What Kind of Indian Woman Are You?
What Kind of Indian Woman Are You?
I've attended many ceremonies and community gatherings throughout Indian Country over the years. It doesn't matter what kind of gathering it is, for celebration, healing or saying good-bye to a loved one, there are similarities among them. Everyone pitches in to make them a success, there is the love and sense of community felt by those who attend, and there is food--A LOT of it.
I remember one particular ceremony held at a friend's house years ago. The ceremony was to start at sundown. Many who were there helped with various preparations. Women brought food dishes of all kinds and a few of the women were in the kitchen making bread. I did what I could to help. The one thing I wouldn't do though, was help make bread. I have this thing about white flour, white sugar and processed salt. I do my best not to eat any of these commodities and I do not bake nor cook with them for myself or others.
North American Indigenous people have a history with these processed agricultural commodities. They were forced upon our ancestors at the time when our ancestors became limited to the boundaries of reservations and no longer had easy access to traditional food sources. Being the resourceful people that we were, we made the best of what was given to us. These commodities kept our ancestors alive but did not and still do not truly nourish us. Time and science now reveal that processed foods of all kinds are slowly yet surely killing us. Depriving our communities of our most precious resource, our people.
I had lost many loved ones to diabetes and heart disease, so I took a personal stand against food made with white flour, white sugar and processed salt. I was probably more militant about it then than I am now. The years have brought shades of grey into my perspective. On that particular day of the ceremony, I consciously chose not to help make bread. Some of the women were making frybread, some were baking rolls. There was enough to be done elsewhere and that's where I made myself useful. The ceremony was held, it was beautiful and healing. Then it was time for the feast. Everyone was feeling good; enjoying the food, conversation, and laughs. At one point during this post-ceremonial revelry, the topic of the conversation somehow turned to the fact that I do not make bread.
You know the saying, “never talk religion, politics or money” to keep the peace. I am here to say, that goes for food too, especially if you disagree with the status quo! I shared my reasoning for not making bread and from the mouth of a male friend and respected elder in the crowd, I hear, “Well what kind of Indian woman are you!?” Out of respect for him and the ceremony we just attended, I just laughed it off along with everyone else. But in my mind, I responded to him with, “A healthy one! One who wants to live a good, long life!” My friend's unconscious attempt to shame me, stung. His implication that I am not a real Indian woman if I don't make bread did have a lasting impact on me, but not in the manner he intended.
That incident took place over 20 years ago. I still don't make white bread. I have since discovered and recommend other more nourishing white flour alternatives for baking. Like flours made out of nuts, seeds and grains such as almonds, quinoa, amaranth, and wild rice to name a few. Some are even available at Walmart now for a decent price! However, I prefer to prepare and eat whole grains such as wild rice and quinoa rather than a bread product.
Since that incident, I have worked for IHS and tribal Diabetes Programs to help educate our communities regarding a path to better health. I have also helped produce health-related programs for television broadcast and use in Native communities such as Bad Sugar, Rez-Robics for Couch Potato Skins and Frybread, Just Say No! (Although, today in my older, wiser years I would probably call the latter program, Frybread, It's Just a Treat Not a Staple! espousing the virtue of moderation. However, that title wouldn't have quite the same impact, would it?)
I am now assisting with Vision Maker Media's latest initiative Growing Native. Executive Director, Shirley Sneve and I recently took a quick trip around parts of the Great Lakes region. We had the opportunity to visit communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario Canada. From the community gardens on the White Earth and Shakopee Mdewakanton communities to medicinal plants near Nigigoonsiminicaning First Nation to the vast bounty of wild rice beds of northern Minnesota and Canada; “growing native” and reclaiming traditional knowledge and food ways to regain health and strength is truly evident in the Great Lakes Region.
I am happy to say that attitudes in Indian Country regarding healthy eating are improving.
We cannot deny that resistance to change still exists. Yet I see more and more individuals and communities taking action and choosing to walk the path to better health. Vision Maker Media's Growing Native series will highlight some of these individuals and communities. We hope you will join us for the journey!