What do indigenous people eat

Culinary activism - How indigenous people are reclaiming their food culture

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In the USA, indigenous activists make culinary mobile. They see food as a central part of their culture.

White flour, sugar, salt and lard: the American government supplied the Indian tribes with rations of these foods after they had driven them from their traditional areas and penned them into reservations. There are also the ingredients of «Frybread».

This "deep-fried bread" is advertised on pseudo-Indian menus as a typical Indian dish. Others call it "Die Bread". For them, the greasy dough cloth on the plate symbolizes what European conquerors did to the native Americans.

Getting food as a ritual

A growing number of indigenous activists are making culinary mobile in the USA. They have recognized the central role food once played in their culture. When hunting and fishing, when growing traditional crops such as wild rice, beans or pumpkins, the indigenous people were never just about getting full.

The procurement and processing of food always had a ritual character. And these rituals ensured the social cohesion of the communities. By robbing the indigenous peoples of their natural resources, the colonizers also destroyed the social fabric of these peoples.

Activists who build on their legacy

Today, indigenous people are among the poorest and sickest Americans. Alcoholism and drug addiction prevail in the reservations. Diabetes and heart disease are more common there than anywhere else in the United States.

Activists like Sam Gensaw are fighting against this. Gensaw is a member of the Yurok and one of the portrayed in the documentary "Gather" by Sanjay Rawal. The film follows four indigenous peoples who build on their culinary heritage in very different ways.

Fishing, botany, language lessons

Sam Gensaw seeks to revive his people's salmon fishery and customs related to it. In turn, Nephi Craig, a member of the White Mountain Apaches, is a cook who only uses products in her restaurant that correspond to the original diet of her tribe.

Twila Cassadore goes one step further. She turns the botany, to which she introduces teenagers of the San Carlos Apaches, into a language lesson. Because the colonizers did not just bring Native Americans to their land and health. They also robbed them of their languages ​​- and thus of their memories.

Children were sent to state schools on the reservations, where only English was tolerated. The names of the seeds and nuts, herbs and berries to which the indigenous peoples no longer had access gradually disappeared.

A future for your culture

Twila Cassadore names these fruits of nature again and thus opens up a new generation access to history and the stories that this language holds. It also saves the language itself from becoming extinct.

The indigenous food activists are neither romantic nor nostalgic. You don't want to go back to a supposedly better past. Rather, they want a future for their culture - and food and everything related to it is a central part of that. «Frybread» is not one of them.

More information about the film

Open the box Close the box

In “Gather”, director Sanjay Rawal, together with producers Jason Momoa and Brian Mendoza, impressively portrays the growing movement of Native Americans who are claiming back their spiritual and cultural identity.

Check out the trailer and stream here. , Link opens in a new window

SRF 2 Kultur, Kultur Aktuell, 09.12.2020, 5:40 p.m.

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  • Comment by Felix Meyer (against untrue truth)
    I wish the indigenous peoples of this world that they can return to their roots. Many of these people have not yet lost the necessary respect for nature. I hope you can regain your way of life, adapted to the present day. Old, handed-down knowledge paired with foresight, a blessing for mother nature.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
    1. answer from Werner Gerber (1Berliner)
      I would like to know why you can decline this comment?
      Agree agree to the comment
    2. answer from Pascal Noti (Noti)
      @ Meyer: I can only agree with your words. Many indigenous peoples perform rituals to show respect and gratitude to Mother Nature when they find food in nature.
      Many indigenous peoples see themselves as part of nature and that one fits into it.
      Unfortunately, the luxury of modern societies destroys indigenous peoples -> changed way of life

      Most of us consider humans superior species for educational, religious, or progressive reasons
      Agree agree to the comment
    3. Show answers

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