Did you know that over 62% of the food that people around the world enjoy today was originally introduced by the indigenous people of the Americas? That’s right; everything from tomatoes to pecans to popcorn to potato chips was given to the rest of the world by the Native people of North and South America. So where did all this agriculture begin?
Let me take you back….
In ancient times, tens of thousands of years ago, the indigenous people of these lands acquired their food by picking the fruits of nature’s yield where they could be found, fishing, or hunting for small or large game. And yet, Native people were way ahead of the curve when it came to developing agriculture, and the preservation and domestication of food. For example, American Indian people invented raised bed gardening over 4,000 years ago, irrigation techniques over 10,000 years ago, and terraced farming over 3,700 years ago.
Here I’d like to share a couple personal stories of American Indian food customs that date back thousands of years….
My good friend, the late E. Donald Two Rivers, once told me of a wild rice gathering tradition among his people, the Ojibwe (Chippewa). They go out into the marshes in a canoe that has had its inner floor thoroughly cleaned. They bring two sticks with them. With one stick, they gently bend the wild rice shoot toward the boat. With the other stick, they strike the shoot. Any wild rice pods that are ripe will fall into the bottom of the boat, and any that are not, stay on the shoot to keep growing. They do this all day long, and at the end of the day, the bottom of the boat is full with wild rice!
In my culture (Lakota), we have a traditional food called wasna (wash-nah), which is a blend of dried tatanka (bison) meat and fruit. Wasna was used as sustenance by our ancestors when they were on travels, hunts or journeys which took them away from the community for any length of time. It was packed with energy giving nutrients, and was a staple for our people for countless centuries. We still eat wasna today. It was given to all of us on several occasions during the Chief Big Foot Memorial Ride. I consider wasna a ‘big medicine’ food, because it gives your body and your spirit strength and energy.
So we have been at this food making, developing, cultivating and innovating for tens of thousands of years. Food related health problems like heart disease or diabetes among our people were unheard of. We were a strong, healthy, and robust people with a closeness to the earth, and therefore, to our food. We respected it, honored it, and valued it greatly. Our American Indian ancestors viewed their food with reverence, and treated it as such, understanding that if what you eat is healthy and strong, you will be too….