When Inez Cook opened a restaurant for Indigenous Canadian cuisine, she embarked on an unexpected journey

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“I was born Nuxalk, but I was brought up white,” Inez Cook told me when we sat down to talk at Salmon n’ Bannock, the restaurant she founded in Vancouver, British Columbia. “I’m one of thousands of First Nations who were forcibly removed from their homes as children and placed into non-Indigenous families across Canada.”

Cook was just a year old when she was taken from her mother and Nuxalk Nation community during the so-called Sixties Scoop, the government policy of cultural assimilation that began in the 1950s and lasted until the ’80s. “It was all about erasing our identities, our origins,” she said. “The belief was that we’d be better off living European lives, but it ended up creating trauma for generations to come. I was one of the lucky ones. I grew up in a home filled with love.”

Cook credited her adopted family for instilling in her a deep and long-lasting appreciation of good food. “My mother’s side were Dutch-Russian Mennonites,” she said. “Their cooking was wonderful. I loved eating pierogis and learning how to make borscht.” Despite growing up in a happy home, Cook still felt out of place. “It wasn’t just being the only dark one in the family photos when everyone else was fair. I had this deep yearning for my culture that never went away.”

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