Cuisine as cultural resource


Teaching Native American history and trying to keep up with news about American Indians today, it seems like I see tons of stories like this one (and certainly this type of coverage is more visible to many of my students), where a proposed natural gas pipeline threatens Native American burial grounds in Pennsylvania. While economic interests threaten cultural resources like archaeological sites, it’s also nice to know that they occasionally work to bolster cultural recovery and preservation. We talk about powwows, traditional crafts, and language programs as means of preserving and publicizing culture, as well as bringing together Indian communities in shared projects, but foodways are something that–at least in my experience–draw less attention, though they obviously shouldn’t. Sean Sherman, an Oglala Lakota who has long worked as a chef, has spent the past few years research edible plants and ethnobotany, and using oral histories and early ethnographic documents to try to reconstruct Lakota cuisine–ingredients as well as processing and preservation methods. He has already started a catering business, the Sioux Chef, and is hoping to open his own restaurant in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, which will work with local farms growing indigenous plants and preserving heirloom seeds as part of a national “food sovereignty movement.” I know there are plenty of good dining options in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and that he’s not the only chef trying this concept, but how could you not want to try the buffalo with crab apple?

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