Chances are you don’t know much about Native American food, whether you identify as a US citizen or not. The majority of US residents vaguely ponder Native American cuisine once a year, at Thanksgiving, when they share heaping plates of roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie among family. Other Thanksgiving dish variations include sweet potatoes, green bean casserole – or macaroni and cheese. However, the cuisine we associate with Thanksgiving, and tangentially with Native American food, is not synonymous with Native American cuisine.
Photo courtesy of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum (2001.26.001).
Children at US elementary schools probably learned that the Native American word for corn is “maize.” And they also likely folded white paper Pilgrims hats, or cut out colorful feathers for headdresses, to re-enact the first Thanksgiving – a heartwarming story that celebrates the friendship between the Native Americans and the English settlers. Unfortunately, the tale is over-romanticized, and pretty much meaningless in wake of how the Native Americans have been treated unfairly throughout history – and are still mistreated in present day.
Photo courtesy of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum (2000.35.001).
Bettina Sandoval, the Cultural Education Specialist at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, cringes at these one-sided Thanksgiving re-enactments that perpetuate Native Americans as secondary characters. In reality, the Pilgrims relied on Native knowledge to survive. And although Native families still cook a feast on Thanksgiving, Bettina clarifies, “We’re not toasting Columbus or thanking the Mayflower!”
And so, during a time of year when Native Americans offered a bit of limelight, rather than the spotlight they deserve, I am sharing a glimpse of their varied culinary traditions. Learn a bit about Native American food – and how the cuisine is gaining attention – with my “Revival of Native American Cuisine” article featured in Times of the Islands magazine Nov/ Dec 2017, in addition to RSW Living, Cape Coral Living, Bonita & Estero and Gulf & Main.
Photo credit: Beverly Bidney of The Seminole Tribune.
A special ‘thank you’ to the following experts, who graciously lent their time, knowledge and media resources to this article on Native American food:
David Ruiz, Executive Chef at Pueblo Harvest Cafe
Boris Revilla, Director of Food & Beverage at Pueblo Harvest Cafe
Bettina Sandoval, Cultural Education Specialist at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Karie Luidens, interview organizer & former PR at Pueblo Harvest Cafe
Dana Thompson, Co-Owner at The Sioux Chef
Feature Page 1, lower image: foraging for ramps
Feature Page 2, lower series, bottom left: Chef Sean Sherman teaches cooking
Feature Page 2, lower series, bottom right: Native American dessert
Mary Beth Rosebrough, Research Coordinator at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum
Feature Page 1, upper image: Seminole tribe members set off fishing, 2003.15.127
Feature Page 2, upper image: Women gather around the fire to prepare dinner, 2002-59-001
Beverly Bidney, Staff Reporter/ Photographer at The Seminole Tribune
Feature Page 2, lower series, top left & top right: Elementary students learn how to cook a traditional, communal meal.
Pueblo Harvest Cafe
Feature Page 3, all images: Native American foods at Pueblo Harvest Cafe
Bison Poyha Sandwich – Up&AtEm Travel Blog Header Image.
Photo credit: Dana Thompson of The Sioux Chef.