Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rations for all.

Topic: Native American Cuisine
Region specific: Western Apache Cooking and Cuisine
Micro-Regional Definition: White Mountain Apache Cuisine of Dzilgha'a

Question: "Why haven't I heard of Native American Cuisine?"

To attempt to answer, as a Native person and a chef myself...

It is very important to remember that what is perceived as Native American Cuisine, even to ourselves, is really not indigenous at all. This fact is becoming more widely accepted, but we have a long way to go. As we move forward as Native American People in the year 2014 we are still confronted by misconceptions on our collective pathway toward Social Recovery and Recovery from Colonialism. As we Acknowledge, Consider, Explore, Embrace and Maintain Life in a colonial reality, a form of intellectual and spiritual decolonization begins to take place. One of the most important elements of our lives is the decolonial cooking and cuisine.

What is Native American Cuisine? One might rush to say, "Frybread!" This crispy, delicious, deep-fried concoction that has both sweet and savory applications in the kitchen, is in fact NOT indigenous cooking. 
To be very critical, with public health in mind, Frybread is really a taste of American Colonialism. Frybread is a taste of confinement and oppression. This deceptively delicious food that I also grew up eating and have many fond memories attached to it has a harsh reality. Frybread and other dishes have brought on a public health epidemic of epic proportions throughout Native America. This health epidemic is not only physical, it is also mental, emotional, spiritual and it is the violence in our communities. A major piece of our "social issues", as some would call it, is really a result of this image here, which is a U.S. Military Food Ration Ticket.
Indian Ration Card
As the California Gold Rush and Manifest Destiny took root in Native America, many forms of warfare were employed by American settlers, the military, and enforced by the government in the name of progress. Biological and Spiritual Warfare consumed Native peoples and once all Native Peoples, were "confined" or "pacified" on the Prison Camps called Reservations, a new wave of warfare would be waged on the children of prisoners of war in the first United States Indian Boarding Schools like this one here in Carlisle Pennsylvania. 

In understanding and articulating Native American Cuisine, I use the terms Culinary Imperialism and Violent Appropriation of Food-ways. The brutal decimation of the American Bison, the Plains Indians and the imposition of non-Native foods and the deliberate creation of dependency is evidence of Culinary Warfare in our culinary history.

Below is a stark example of Culinary Warfare and Created Dependency. Look at the countless Dakota Peoples during the 1830's receiving Military Food Rations. The control of the food supply and distribution of unhealthy foods is a spirit crushing event to indigenous peoples.
Military Food Rations being distributed to the Dakota Natives during the 1830's
Regardless of climate, region and culinary heritage, Military Food Rations were issued. This photo below is taken on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, one of the worst Prison Camps in the for all bands of Apaches in 1892. 
Receiving Food Rations at San Carlos Agency 1892
Waiting for Rations in 1905, Indiana (note the Calvary)

The illustration below is of the distribution of food rations to the "Indians" at Medicine Bluff Creek in 1869.

Traditional Basketry brought to Ft. Gaston will carry non native foods. 1877
This is a photo from Ft. Gaston in Northern California in 1877. Again Native women most likely from the Hoopa Nation bring their traditional food baskets to carry a new foreign food that would eventually contribute to the public health epidemic among their posterity. 

Rations for all 1905. 
"Rations for all 1905" A Library of Congress photo.

What these images illustrate is a wide spread form of culinary warfare on all parts of Native America...all parts of Indian Country. It did not matter what "Reservation" you were from or what tribe you represented, you got the same Food Rations. Together we grew up with a common trauma at the deepest level. Our grandmothers, aunts and mothers employed humble culinary ingenuity and as a result, we grew up with foods like Frybread. I believe that the reason there is so much nostalgia, love and humor attached to Frybread is because it is a coping mechanism for the harsh reality...the harsh origin of a widely accepted food staple that has contributed to our current health epidemic across Native America. Look at this Bureau of Indian Affairs map of Indian Reservations in the United States and remember that Military Food Rations and the Boarding School System was employed on every remaining piece of Native Territory.

Cultural Integration 
From 1491 to 1991 in America we see and experience a great interruption of all forms of culture including cuisine. The complex trade routes that enabled the sharing of food, culture and technology are halted or wiped out completely. 500 years of warfare and oppression is a critical piece of our Indigenous Culinary History in the American historical landscape that is not talked about. This conversation has begun and it requires a courageous dialog. 

Native American Cuisine, for me, is about resiliency...Our Shared Resiliency as Native peoples. My interpretation of Native American Cuisine is also about responsibility...responsibility to move forward in light of this history with a healthy work ethic, beyond the stage of resistance and into the threshold of real tangible change because of resiliency.

This image is of two White Mountain Apache Scouts on horseback. My White Mountain Apache and Dineh Ancestors literally saw the world end during the 1800's, so I am writing this as a post-apocalyptic Western Apache/Dineh Chef in this new reality. What we are left with is our language, our landscape, our waters and food relatives. We are left with the pieces of our Indigeneity to piece our identity back together. This is how powerful our Western Apache "Terrior" is today for us as we practice Native cooking and articulate cuisine. 

This Culinary History is THE REASON that Native American Cuisine is not "considered" to be a cuisine at all. Native/Indigenous American Cuisine of Turtle Island is a Mother Cuisine. Despite this bloody history of conquest, colonization and imperialism, the people, plants, water and the land are communicating this message of indigenous ingenuity and shared resiliency in culture/cuisine. It is powerful moment in time and by all means necessary the dialog must continue. In our region we push onward with a sense of responsibility to our land and we call it Land Advocacy. As stewards of the landscape in this new reality, we are able to piece together an intimate portrayal of who we are today. We are able to weave a tapestry of gastronomic history that contributes to our Social Recovery. As a mentor of mine once said, "Disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed." -D.Nunez

Restoring Balance through Indigenous Food

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