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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Book Corner: Spotlight on Native Americans

By Candace Apple

“Remember the Past. Be the Future.” That slogan marked the 1990 designation of November as Native American Heritage Month by President George H.W. Bush. With Thanksgiving occurring in the same month, it’s a good time to peruse The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, Sean Sherman’s in-depth tribute to a core of Native American heritage: its food.

After only half of the Mayflower colonists survived their first winter in America, their Wampanoag neighbors taught them survival skills such as tapping maple syrup, fishing and growing corn. When the autumn of 1621 arrived and the harvest had been a success, the colonists invited the Wampanoag to join them for a thanks-giving dinner. Native American tribes traditionally held such a ceremonial dinner during each of the year’s full moons. The menu varied depending on available ingredients in their area.

Sherman provides eight of these traditional full-moon dinner menus, focusing on the food of what is now Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Sherman, an award-winning author, caterer and food educator, operates The Sioux Chef, which educates the public about traditional Native foods and culture, holding events for each of the full moons that feature traditional music, drumming, spoken poetry and prayer. The Sioux Chef Team offers full-service catering, pop-up dinners, food trucks and special events throughout the United States and internationally. Sherman says that aside from the restaurant in the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C, few restaurants offer meals using pre-colonization ingredients and recipes.

The recipes in Indigenous Kitchen are “hyperlocal, ultra seasonal, uber-healthy: no processed foods, no sugar, no wheat (or gluten), no dairy, no high-cholesterol animal products. It’s naturally low glycemic, high protein, low salt, plant based with lots of grains, seeds and nuts. Most of all it is naturally delicious,” says Sherman. Photos of the dishes might convince you to add them to your November celebrations.

So, in honor of Native American heritage, and in celebration and thanks to the Native Americans who have nourished the bounty of the land through their development of a healthy, sustainable cuisine, consider adding this beautiful cookbook to your collection.

Looking at Native American heritage from the more contemporary viewpoint of young Native Americans reveals both ties to the past and hopes for the future. Two books published for young adults by Annick Press are vibrant collections of poetry, essays, graphic novel stories and art that portray what it is like “growing up Native.”

Dreaming In Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices and #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, both edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, reveal a passionate desire to embrace their identity as Native Americans.

Both books chronicle the tragic events resulting from the U.S. government’s funding of residential schools from the late 19th to the mid 20th centuries. Native American children were hauled away from their parents, communities, culture, language and religion and sent to these schools to rid them of their “demons” and to assimilate them into the Euro-American culture. Many of them became ill, were abused and even died. Most lost knowledge of their own culture, language and spirituality. Although a 1928 government study recommended they be discontinued, their numbers increased, peeking as recently as the 1970s. A great deal of transgenerational pain and grief were passed on to succeeding generations.

Many of today’s young Native American people express a desire to heal, rise above stereotypes and compassionately honor their elders who had to suffer these affronts to their identities. The strength and courage of their words express hope for the future to reclaim their Native American wisdom and culture.

Photo: Candace Apple

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