As a proud N'Quatqua member, Sylvia Patrick was well aware of the work that's been done at the band's sustainable rainbow trout farm. Her brother manages the facility, and she has a clipping of a Pique article about the initiative hanging on her wall. But Patrick, who doubles as the band's social development officer, had never actually tasted trout until recently, when each interested household in the community was gifted three whole fish from the hatchery as a small token during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We seasoned them up and then threw them on [the barbecue] whole and pretty much ate every little meaty morsel off of that thing," said Patrick, who added that the fish were enough to feed her family of four over two days.
While salmon has been a staple in the N'quatqua and many other Indigenous diets for generations, Patrick admits preparing trout was a whole new experience.
"It's a lot of similar techniques, but with trout, the bones are a lot smaller. If you cook them right, the meat comes right off the bones," she said, adding that after the first three fish, the trout are available for purchase for band members at a significantly discounted rate. "It was an awesome experience and I can say that after getting my three trout, I will most definitely buy some more because I'd love to smoke them and preserve them in different ways right here in our backyard."
At a time when the already isolated community (the N'Quatqua are mostly centred in D'Arcy and the areas surrounding Anderson Lake) was dealing with the reality of physical distancing, just knowing that other band members were looking out for Patrick and her family meant a great deal.
"I really do appreciate it," she said. "It's one less thing I have to think about when I go to the grocery store and to know that if we did get shut down or have to close our community to the outside world if COVID made it here, at least we'd have a sustainable food source here within our community that's healthy and would nourish us."
The N'Quatqua have been raising rainbow trout at the hatchery for more than 20 years, but it was only recently the band stepped up its marketing of the program, catching the eye of Whistler's largest hotel: the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, which added N'Quatqua trout to the eco-friendly menu at its Wildflower restaurant.
That, in turn, had piqued the interest of several other restaurants in the Sea to Sky—until the pandemic put a pause on those plans.
"We've had a couple of other folks within the Pemberton and Whistler area that have knocked on our door wondering what a potential partnership or purchase may look like in the future," explained N'Quatqua Councillor Chantel Thevarge. "However, COVID also knocked on our doorstep at the same time of trying to unfold these future relationships. But those absolutely will unfold and take place as they come."
Now, with the pandemic shaking up food supply chains around the country, Thevarge said the hatchery has a surplus of fish that it is promoting for sale to community members. "We have an abundance of trout," she noted. "We're still babying 50,000-plus fry right now."
Given their remote location, for most N'Quatqua, bulk shopping is nothing new, but with some band members unable to travel to Mount Currie for supplies due to COVID-19 or a lack of vehicle, the community has pulled together to help.
"We've been doing programs where we bring our N'Quatqua bus up to ... Mount Currie and do a mass order and pick up food for our community and distribute it that way," Patrick said. "People are very comfortable and very healthy and happy through this whole crisis and it's good to see the community come together in the way that they have been."