Indigenous tribes strive to preserve Native American food culture: NPR


The Thanksgiving myth tells us that the pilgrims survived because friendly Native Americans helped them adapt their farming practices. Since then, it is the Aboriginals who have been forced to adapt.


The origin story of the Thanksgiving holiday in America imagines pilgrims surviving harsh winters thanks to the friendly Native Americans who taught them how to farm. Since then, indigenous peoples have had to adapt to the food system that Europeans developed here. They often do not have access to healthy food. But there is a movement to preserve traditional farming practices. From the KNAU member station in Flagstaff, Arizona, reports Melissa Sevigny.

MELISSA SEVIGNY, BYLINE: At Coffee Pot Farms on the Navajo Nation, Cherilyn Yazzie starts the day with prayer.

CHERILYN YAZZIE: Just pray and ask for a good day, for, you know, more rain if possible, but just to keep things healthy.

SEVIGNY: Ceremony and seed harvest are part of the seasonal rhythms of the off-grid farm. But Yazzie also uses non-traditional techniques, like hoop houses and a walk-behind tractor. She grows enough produce to feed 30 or 40 families.

YAZZIE: It feels good. And then the other thing is when you see plants growing, it’s just something – you think to yourself, wow. It’s always – it’s magic every time you see a little seed grow. You’re like, woo. How are you, little plant?

SEVIGNY: Yazzie studied to be a social worker, but found that she couldn’t convince people to eat healthy food if they didn’t have access to it. The Navajo and Hopi Nations, home to nearly 200,000 people and larger than West Virginia, have only 15 grocery stores.

YAZZIE: One of the things I thought was, okay, well, if our ancestors got seeds from our holy people who say, okay you’re going to grow your own food, you are given cattle or sheep and you’re supposed to be sustainable this way, how come we don’t?

SEVIGNY: Hopi chef Somana Tootsie says many traditional ways of growing and cooking food have been lost.

SOMANA TOOTSIE: Not everyone has the privilege of being able to be so connected to their culture.

SEVIGNY: Today she teaches a class of Hopi and Navajo students in Flagstaff. She shows how to turn a corn husk into a spoon.

TOOTSIE: The other thing you can use them for is crafting a brush.

SEVIGNY: Tootsie emphasizes changing cultures and adapting to different technologies. Students roast sweet potatoes in an oven on the cob and boil corn tea in an aluminum pot.

TOOTSIE: Showing what new technologies can do with traditional knowledge is really amazing. So I wanted the kids to be able to appreciate that and understand, you know, it’s not a stagnant culture.

SEVIGNY: Children make their own tea blends using local plants like sage and juniper berries, as well as a few things borrowed from other cultures, like oolong and pineapple. Here are Lexii Jacob, Lauren Tohey and Trinity Begay.

LEXII JACOB: I put the sage and the cranberry.

LAUREN TOHEY: I just, like, decided, like, sage and this ground corn tea.

TRINITY BEGAY: This is black tea and I’m going to put in, like, some cranberries.

SEVIGNY: Nizhonii Black, 16, says his home in the Navajo Nation is 45 minutes from a grocery store. She wants to learn how to grow more food for her family.

NIZHONII BLACK: Knowing that beans can actually help corn to grow, for example, bring nutrients to the soil and corn can use them to grow, I think that’s something I brought home. .

SEVIGNY: Somana Tootsie hopes some of these kids will become botanists or chefs. And by connecting to plants and food, they are also connecting to their crops.

TOOTSIE: There is a spiritual aspect to this. You don’t waste anything. You pay attention to every part of what you use, that way there is no waste. You know, you don’t disrespect the land. You don’t disrespect the plant.

SEVIGNY: She says when you touch and taste the food, you touch the story. For NPR News, I’m Melissa Sevigny.


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