Thursday, November 19, 2015

Exciting News: an Update!

Fall greetings to you! It's been a beautiful fall season gifted with many warm days here in Buffalo, and vigorous winds just roared in the other day, whisking away the remaining leaves left on the trees. You can feel the air starting to turn cooler and the nights become calmer. I hope you've been enjoying the fall harvest season as many of our favorite foods return to us. The sweetness of every shade of apple decorates the supermarket produce baskets. Gourds of every kind grace the grounds of our gardens promising a new flavor to add to the dinner table. Finally, the root vegetables emerge, marking the season with hearty sustaining meals and the ease into winter. This is always an exciting time of year!

For new readers just joining, I want to welcome you to the Indigenous Food Revolutionary blog! I am a Ph.D candidate working on dissertation research that explores the food traditions, diet, and practices of the Native American Haudenosaunee nation, more commonly known as the Iroquois. Located amongst the Great Lakes region and beyond, the Haudenosaunee confederacy communities have a rich history in indigenous foods and food sovereignty practices. At the same time, U.S. Indian policy history has had a tremendous colonizing impact on Native American diet and bodies. My research examines the ways Haudenosaunee people today negotiate these traditional food practices with contemporary realities and the potential for reconnecting to Indigenous knowledge, foods, and language through community-engaged activism. Here at this blog, I hope to share some of this activism, research ideas, thoughts, knowledge, Mohawk language, and recipes as I continue along this journey. Nia:wenh for joining me!

Thank you for your patience! I haven't had a lot of time to write this past summer, and fall deadlines have been lingering around, but I wanted to share with you what I've been up to for the past six months.

2015 Native American and Indigenous Studies Association Annual Meeting in Washington D.C.

Back in June, I had the amazing opportunity to co-organize a Native food sovereignty double-panel with Dr. Elizabeth Hoover for the NAISA conference in DC. Our two-part program, "Indigenous Food Sovereignty in Action: Resurgence and Revitalization (I); Indigenous Identity and Education (II)" featured the work of several established and emerging Native scholars doing community work to promote indigenous foods revitalization, cooking, agriculture, and language revitalization. It was exciting to be part of a a crucial and developing discussion around indigenous food sovereignty efforts. I also got the chance to sight-see and visit the National Museum of the American Indian where they had a special exhibit on treaty relations and history.


Strawberry Jam Workshop by Nancy Johnson with Indigenous Women's Initiatives-Seed Institute

I'm fortunate to have helped coordinate community workshops this summer at the Tuscarora and Seneca communities. In late-June, when the strawberries were fresh and in season, we two classes how to make natural strawberry jam using organic strawberries, raspberries, lemon juice, honey, and pectin. The results were delicious!


"Culinary Culture: The Politics of American Foodways, 1765-1900" Summer Seminar at the American Antiquarian Society, Center for Historic American Visual Culture

I am also grateful to have participated in a summer seminar on American food history and culture at the AAS in Worcester this past July. I had the opportunity to work with really fascinating archival documents and learned how to assess visual art sources for my research. We had hands-on workshops looking at nineteenth-century American cookbooks, still life paintings, trade cards, advertisements, ceramic plates, and many other AAS resources! One highlighted item on display in a cabinet was a small bottle of tea that was supposedly fetched from the harbor from the Boston Tea Party. Our class even had a field trip and dinner at the Old Sturbridge Village and cooking workshops making hard tack, election cake, and other vintage recipes. It was wonderful to meet other faculty and colleagues doing really interesting work in food studies!

On top of that, I had fun meeting up with like-minded Native foodie counterparts for dinner and spending time with a dear friend I keep up with since our Oklahoma days. We had a few moments to sneak away and check out some historic sites including the North Bridge, Old Manse Garden (where Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau gardened and wrote), and Lexington and Concord. We had time for a brief trek through Boston itself where I raided the Whole Foods for foodstuffs to hoard. Finally, we were lucky enough to catch the "Made of Thunder, Made of Glass" beadwork exhibit at Deerfield Memorial Hall, featuring gorgeous artwork by talented Haudenosaunee artists.



Plantain Salve Workshop by Donna "Turk" Rockwell and Nancy Johnson with Indigenous Women's Initiatives-The Seed Institute (Hosted by Six Nations Native American Herbal Remedies and Tea)

A collaborate venture between IWI and the Six Nations Native American Herbal Remedies and Teas store, friends Turk and Nancy showed us how to make a natural plantain salve skin ointment for cuts, burns, bug bites, and skin irritations. Using local plantain picked from Cazenovia Creek park, we let the leaves soak in olive oil in a slowcooker overnight, then added beeswax and lavender oil until it was the right consistency. The result was a beautiful green jar of salve that showcases the healing power of plants as medicine for our bodies. Plantain can also be made as a tea with many medicinal benefits. You can find both the salve and tea at the store at 1234 Hertel Avenue.


2015 Indigenous Foods Cooking Challenge by Seneca Nation's Food Is Our Medicine at the Seneca Nation Fall Festival

Earlier this year, Nancy and I entered the Indigenous Foods Cooking challenge and flew through the preliminary qualifying round with our wedding-inspired corn mush and maple-seared bison steaks. Well, the final round was held at the fall festival in September. For those unfamiliar, this cooking competition is structured similar to the show "Chopped" where teams compete against each other using featured ingredients. Elk steaks, juniper berries, purple fingerling potatoes, and white corn were our mandatory ingredients. We had 60 minutes to get a dish together for three special guest chef-judges, competing against two other teams. Our final dish was a seared elk steak served with mashed purple potatoes and a white corn gravy, a beet salad with juniper vinaigrette, and a stuffed squash ring topped with a special juniper berry sauce. It was such a fun experience and I always appreciate working with Nancy. She carries such creativity, passion, humility, and knowledge and goes about her cooking in a quiet, collected manner (unlike myself!). Plus she puts up with my stubbornness!

Here's the final dish pictured below. And... drumroll... we made 2nd place! But we'll be ready to take 1st next year! :)

Buffalo News "Refresh" Indigenous Foods story
Finally, this week, we have very exciting news! On behalf of the Indigenous Women's Initiative-Seed Institute and the Indigenous Food Revolutionary blog, Nancy and I were interviewed together by the Buffalo News "Refresh" health section. The story will feature local indigenous foods, the community work we've been doing, cultural teachings, and how indigenous foods contribute to the health and wellness movement. We cooked three indigenous-themed dishes at the Riverside Salem UCC environmental cottage kitchen at Grand Island - Vegetarian Chili featuring White Corn, Manoomin (Wild Rice) and Mushrooms, and Cranberry White Corn Pudding - that will be published on Saturday, November 21st. Try them out for your upcoming holiday feasts!

CLICK HERE FOR THE BUFFALO NEWS STORY LINK! Also, accompanying photo gallery can be found here: http://galleries.buffalonews.com/default.aspx?id=5240#/0


It's really incredible how this story has come full circle. I write this blog post update with much gratitude in my heart and a reminder that even though this blog is titled "Indigenous Food Revolutionary," it is by no means singular or solitary. The people I've befriended have become part of my story, shaping my path, and inspiring me in ways they will never know. Tekwanonhwera:tons! (I give my thanks, gratitude, and respect to you all.)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Well For Culture: Iroquois White Corn & Berries

Kwe kwe, sewakekon!! I've missed my blog writing for the last few months! I hope this post finds you well and enjoying the fading weeks of summer. I've been quite busy with dissertation work and academic commitments as well as some exciting community cooking workshops that happened over the summer. I've also been canning away, trying to preserve some of the precious summer/fall harvest foods for winter! I'll detail these in a separate upcoming post!

But for now, I just wanted to check in with you all and let you know I have guest-posted a recipe at a really amazing website/blog you all should check out! My friends Thosh and Chelsea put their brilliant minds together to create a place called "Well For Culture," a site that supports all facets of Indigenous wellness from our nourishment and foods to movement and fitness and through our traditions, language, and culture. Not only is it an aesthetically beautiful page, but they have recipes there, eating tips, and instructional fitness videos. They're doing really great things for Indian Country right now, so please, check out their webpage, their Facebook, or their Instagram and support the work they're putting in to help our nations and people become stronger! Nia:wen!

Oh, and here's the delicious recipe you will find there! I think you'll like it. Niawen, Kanikatsista! :)

Don't forget to support our local farmers and organizations continuing the tradition of growing white corn! One of which is the Iroquois White Corn Project!

Iroquois White Corn & Berries


CLICK HERE FOR RECIPE LINK!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Iroquois White Corn Project Food Shoot



  Shé:kon, sewakwé:kon! I hope you're all well this winter, and finding enough inspiration to bring you warmth through this last stretch before spring. Though it can be difficult facing the cold temperatures and lack of sunshine, I think there remains a beauty to be found in the stillness, the quiet, and the knowledge that Mother Earth is resting, taking a long, deserved nap before everything comes back to life again. And the maple sap is starting to run, so spring will be here soon!

  I want to say thank you again for reading, or following the blog, Facebook page, or Instagram page. I hope you've been able to glean some knowledge here, perhaps find inspiration for different ways of thinking about food and our relationships to creation, or maybe you just like food and pretty pictures. :) Regardless, it's wonderful to have company while on this research, and personal, journey. It's been a few months since I have posted here, but I'm glad to be back writing again. Since I last blogged, I graduated from the first-year Yonkhiyana'tón:nis Mohawk Language Immersion Program, completed a printed picture book with 50 food graphics, recordings, and words (a community service project involving Mohawk language and foods), finished a photography shoot with the Iroquois White Corn Project, and, sadly, my family saw my beautiful grandmother off to the spirit world after an illness just before Christmas. She was a wonderful, kind, giving, and loving woman to whom I owe much of my inspiration and gratitude for many of these writings, teachings, and experiences.



About Ganondagan and the Iroquois White Corn Project
  In the fall, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with the Iroquois White Corn Project, an initiative of the non-profit group, Friends of Ganondagan and the Ganondagan State Historic Site. The longhouse site and farmhouse are located in Victor, New York, just south of Rochester. Ganondagan - Seneca translation: "Town of Peace" - is a Native American historical site dating back to the seventeenth century, once inhabited by thousands of Haudenosaunee/Seneca people. In 1687, the French Marquis de Denonville Campaign destroyed the village, burning down over five hundred thousand bushels of white corn. In the 1980's, Site Manager, G. Peter Jemison sought to revitalize the history and land at the Ganondagan site, establishing the Friends of Ganondagan in 1989, gaining recognition from the Bureau of Historic Sites, and rebuilding a Seneca bark longhouse in 1997 (G. Peter Jemison lecture). In 2011, the Iroquois White Corn Project was introduced. The latest development at Ganondagan will be the opening of the new Seneca Art and Culture Center, coming in July 2015. In anticipation of the grand opening and website updates, I was asked by Meg, Executive Director of Ganondagan, to photograph their food products and recipes and to cover their annual corn husking bee. It was exciting to have the opportunity to work with the great people involved with the project, and to be contributing to a truly important traditional agriculture initiative!

  You see, the genesis of this project finds its roots in John Mohawk's and Yvonne Dion-Buffalo's dream from years ago. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Dr. John Sotsisowah Mohawk was a renowned Seneca scholar, farmer, elder, teacher, and friend to many, and a founder of the American Studies program at the University at Buffalo. It was his vision to see the Iroquois white corn as not merely a treat or occasional dish served during ceremonial or social gatherings, but a regular staple, a part of our daily diets. He believed that eating our original foods had the capacity to heal and reverse many Indigenous health afflictions. Discussing the high rates of diabetes for indigenous peoples, Mohawk wrote, "The 'cure' for the malady, it turns out, has been with them all along. It lies in their own indigenous foods" (Barreiro 20). Indeed, we are seeing this happen in many indigenous diet initiatives happening around Indian Country, the latest with the Healthy Roots initiative in Six Nations, where a group of participants have undertaken a three-month challenge to eat only indigenous foods.

A woven tapestry with John Mohawk's picture
hangs in the farmhouse,overseeing
the processing and meals shared. 
  In addition to his scholarship, he sought to pursue ways in which he could revitalize Haudenosaunee food traditions. From 1997 to 2006, he established, and maintained alongside his wife Dr. Dion-Buffalo, the Pinewoods farming community at the Cattaraugus reservation where the corn was grown and regularly eaten (IWCP website). He often developed recipes - breads, pancakes, and soups - and looked for new and exciting ways to prepare and cook the corn and corn flours. More than simply agriculture and cooking, Mohawk also envisioned a type of sovereignty within this activity, that the self-sufficiency and economic potential within this type of food production held a key to support Native nationhood and economic independence, shifting our dependence on the global economy back to the local for a moment. Addressing a conference in 2006, he spoke on this matter: "I think this is why the food value in Indigenous, heritage foods is far greater than the food value in commercial food. The food value in commercial food is weighed in dollars, and the food value in heritage foods is weighed in something we might call life force. Somehow it was built around life" (Nelson 175). He recognized both the nutritional and economic value in returning to original, "slow" foods. Unfortunately, some time after giving this address, Sotsisowah passed away and joined his wife who died the year prior, and the activity came to a halt.

  Not wanting to see the dream dissolve, G. Peter Jemison, Ganondagan Site Manager, recently brought new life to the project by relocating it and linking it with the Ganondagan State Historic Site in 2011. The Iroquois White Corn Project (IWCP) reinvigorates Mohawk's vision and seeks to revitalize Native agricultural production of Iroquois white corn, to restore Native culture, health, and diet by improving accessibility and convenience, and to provide a market for a unique, non-genetically modified heritage food product. The IWCP grows the 1,400-year-old white corn on site (3.4 acres of corn in the 2014 growing season) and also purchases from local, traditional Native farmers who withhold use of pesticides and chemicals. Nearly all of the processing of the corn is done by hand, including: planting, picking, husking, braiding, and processing. I'll be sharing more about the processing in a future blog post next month. Project Manager, Kim General-Morf, oversees all of these processes, coordinates outreach at events, and prepares a delicious feast of food! What an incredible time it was to work with Kim, Meg, Pete, Jeanette, and the staff!

Pictured at the top left: Meg Joseph, Ganondagan Executive Director
Bottom left: Pete Jemison, Ganondagan Manager and founder
Right: Kim General-Morf, IWCP Project Manager

The Husking Bee
  On a cloudy October morning, we arrived at the Rickard Farm on the Tuscarora Nation Reservation for their annual husking bee. We were invited to husk at the beautiful, rustic barn dating back to Chief Clinton Rickard's time and used often by Norton and his family. Piles and piles of just-picked white corn waited to be husked, the husks a pale yellow color to complement the vibrant fall foliage that surrounded us. Friends, families, relatives, and visitors gathered around, sitting on bales of straw, catching up on recent goings-on, telling stories, befriending new people, and husking away at the mountains of corn. The little ones helped out, eager to tear off the husks and assist their parents, or they ate apples picked from the nearby farm, played with new friends, or taunted the dog. Elders talked about past husking bees and told stories about people they remembered. A young family spoke to each other in Mohawk, their baby boy taking in the whole scene, taking turns on people's laps. Others sat quietly and concentrated on carefully peeling the delicate layers of husk down to the last three leaves to reveal long, even rows of cream-colored kernels. I had a brief moment to sit down and husk corn with Pete. He explained how difficult it can be to grow the corn organically, especially when there are hungry deer and invasive plant species nearby as some of the Ganondagan corn became casualty to. Later on, I went to visit the few spots on the reservation where the corn was growing in some of the reservation fields. It's remarkable how much hard work is involved in this type of farming and to think about how our ancestors have done it for so long.

Marlene's amazing Venison Stew!
  The day moved along while the sun tried his best to show himself and make it just a little warmer. For those who needed a break, the Rickards came prepared. We were greeted by a phenomenal spread of delicious food, including two different kinds of traditional Iroquois corn soup, venison stew with meat that had been freshly hunted by George's older son, local apple cider, scones, and a variety of pies for dessert. People visited and enjoyed the delightful feast, grateful for warm food on a chilly day. It was a generous gift in exchange for a few hours of work. Soon, after we worked through the piles on the barn floor, they brought in even more wagons full of corn fresh from the fields. Then it was time to braid the cobs for hanging so they could dry properly before use. The corn is husked except for three or four leaves for braiding, and people gladly sat down and braided for a while. One man had a huge bundle he was braiding, starting with just a few cobs at first, and gradually weaving in more corn, adding in husks for reinforcement. It was beautiful to see the previous year's corn hanging from the rafters of the barn, giant braids of corn; the work of community, friendship, love, and tradition proudly on display.

  As you can see, many hands go into the care, processing, and cooking which makes enjoying it all the more special. I think this is part of what John Mohawk was talking about when he said that these foods are measured in "life force," it is no exaggeration. It's a lot of work for one person to grow and harvest this corn alone, but the idea that a community comes together to care for a food that nourishes and sustains us, and connects us to our ancestral land and creation, is a life force in itself.


Finally, the Food!
  And speaking of the food... it was so much fun to wear my food photographer hat for a day! The day after the corn husking bee, my husband and I packed up my equipment and drove to the Ganondagan farmhouse. It was another frigid fall day where you could feel the season beginning to turn, but the fields and woods were magnificent shades of burnt orange, crimson red, and cool yellow and the farmhouse looked simply pastoral. When we showed up, we found Kim in the kitchen cooking up a storm of dishes. She prepared her food creations with a confidence, she obviously knew her recipes inside and out, and she did so with ease and skill. There were three different pots of soup she was cooking simultaneously, while she prepped enchiladas and salads for the shoot. She hand-roasted peppers over the flames of the burners, chopped countless vegetables, and carefully layered enchiladas. Then she brought out a whole spread of baked goods to be photographed, made the day before, including pancakes, muffins, cookies, and breads. Most of the recipes I photographed are up on their newly revamped website here. If you're feeling brave, they are always looking for recipe submissions and you may be featured as recipe of the month!

  If you are interested in learning more about the Iroquois White Corn Project, or scheduling your own visit or to volunteer, check out the website or their Facebook page. The Ganondagan State Historic Site opens for the season on May 2nd, 2015, and the grand opening of the new Seneca Art and Culture Center will be held on July 25, 2015 to coincide with their Annual Music and Dance Festival on July 25th and 26th. Check it out! I hope to see you there!

In the kitchen with Kim!
**Allergy/Diet Key: VT= Vegetarian, VG= Vegan, GF= Gluten-free, DF= Dairy-free**

  • Cornmeal Cookies (VT): What can I say? My husband really enjoyed these! This basic cookie recipe highlights the flavor and texture of the corn flour.


  • Blueberry White Corn Muffins (VT): A basic muffin recipe, these are listed on the website as White Corn Cherry Muffins, but I think you can just substitute the fruit.



  • Pork Chili with Iroquois White Corn (GF/DF): I absolutely loved this recipe and will make it someday when I'm brave enough to roast peppers over open flames! It reminded me of a delicious, hearty pasta dish with its sweet tomato flavor, chunks of meat, and the texture of the corn. I'd have never thought of mixing the white corn with tomato sauce!



  • Three Sisters Salad (VT/VG/GF/DF): Jeanette came up with the idea of incorporating some of the Ganondagan longhouse artwork into some of the food shots and she found these exquisite three sisters corn husk dolls to go with this appropriately-named dish. This salad is a delicious treat that would be perfect for a summer picnic or for a day when you want to get your veggie intake up.



  • Green Chile Veggie Enchiladas (VT/GF): I couldn't believe how gorgeous this dish turned out once we plated it. I had a few nibbles of this one to sample and I just loved the sauce and layers of squash and corn. Delicious!



  • Three Sisters Posole (VT/VG/GF/DF): This was another three sisters-inspired, hearty vegetarian soup that fit the cool fall season and day exactly. It had a great warmth to its flavor with the inclusion of cinnamon, cumin, and jalapeno. 



  • Gluten-Free White Corn Pizza Dough (VT/GF): This recipe took some time and effort to make, but it was really worth it! I broke my dairy-free rule to sample it, and it hit the spot. A smaller pizza, its texture was like crispy, pan pizza crust and it held up well with all the toppings. My, how I've missed pizza these past few years! I'm sure it could be made without the cheese or with a vegan cheese.



  • Four Directions Cookie (VT): I didn't get to sample these cookies on site, but I did pull off a gluten-free/dairy-free tested version with a garbanzo/potato flour blend, coconut oil, coconut sugar, and honey. These were awesome, and addictive! The nutty flavor of the roasted corn flour really stands out in these.



  • Iroquois Corn Granola Bars (VT/VG/GF/DF): I've made these several times and had some trouble with the original recipe in terms of crumbling and holding together. After some modifications, the removal of xanthan gum, and the addition of almond flour and coconut oil, these came together well. I instructed a cooking class using this recipe last month, and it was a lot of fun!



  • Roasted Cornmeal Pancakes (VT): I didn't get the chance to sample these as they aren't gluten free (yet), but they look like a great pancake. So many wonderful ideas and potential using these flours!



  What a treat it was running around from kitchen to porch, playing with props and lighting, enjoying the scenery, cooking up new recipes, and getting to hang out with some great people! Nia:wen!


Sources:

Barreiro, Jose, ed. John Mohawk, "Wild and Slow: Nourished by Tradition." p. 20-23. Thinking in Indian: A John Mohawk Reader. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2010.

Iroquois White Corn Project website. About: White Corn Project History. www.iroquoiswhitecorn.org

Jemison, G. Peter. Presentation: "Ganondagan: Three Decades Managing the Town of Peace." 24 September 2014.

Nelson, Melissa K., ed. John Mohawk, "From the First to the Last Bite: Learning From the Food Knowledge of Our Ancestors." p. 170-179. Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future. Rochester, VT: Bear and Company, 2008.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Corn Mush

Here's a sneak preview from the Iroquois White Corn Project photo shoot!
     Niawenkò:wa to everyone that has shown such tremendous support since I unveiled the new work I've been doing with Mohawk language and food! I'm really thankful and excited to be doing something that may be of help to our community in regards to language revitalization and learning about our traditional foods. I'll be presenting a little bit more about this at the Third Annual Research Symposium on Haudenosaunee-Native American Studies Research at University at Buffalo on Friday, November 14th. For more information, check here. The title of my presentation will be: "Tetewatskà:hons ne Sewatokwà:tshera (We Eat From the ‘Dish with One Spoon’): Revitalizing Haudenosaunee Food Traditions through Mohawk Language ”

     While I'm on the topic of traditional foods, I've been doing some food photography work with the Iroquois White Corn Project this fall (more on this next blog post!) and have been thinking a lot about corn. I've been rereading Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation by Waugh (1916) and found what seems like no end to corn recipes and usages. Beyond simply cooking, the milk of the corn was used for infants when breastfeeding was not possible, the husks were used for beautiful basketry and dolls, or even for in-ground food storage during the winter months. I could go on and on about the numerous varieties of original, heirloom types of corn too, and how important this 1/3 of the Three Sisters is to our wellbeing, culture, and life, but I should probably get on to sharing the recipe I had intended to share today: Corn Mush.

          For those unfamiliar, corn mush (otsískwa) is a delicious traditional dish often part of ceremonial and social gatherings. It has the consistency of a porridge, almost like Cream of Wheat, or oatmeal. Put simply, it is the boiling of ground white corn flour until most of of the water has cooked or absorbed into the corn meal. It is easy, fast, and a scrumptious way to start your day or serve anytime. Though it is a simple two-ingredient dish, people prepare it in different ways adding maple syrup, nuts, fruits, or even meat if one desired. For today's entry, I am sharing the recipe from the Iroquois White Corn Project where you can find the White Corn Flour used to cook this dish.


CORN MUSH
*Printable Recipe*
Makes 1 serving

Ingredients:
1 Cup Iroquois Roasted Corn Flour or Iroquois White Corn Flour
2 Cups Water (add more Maple Syrup if you like it sweet)

Directions:
1. In a saucepan, whisk Roasted Corn Flour into water.
2. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat.
3. Simmer for 5-7 minutes.
4. Serve with fruit, nuts, or brown sugar.





     Share some comments below if you'd like. How do you make your mush? Do you add any additional ingredients?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kanyen'kéha Language & Food Project: Everything is Connected!


                She:kon, sewakwe:kon! I hope you’re all making the most of the last days of summer. It’s a wonderful time of year as the farmers markets and gardens are at their peak. The fields are full of sun-ripened fresh corn, tomatoes, zucchini, beans, greens, beets, and more. Trees continue to be decorated by sweet peaches, plums, and apricots. But soon enough fall will be upon us. I know it’s on its way as I already see leaves beginning to change here in New York, days are getting cooler and shorter, and my cats are shedding and coughing up hairballs. Ha! Make sure you enjoy what’s left of our sunny days!

                Today I write this blog post to share with you some exciting work I have been doing! You all know I’ve been part of the Mohawk immersion language program and we just hit our half-way point of the program recently. It’s been coming along really well. We are learning so much as a group, our conversation abilities are amazing compared to where we were back in April, we’re connecting with other Mohawk language-learning folks, and we’ve even had the opportunity to visit and hang with other fluent speakers. Now we are studying different verbs and their many tenses, and I won’t lie, it is challenging work, but so rewarding! (FYI: The NACS Mohawk Immersion Program is currently recruiting for the new session to begin in January 2015. Let me know if you're interested.)

                Before I get to talking about my project, I just wanted to say a bit about my time at the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation community last week. Our class went on a trip to be part of the Youth and Elders Gathering, a multi-tribal summit where the young ones and elders, and everyone in between, of different Native nations come together to discuss the issues facing our communities. These gatherings have been held since the 1970s, and the locations rotate across Indian Country every year. It has been a way to build communication, relationships, and spiritual unity and collective consciousness for our many Native nations as well as discuss issues and create action. This year it happened to be at Akwesasne, in Upstate New York, and what a meeting it was! I met people from all directions, got to speak Kanyen’keha with elder speakers, visited the Freedom School there and hung out with the little ones, heard from respected elders about our teachings, and heard beautiful singing from friends and youths. It was a good reminder of what is truly important to us – revitalizing our traditions, living by the teachings, gratitude and giving thanks, strengthening our relationships with one another, and working toward a healthy, strong future for our nations and communities. It was a beautiful gathering to be a part of.

                I remember one of the mornings, a younger man went up to speak and reminded us about how everything is connected: our bodies, our teachings, our languages, ceremonies, traditions, foods, gardens, land, songs… everything. He went on to discuss how we need to get back to the foods and gardening, the original sources of nourishment. I wanted to fist-pump in the air and scream, “Yeah!,” but it would have been wholly inappropriate. Nonetheless, it was a powerful thing to hear, especially sitting in a circle with so many like-minds and renowned Haudenosaunee elders. It was particularly powerful because we were surrounded by the community gardens and fields. While we gathered around the fire and heard about the importance of the thanksgiving address, the ceremonies, and the foods, stalks of traditional white corn rustled and swayed in the gentle breeze. The smell of fresh rain and sweetgrass permeated the air while a smoky cedar-sage scent from the fire lingered on our consciousness. As we sat there, a man in a ribbon shirt walked up and down the rows of the garden picking fresh green beans and tomatoes for our dinner later that evening. The St. Regis River flowed quietly in the background, reminding us that water is a blessing never to be taken for granted given the dire drought situation taking place in California. After taking all that in, I thought to myself, “skenn:en kenentenyons”… peace is in my thinking. This is what it’s all about: our connections to the earth, ourselves, each other, tyonnhehkwen – “the sustainers” or sources of nourishment, everything is connected.

                On that note, I’ll finally share some of the work I’ve been doing. Back in May, I started working on a community service project with Native American Community Services of Buffalo, the same agency managing our Mohawk immersion program. I plan to utilize and teach the Mohawk language in relation to foods, cooking, gardening, and eating. I am creating curriculum and supplementary materials possibly in the form of coloring books, story books, teaching materials, and gardening kits, and recordings suited for children, elders, community members, or anyone interested in learning this type of vocabulary. At this stage, I am creating and recording vocabulary lists via Soundcloud available for download right now (see table below). I hope to be able to write and translate recipes in the language, perhaps instruct cooking classes or demonstrations, and generally consult about Native traditional nutrition. It is my goal to show how this is all connected, advocate for better health for our bodies and communities by eating the foods we were meant to, and do so while knowing our original language and instructions. It’s not merely about decolonization or food sovereignty now, but re-indigenizing and breathing life back into the traditions that sustain us. As always, nia:wenkò:wa for reading and following.

                You’ll notice at the top menu bar of my page there is a new tab called “Mohawk Language Recordings.” Here is where you can follow along and access materials and recordings that I have been working on. Or you can go directly to my Soundcloud tracks here. I will be continually updating it. I encourage you to check it out, download some words, listen to the recordings, write some sticky notes in your kitchen or garden, and challenge yourself to learn something new. After all, you never know where it might take you!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Two Years and Counting...


     
     Friday, August 1, marked the anniversary of two years committed to my healthy lifestyle changes. That is, 730 days of no gluten, no dairy, artificial ingredients, very little processed garbage (I’m still a sucker for a gluten-free cookie or chips once in a while!) – just real, whole, (preferably, and when possible, indigenous) foods. I’m still in disbelief sometimes considering this is the girl that used to slug down a Pepsi while munching on a bag of Doritos, watching episodes of ‘Sex and the City’ ten years ago. I’ve come a long way since then! It has been an amazing journey full of healing, growth, positivity, and change. I have come to know my body better and appreciate it for everything it does.

     While I love and appreciate cooking, foods, and the physical changes I experienced, this second year has been about healing the internal parts of myself. I was recently at the Haudenosaunee Great Law Recital this week at Onondaga Nation Territory. I had a moment to sit down and talk with an elder about my experiences, and he said that healing needs to take place in the body, the mind, and the spirit. This most recent year has been about these final two levels. I have made great strides to try my best to have peace in my thinking, to heal from pain from my past that I had previously buried away, and remove myself from negative energy sources when possible. I’m learning to listen more, be more patient, understand my strengths and weaknesses, approach life with a sense of gratitude and curiosity, and to live with a “good mind.”

     Sure, these all probably sound like pretty common sense instructions, but I will tell you that it’s difficult to be of a good mind when your body is in a crooked state (see what I did there, H-peeps?! J). Part of Bob Antone and Rick Hill’s presentation on Monday was about how we need to decolonize all of the parts of ourselves, including our bodies, a message that often gets lost in the mix. When we feed ourselves foods that contain chemicals, genetically modified ingredients, post-colonization foods that are foreign to our bodies and genetics, and high-glycemic, inflammatory starches (including gluten/wheat) that embroil our bodies in an insulin-spiking battle, we set ourselves up for unwellness. When our bodies aren’t given the appropriate nourishment we were made for – foods close to the earth and creation – it’s hard for our minds to be well also. When our minds are unwell, it’s hard for us to make good decisions, treat each other well, and be strong people and nations. This is a lesson that I encountered along my way.

     Spiritually, I am still healing and I know this work will never be finished. As human beings, we are constantly growing, learning, and changing. Personally, my path has been about reclaiming who I am – being part of my community, learning the language, going to ceremony, and really trying to understand and apply our teachings to my life, thinking, and work. Studying and speaking Kanienkeha (Mohawk language) has truly been life-changing as I’m learning that our Native languages restore an ancient way of thinking, speaking, and being. It took me a long time to understand why language is so important, but I know that it too has been a powerful part of my healing process. Being at the Great Law this week also really shifted my perspective in terms of our traditional teachings. I was inspired by the many good-minded people who were there, feeling the presence of the wampum belts together again, and the power of that message. The Onondaga Cookhouse staff also graciously fed us three meals daily with nation-raised buffalo, turkeys, chickens, and pigs, traditional corn soup and corn bread made from Haudenosaunee corn, and a bit of fresh fruits and vegetables. I felt such peace and good energy after this week-long gathering (some of which can be attributed to the good cooking!). Things are at last coming together.

     This brings me back to why I am here writing. I started this blog in July 2013 with a lot of hesitation, not sure about what to do with all these thoughts, recipes, readings, and ramblings. I knew that I wanted to help people in whatever way I could short of going back to school for a nutrition program certificate. I thought there had to be a way to share the power of this journey I’ve been on and maybe encourage others to reconsider their sources of nourishment and ways of thinking about food. I truly believe in the power of healing through food, that it connects us in so many deep and complex ways to all of creation, and we can heal our bodies, minds, and ultimately, our nations, by re-indigenizing our traditional foodways and sustenance. This path, so far, has been incredible and I’m so grateful for the people I continue to meet and become inspired by, the readers who take the time to look at my posts or even cook recipes, and the opportunity to combine what I love doing (cooking, writing, reading, photographing and connecting with awesome folks). I hope you'll continue to walk with me! Niawenkowa, sewakwe:kon! (a big thank you to you all!)


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Adventures in Blackcap-Picking


I used to always love the summertime as a child. Growing up, summertime meant possibilities. Those steamy, listless days were open for anything since we were out of school. For my cousins and I, that sometimes meant trouble, but we behaved for the most part. I want to share with you my childhood playground:




These photographs are of one of my beloved, special places in the woods. It is where fields see the seasons continually evolving, Mother Earth covered in blankets of snow, sweet woven grasses, bristly weeds, and gently layered leaves. It is where the frogs sing their songs at night, lightning bugs illuminate the bushes, fields of dandelion skeletons await blown wishes, and both Sun and Moon take turns watching over the fields. Deer and wild life would roam those woods, as would rez field cars. It is a place I’m sure my ancestors enjoyed also, as I sometimes imagine the earth underneath my feet holding ancient imprints of their own somewhere deep beneath the layers. It is where sweet childhood memories rest.

We spent many summertime bike rides cruising down this path, riding until we reached the middle of the rez, several fields in. Most often, it was my younger sister, Melissa, my cousin, Colleen, and I, while various cousins and friends would venture out with us. We popped wheelies, skinned up knees, rode three to a bike, endured bee stings, and even braved the great lengths of Chew Road back in the day, a.k.a. Pothole-ville. Back then, you weren’t much if you couldn’t ride a bike.

Apart from bikes and no school, there was no doubt that one of THE best parts of summer was blackcap season! For those unfamiliar with this delectable fruit, blackcaps (Mohawk word/pronunciation) are also known as wild black raspberries. They are related to raspberries, but are much smaller, darker, sturdier, and taste very different. Every time in early-mid July, right around when Indian Picnic time rolls around, we knew those precious berries were waiting. We would keep checking the bushes until the caps turned just the right shade of purple, then it was go time. Make no mistake, though, this was no easy task. We paid for these berries by making a ceremonial offering of sweat and blood. We came equipped with our bikes, bowls, buckets, and bug spray, but it was often no match for nature. Despite bathing in Off spray beforehand, the mosquitoes always found in us a scrumptious feast. The scorching July sun and humidity sometimes made it unbearable while sweat poured down our faces. Snakes, real and imagined, awaited our arrival into the thickest part of the fields. Thorns from the blackcap bushes stabbed at our arms, demanding blood as sacrifice and keeping the juiciest, blackest berries out of arm’s reach. And yet we continued to pick.

After all of our hard work and dedication, we would emerge from the woods triumphant, with two huge containers of berries filled to the brim. We beamed with pride, and stained fingers, and welts, and scratches, and stink, sweaty hair. The next best thing was actually eating the berries. We ate them plainly, scooped out from the bowl. We mashed them with loads of sugar until they formed a rich, deep purple goodness that was as sweet as jam. Sometimes our aunties actually made jam with them. Or, if we didn’t eat them all, our grandmother or aunt might make a pie. Other times, we would eat a generous amount of that sugary berry mush over ice cream. I think gratitude and hard work was what really made them taste the best.

I went blackcap picking earlier this month when my husband and I were walking along an unfamiliar park trail and noticed the little berries dotting the bushes. I soon started on a picking rampage, filling my hands, and then my hat, with the tiny pieces of heaven. I picked the bushes dry, but made sure to leave a few behind for the birds and other critters, and ended up with nearly a pint. I found such joy in picking these treasures again, and they were as delicious as I remembered. They have a simultaneously tart and sweet taste, and their seeds give it a fibrous, woody, crunchy texture. Soon after picking, we made sure to stop by the grocery store for some coconut milk ice cream (I found it sweetened with agave, a lower glycemic sweetener than sugar). I went home and mashed the berries up with a little honey, vanilla extract, and fresh sage and let them marinate for a few minutes while I impatiently waited. Finally, I served them over my ice cream for my husband and I, and enjoyed the first black cap sundae in what felt like forever. It tasted just as good as I had remembered. It tasted like simpler times and sweet memories. It reminded me of Colleen who I miss so much sometimes.




It is now mid-July and we are in the midst of peak berry season. It seems like everything is out now, raspberries, blackcaps, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and others. The bushes and farmers’ markets are brimming with nature’s candy. Niawenkò:wa, Shonkwayatishon! I hope you’re able to enjoy some this season. As if you needed any more reason to indulge in these goodies, here (see this, and this) are a few articles noting the health benefits of berries. And by the way, I found a few amazing gluten-free/dairy-free blueberry recipes. Check out Paleo Spirit's Paleo Blueberry Muffins made with almond flour and tapioca starch. These turned out delicious and not too sweet. Or Against All Grain's Gluten-Free Blueberry Waffles made with raw cashews, coconut flour, and coconut milk. Be careful with these, they like to stick to the waffle iron so spray in between waffles, but they're still yummy. Check them out!