Masala spice and everything nice

Rhonda Lee McIsaac

In a large sauté pan, the butter is melted on low heat. The chopped white onion sizzles in the hot butter. Gatgus Erika Stocker is cooking backstrap deer curry and rice as her youngest daughter Dlaayaa Norah plays in the room. St’aay Taaw.waay Carla Russ greets cooking workshop participants as they arrive through the doors. The aromatic onions slowly turn translucent in the pan.

“We’re so excited to have you all here,” says St’aay Taaw.waay to KyiiGaljuus Tracey Moore and Gaajiiaawa Linda Tollas, two participants who sliced and diced three mugs full of orange sweet potatoes; two mugs full of chopped green spinach; and three cloves of minced white garlic all artfully arranged on the prep table. The evening is part of a partnership between the Local Food to School Program and Haida Child and Family Services held at the Food Hub building in HlG̲aagilda.

With locations in Gaw Tlagee and HlGaagilda, the local food program distributes Islands foods to schools and other public programs in the community. “We also foster the positive connection with locally grown, healthy, wholesome foods,” says Gatgus. The program provides hands-on learning about food harvesting, preservation, and preparation. This is the first of several cooking workshops they will host in the community this fall.

On the prep table also lies fresh spices in small bags. Teaspoons of curry ingredients including garam masala, turmeric, coriander, cloves, and cumin blend together. Gaajiiaawa has rolled, chopped, and crushed the coriander using parchment paper to hold the tinier grains. KyiiGaljuus helps by keeping young Dlaayaa distracted with toys and away from the computer under the window.

Firyal Mohamed arrives just as Gaajiiaawa, KyiiGaljuus, and Gatgus gather the sweet potatoes from the table to simmer in one cup of coconut milk. She watches a thin slurry forming in the hot pan. Gatgus covers the pan and leaves it to cook for 20-30 minutes until the sweet potatoes are tender.

Mohamed has brought Jamaican curried goat that her grandmother made. She sets it on the table. “I love curry and just being able to share a meal with others is always special. My favorite is curried goat. It’s nice to see how a local red meat can also be curried,” says Mohamed.


Jamaican curry is one of many types of curry in the world. It is less heavy than the creamy coconut milk Thai curry and often contains hot peppers. 


In another pan the cooks add a splash of oil. The k’aad blacktail deer has been carefully prepped to remove fascia and stringy tendons. Gatgus moves between the stove and the prep table where slices of pungent garlic are rubbed deep into the k’aad backstrap and tenderloin. The chunks of meat glisten under the kitchen lights as they rest on the plate.

They add the k’aad to the browning onions along with some extra chopped garlic cloves and salt and pepper to taste. Gatgus tastes their creation. “With another measure of curry spice, it should be just right,” she says. “The k’aad smells so delicious,” Gaajiiaawa says measuring out the additional spice. It cooks for four minutes on each side, then they set the cooked k’aad aside to rest and they start to prepare the other ingredients.

Add one cup of kale, cover, and cook 20 minutes with the curry powder and an extra cup of coconut milk. Fold in the thinly sliced, cooked k’aad during the last five minutes. Squeeze half of a lemon into the curry slurry. Let the sauce simmer until it thickens. It is ready to serve.

As they set the table Xaahuujuuwaay Cody Wilson and Noora Russ join the group. A chorus of warm hellos greets them as they sit down ready to eat.

The scent of cooked rice swirls in the air, dancing with the curry simmering in the hot pan on the stove. With each movement in the room the scents sway, stirring the hunger pangs of the cooks. St’aay Taaw.waay sets the forks and plates on the table. Everyone eagerly waits for Gatgus to bring the curry to the table.

After a thoughtful and lyrical Haida prayer, the cooks finally get to pass the fragrant rice. The clatter of spoons dipping into the two curry dishes is the only sound heard after the first bites of dinner. Only the quiet of eating along with contented sighs is heard. Jaadsangkinghliias Desiree Wilson arrives and once again the air is moving with curry and the pointed smell of hot peppers. She eats as the group reviews the meal with her.

“The food was scrumptious,” says Gaajiiaawa with her kawk’ihl – take home food that’s left over – beside her.

“This is the best k’aad I’ve ever eaten,” says Xaahuujuuwaay as she holds her kawk’ihl. “I felt very welcomed,” she adds, smiling at the room of participants.  

“The workshop was really nice. The community – from elders to youth – showed up. It was an adventure for all of us. We explored the spices rather than using the pre-made spices. We got to meet and greet each spice,” says Gatgus.

St’aay Taaw.waay and Gatgus love food, families, and their jobs. As the Family Preservation Worker with Haida Child and Family Services and the Coordinator for the Local Foods to School program, they get to build programming partnerships, share costs, and provide fun and interesting workshops for the community.

The Family Preservation Program provides individual, community, family, and cultural health and wellness programming. This ensures that families can increase their skills to provide safe and nurturing care for children from birth to age 19. The program provides supervision, life skills, and parenting supports.

“And if you feel funny about coming, bring dessert! You will bring the fun,” adds KyiiGaljuus, hoping to encourage others to come out every second Friday of each month.


For more information or to make a donation to the program, contact Carla Russ (250.637.1221) or Erika Stocker (250.626.7182).

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