Reviving Indigenous Food Cultures
November 29, 2021
Hyperlocal, ultraseasonal, uber-healthy, and utterly delicious
When Chef Sean Sherman began speaking about his experiences growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, he shattered all-too-common stereotypes of indigenous life in 20th-century America. He jokingly noted that some people expect to hear how he hunted buffalo with his slingshot as a kid, but that romanticized myth of American Indian foodways had nothing to do with his work of rediscovering the foods that sustained his ancestors. He shared insights with museum visitors during the “The Power of Place” roundtable discussion, part of the 2018 Food History Weekend: Regions Reimagined.
Yes, Sherman and his family hunted wild game, but, for the most part, he ate differently than past generations of Lakota. Like many children growing up on reservations in the second half of the 20th century, Sherman ate non-perishable foods distributed on Indian reservations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). Growing up, he noted: “Our shelves were lined with government-issued canned corn, canned carrots, canned peas, canned salmon, chipped beef, saltines, white flour, and bricks of bright orange commodity cheese.” FDPIR, which began in 1977, contributed to a dramatic shift in the eating habits of communities living on reservations—a shift away from traditional indigenous food practices. That shift contributed to the development of serious health problems and a profound sense of disassociation from Native values.