire to rebuild threatened salmon stocks across the province to ensure the fish remain a viable natural resource for generations to come.

At FPH, we’d like to play a part in ensuring that B.C. salmon stay in B.C.,” José says. “By working with First Nations we can help not only to preserve salmon species but also to raise awareness and acceptance of First Nations cultural values, learn to respect each other and work together.”