Every year for over 60 years, an annual pow-wow is held in the Midwest to celebrate the traditions of people who lived here before Columbus arrived and whose descendants continue to live here today. The American Indian Center coordinates this event, which this year takes place September 13-14 in Busse Woods.

We attend these pow-wows now and again to learn more about these peoples…and in my case, specifically what they ate.

At most such get-togethers (and I’ve attended them in the Midwest, South and Northwestern regions) the signature dish is frybread, which is just what it sounds like: a puffy mound of deep-fried dough, usually topped with sauce and meat. At a pow-wow right outside Little Bighorn in Montana, I had a frybread with pizza toppings. It was a good snack. 

What’s tragically ironic about this being the typical dish at pow-wows is that frybread is reservation food; it’s made of white flour (unknown to pre-Columbian peoples) that was distributed after the Federal government had put many of our continent’s previous inhabitants in what were, effectively, concentration camps.

Last summer, we visited the Burke Museum on the campus of the University of Washington, Seattle. At the Burke Museum, we saw many fascinating artifacts crafted by the Haida, Tlingit and other regional tribal groups. What was most interesting to me is what we were not allowed to see: in the basement of this museum are the remains of Kennewick Man, found not long ago on the banks of the nearby Columbia River, radiocarbon-dated to be about 9,000 years old. The remains of Kennewick Man are under control the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is effectively barring these remains from further examination by the scientific community.

The gravesites of many pre-Columbian peoples have been “disturbed” (i.e., desecrated, robbed) by white men in the name of commerce or science, and there was strong pressure from local tribes to re-bury Kennewick Man as one of theirs. But here’s the thing: it seems Kennewick Man is Polynesian, not an indigenous person, which raises the question of what, exactly, an indigenous person, a “Native American,” is.

To the best of scientific knowledge, homo sapiens originated in Africa at least 200,000 years ago. We all came from Africa. That means there are no indigenous people anywhere but Africa. There are no Native Americans, no Native Polynesians, no Native Europeans, no Native Asians. In a manner of speaking, we are all African-Americans here, all from the same place, so strict distinctions between the races seem, ultimately, pointless.

About fry bread, I’m planning on making frybread with red sauce and escargot – the lines are blurred. I’m going to celebrate that

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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