Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Really Delicious Fry Bread"

Hi everyone! Just checking in to let you know I'm still around, active, and writing. The library presentation last month had a really great turn out and it was a pleasure to share my experiences and research with everyone. I was especially enlightened by the questions and discussion we had afterwards. There are so many issues within the mainstream food and medical system that need addressing and questioning. Thank you again to all who showed up! I'll be giving a brief presentation at the University at Buffalo Storytellers Conference later this week on Saturday, April 12th on "Indigenous Food Revolution: re-Indigenizing Food, Sovereignty, and Body." You can find more information about the conference here.  My presentation is at 9:45am.

Warning: This is not a recipe!  It is just a tease!  Besides, you won't ever find frybread here on this blog, or on my plate.  Don't get my wrong, I used to love it!  But since I've discovered my severe gluten intolerance, I don't dare touch the stuff.  The last time I laid my hands on that beloved, golden entity of crispy, spongy, greasy goodness was at the Border Crossing Gathering in July 2012.  And oh boy, it was delicious and fluffy, yet dense; a little piece of heaven on a scorching summer afternoon while the powwow dancers sweat and voices wail over the loudspeaker.  I do wish I had savored it a bit more now that I think back.  Ah, summer days.  Ah, gluten days.

Now that I've made you hungry... I'm not here to praise or condemn (at least not this time) this beloved symbol of twentieth century Native American diet. For those who might not know, "frybread" is a deceptively simple fried dough dish developed in the mid-late nineteenth century. Its introduction was a response to U.S. Indian policy that purposefully shrunk Native land bases and tried to erode connection to the land and traditional ways. Because of these deliberate actions, Native diet became reduced to a state of dependence on government food commodity and rations. Though white flour is clearly not a traditional ingredient, its use became a means of survival while numerous Native nations struggled with malnutrition, starvation, and the effects of removal, allotment, termination, and the many assaults on indigenous existence. It has become a controversial staple of Native diet and culture, both treasured for its taste and cultural symbolism and blamed for its detrimental impact on Indigenous health. If you're interested in reading further, this Smithsonian Magazine article does an excellent job exploring the problematic aspects of frybread as a dual symbol of "perseverance and pain" given the atrocities experienced in the last several centuries. For now, I will leave it up to readers to decide for themselves their stance on frybread.

Frybread controversies aside, the reason for this post is that I came across a poem I thought I would share here on the blog. I remembered reading it before for a course called "Honoring Indigenous Women", and I was struck by how much the experience of cooking comes to life with her words and how survival, food, tradition, and women are to be honored. I read it again last night and its meaning becomes all the more powerful as I embark on my dissertation research and really think about the complex connections behind food and sustaining ourselves. Please read. And as always, I welcome comments, interpretations, and discussion.

"Really Delicious Fry Bread"
by Chrystos

To make really delicious fry bread

You need to start the night before
With some long slow sweet sweet
loving with the precious one of your choice
This brings good dreams of swimming in cool water
Listen to birds singing alive the dawn
Then put on some strong Indian music
Half of the taste, the part that makes her rise
Is the joy you stir in
but you start with plain old white flour
1 cup to 1 teaspoon baking powder
& a sprinkle of sugar
This makes enough for 2 if you have
bacon, potatoes & eggs
If it's all you have
better make 3 cups worth
Sift everything a couple of times
Pour in your water in a spiral
The way the earth moves
It helps if you're singing with your pow wow tape
or laughing with your lover
Stir until you get a good dough
not too sticky
Knead in all the names who need a prayer
Shape her into a round mound
& cross her in the four directions
with a sharp knife
Cover with a clean red bandanna
& make the coffee
When you've finished your prayers
she'll be ready to cook up
The oil should be hot enough
to make your spit sputter
but not smoking
Pinch off a piece of dough & roll her
around to make a patty
pulling her flat with your fingers
Some people put a hole in the middle
for the spirits to pass through
& some roll them out on a board
but I do it in the lazy squaw way
While you're frying them don't get caught
up in writing a poem
or talking on the phone
because even the crows
won't eat them burnt
We love fry bread in memory of the women
who, thrown off their land
with death in every dawn
& starvation in their children's eyes
made this food
so we'd all survive
Each tender bite honours our ancestors
who despite the greatest genocide
in world history
kept on
& kept on
So we could share bannock this morning
and love

Source:  Chrystos.  "Really Delicious Fry Bread."  In Lee Maracle and Sandra Laronde (Eds.) My Home as I Remember It.  Toronto: Natural Heritage Books, pp. 8-9.

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