Niishin Miijim/Good Food

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Niishin Miijim/Good Food

A Celebration of Food and Native American Heritage Month

Aanii boozhoo, gakina awiya! Hello, everyone! I hope you’re having a happy Native American Heritage Month so far. Some of you who’ve read my previous Read Feed posts know that I have a major love affair with food. I’m also an Indigenous person - my family is Odawa, one of the Anishinaabe nations in the upper Midwest. 

Food has always been a major part of my life! There is nothing - and I mean nothing - that beats the smell of fresh frybread at the summer’s first powwow. Back home around this time of year, we’re getting ready for Ghost Suppers, which means in my house there’s a ridiculous amount of corn soup simmering. If any of these things made you start salivating, I have some good news: we have some excellent books all about Indigenous cuisine for kids and adults alike! Food is a huge part of any culture, and the selections below are some of my personal favorites in our collection. Enjoy, and ambe daga wiisinidaa - let’s eat!

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman

This book is a wonder. I was astonished the first time I picked it up, so much so that I ran out and got a copy for myself right away. Thankfully we have copies in the library that you too can check out! Recipes from Anishinaabe and Lakota communities are organized by season and growing locale with a heavy emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients. It’s a foodie’s dream - there are also sections on how to stock your pantry for Indigenous foods as well as recipes from other Indigenous chefs (including the National Museum of the American Indian’s executive chef at the Mitsitam Cafe, Freddie Bitsoie!).

Sherman’s work extends beyond the pages of his cookbook as well - his and Dana Thompson’s organization North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS) is a nonprofit in Minnesota dedicated to educating Indigenous chefs and helping them develop food enterprises in their tribal communities. Indigenous Kitchen is an all-too-brief glimpse into that world, it makes my stomach grumble every time I see it.

tawâw by Shane Chartrand & Jennifer Cockrall-King

Similar to Sherman’s work, tawâw is a work that focuses on Indigenous ingredients in thrilling new contexts. The title is a Cree word that means, “come in, you’re welcome, there’s room”. The language and the photography - not just of the food but of different Indigenous & First Nations perspectives - certainly makes you feel welcome! 

In addition to mind-blowing recipes, the book takes time to talk about other topics. Chartrand and Cockrall-King make space for discussing inspiration, Indigenous tattooing methods, powwows and more - it’s well worth your while to read through the text thoroughly. It is a journey into a Canadian perspective that you may not be familiar with! It’s clear that a lot of love went into this book and Chartrand brings his community ties into every page. Unlike Sherman, Chartrand includes recipes for galette and bannock in this book, noting that they’re a part of the Indigenous food landscape. This might be considered a hot take by some, but his recipes will make you consider this side of the argument!

The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook by Richard Hetzler

Let me tell you a brief story of when I came to the District - I was thrilled to visit the National Museum of the American Indian for the first time. My now-husband watched me get super-emotional over Indigenous artifacts and stories getting the Smithsonian treatment, including my tribe! One element of our visit that really kicked off the emotions was the food. I was homesick, and the food at the Mitsitam Cafe reminded me of my family’s kitchens. 

This cookbook captures and shows you how to capture that delight for yourself. Hetzler is an executive chef at the Mitsitam Cafe alongside Bitsoie, and their talents together are a beautiful (and delicious) thing. Unlike Sherman and Chartrand, this book does not focus as much on Indigenous ingredients or foodways, but is instead a modern interpretation of Indigenous dishes that focuses on what cooks will likely already have in their kitchens. With that said, if you have had the chance to visit Mitsitam and you enjoyed their food, this book is a faithful recreation of their dishes.

Oaxaca by Bricia Lopez

One of the really important things to remember and discuss is that Native Americans in the United States aren’t the only Indigenous peoples out there! Oaxaca, named for the southern Mexican state, is a glimpse into their Indigenous foodways too. Lopez introduces us to the region and the different peoples who live there via different ingredients and cooking techniques used in her family’s restaurant in Los Angeles, Guelagetza. 

I made the mistake of reading this book before lunch, and before I knew it I had ingredients for tamales and a few different kinds of mole on order from Instacart. The recipes are clear and the accompanying photography is breathtaking! This is one of my new favorite cookbooks because of the attention to detail - there are hints on how to achieve authentic flavors precisely when you need them in the text. There is also a wonderful mixture of meat-based and plant-based recipes at varying levels of difficulty, so there really is something for everyone in these pages. If you’re interested at all in more natural ingredients as well, this is also an excellent addition to your ‘To Be Read’ list!

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Malliard

For this list, I wanted to make sure there were books for younger readers too. There has been a major uptick in Indigenous authorship and publishing, which has been wonderful for improving representation and inviting non-Natives into our spaces. Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Malliard is at the top of my list when it comes to talking about Indigenous food! 

This is a picture book in prose about a family’s day making frybread, but it’s about a lot more than that, too. The endpapers feature the names of 573 tribes. Some of these nations are mentioned in the text as well, particularly as one of the characters tells kids about frybread’s history as food made from unfamiliar ingredients during forced relocation. The book’s prose also finds a way to include the many different ingredients used for frybread, different shapes it can take, and when it’s eaten. Juana Martinez-Neal’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment here as well, as she illustrates the huge range of skin tones that are found in Indigenous families too. Malliard’s story and Martinez-Neal’s pictures beautifully depict how something made in adversity brings families and communities together.

Wild Berries by Julie Flett
Wild Berries is another picture book in our collection that is absolutely beautiful. Flett has written and illustrated several books and each one is a sensory delight. This book tells the story of Clarence and his grandma going blueberry picking. The text paints a picture of a perfect day and is liable to make you hungry for something with blueberries in it; luckily, there is also a recipe for wild blueberry jam in the back of the book as well!

The back also includes an explanation of different Cree dialects and a pronunciation guide for the book’s translated vocabulary. Similar to Fry Bread above, Flett makes space for readers to develop a better understanding of Indigenous language by inviting them to pronounce Cree. Flett’s illustrations further invite readers into the woods with Clarence and his grandma - the color choices and textures draw you in to their time together and their relationship with the environment. It’s lovely - be sure you have blueberries on hand to get the full experience!

This is by no means the extent of DC Public Library’s books about Indigenous peoples, cultures, or issues - be sure to check out the Native American Heritage Month landing page for more resources, including more books, movies, music, and events. Gichii miigwetch for reading; I hope to see you at a powwow sometime!