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  • Writer's pictureThe Linguistic Foodie

Frybread -dah diníilghaazh: A food that represents the painful history of Native Americans in the US

Plain frybread from Tuscon, AZ

It is known that Native Americans have had a horrible and sad past in the United States. Although they are the original owners of this land, Native Americans have been forced on to reservations that don't have substantial amenities. Frybread might just be the perfect representation of the painful history and resilience of the Native American people. Although it is an important and integral part of Native American history and culture, many Native Americans have resented frybread as being symbolic of colonial oppression because it doesn't represent true indigenous food.

In 1864, the American Government stimulated the ethnic cleansing of the Navajo people who were living in Arizona. They were forced to make the 300 mile journey known as the "Long Walk" on to reservation lands in New Mexico, which weren't suitable for growing the traditional Native American diet of vegetables, corn, and beans. The United States only provided the Navajo people with the ingredients of sugar, salt, flour, and lard. From these ingredients, frybread was born and the Native American diet quickly transitioned from being very healthy to being very unhealthy. As a result, Native Americans are more prone to diabetes, gallbladder disease, obesity, and more. In current times, many Native Americans are attempting to put this food back to its proper place and shift toward traditional Native American cuisine. Frybread isn't traditional--it was only created out of necessity.

Frybread spread to other Native American tribes in other parts of the US and became a staple for the Native American people. Frybread can be eaten sweet or savory and toppings like honey, jam, sugar, and beef are common. In many restaurants, frybread is served with toppings found in tacos, often named the "Indian Taco". I have tried frybread in South Dakota and Tuscon, Arizona where Native American populations are prominent and I'm not gonna lie--it is very delicious but also very fattening! In Rochester, you can try the "Navajo Taco" at Old Pueblo Grill I encourage you to give it a try!

Frybread can also teach us about the death and destruction of Native American languages in the US. Native American languages connect modern Native Americans with their roots and cultures and allow them to keep their communities alive and thriving. However, English is quickly taking over, and much of the younger generations aren't learning their ancestors' languages. It also doesn't help that indigenous languages such as Navajo are notoriously hard and difficult to learn. Because of this, Indigenous cultures are at risk in the United States and it is important that we all pitch in to help preserve Indigenous cultures and languages in the states.

In many indigenous languages, basic actives like farming, fishing, and hunting, are directly connected to spirits and mythic beings whose stories are the basis of these people’s cultures and languages. If their languages were lost, they would lose this vital connection to their culture and ideology in their daily lives. Additionally, many indigenous languages are purely spoken languages which aren't written down. This means that there are many stories and important ideas and messages etched into these languages that are passed down through generations. With bigger threats to native languages, stories that are hundreds of years old are at risk of being lost forever.

Native Americans have been forced to assimilate and say goodbye to their cultures, languages, and religions. It is time to reverse this. There are many programs across the states that focus on revitalizing these languages and cultures and some schools even teach Native American languages to their Native American students.

Language is the basis of human culture. Learning about languages connects us to different cultures and gives us new perspectives and new ways to see the world. We must work toward valuing our own endangered languages to preserve our country's diverse traditions, cultures, and stories. Before colonialism, there was 300 indigenous languages spoken across the country. It is estimated that only 20 will remain by 2050. Therefore, it is crucial that we protect our valuable languages to help preserve cultures and societies in America.

Hágoónee (goodbye in Diné Bizaad -Navajo)

Dëjíhnita:ë’ ("We will talk again" in Seneca, the language of the people that traditionally inhabited the Rochester region. Seneca is a very endangered language with only a few hundred of elderly speakers left)

-The Linguistic Foodie :)

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