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Tribal fishermen go high tech — at Intel lunch

Bon Appetit Management Company serves regional fish to diners while exploring the rich culture of Northwest tribes.

On June 21, Intel employees at the company’s Ronler Acres campus dined on Indian-caught Columbia River salmon. In traveling from Indian nets to Intel plates, the salmon helped build new connections across the region.

Matt Harris, manager of the on-campus café for Bon Appetit Management Company, was responsible for sourcing the fish. Harris was inspired by Edible Portland‘s recent cover photo of Celilo tribal member Delilah Begay holding a spring Chinook salmon at the Celilo Salmon Festival, held every year on the banks of the Columbia River. Harris reached out to me here at Ecotrust, publisher of Edible Portland, to find out where he might purchase a large quantity of tribal-caught fish for the Ronler Acres café, which serves as many as 1,600 people a day.

At Intel's Ronler Acres cafe
At Intel’s Ronler Acres cafe

Having just returned from a Buy Indian Salmon program presentation by the Affiliated Tribes of NW Indians, Economic Development Corporation, I had several contacts for regional tribal fishers and fish production companies that I was able to hand over. In talking to Harris, I learned that Bon Appetit Management Company leads the way in environmentally and socially responsible sourcing, stocking the kitchens of its 490 nationwide cafes with as much locally sourced food as possible. In addition, its company-wide Farm to Fork program empowers its chefs to seek out and purchase local, seasonal foods directly from small farmers, ranchers and fishers.

Harris connected with members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Northeast Oregon and immediately saw an opportunity to serve regional fish to diners while exploring the rich culture of Northwest tribes. “Our employees, chefs and staff were very excited about this first-ever opportunity to enjoy Indian-caught salmon in our Ronler Acres Café. Plus, tribal members were present to talk to us about their culture and fisheries,” said Harris.

Harris traveled to the Umatilla Indian Reservation on June 20, one day before he planned to serve the salmon. He spent the day with the Brighams, a tribal family, watching as they hauled in one fish after the next from the waters of the Columbia. The following day at Ronler Acres Café, the Brigham family shared their story while teaching Bon Appetit chefs how to fillet freshly caught salmon. Intel employees then feasted on more than 70 pounds of Columbia River Chinook.

A member of the Brigham family dip-netting on the Columbia.
A member of the Brigham family dip-netting on the Columbia.

In July, Harris will do it all over again. This time, he will work with the Swinomish Fish Company, owned and operated by the Swinomish Tribe of Northwest Washington, which offers wild, tribal-caught salmon from the Puget Sound region.

Ecotrust’s mission is to build more resilient communities, economies and ecosystems. Bringing the traditions and beliefs that define Indian-caught salmon to the employees of a high-tech giant is an excellent opportunity to create new partnerships that may well be a catalyst for resiliency — that health and strength that helps us thrive in the face of change. And creating the space for conversation between the tribal people who know these fish and the people who turn the wheels of progress at Intel may contribute to a future that is brighter for fish and people.