Native Food: A Potlatch Tradition
It may be selfish but I consider all of Indian country my extended family. I also feel honored to be able to express my heartfelt thoughts about Native food to all of you. The season of giving is upon us; we give presents, food, thanks, time and love. In older times, the gift giving practice of the indigenous people of the Northwest was called a Potlatch. This event, which likely still take places in certain areas, was meant to re-distribute wealth by leaders of a community. It is a giveaway and spiritual event held for different reasons at different times of the year yet mostly in the winter months. There is singing and dancing, feasting, ceremonies and sharing of wealth—the notion being not who has the most but who gives away the most of their resources. This raises the status of the host. There are strict protocols involved that differ between each nation. The Potlatch practice was banned in both the United States and Canada in 1884, yet it is now openly restored as the ban was repealed in 1951. The concept of this kind of giving to family and friends and those in need is such a good one. These corporate hogs today could learn from this practice. 'Nuff said there.
The term potlatch is often association with potluck, although they have different origins. They both involve sharing, especially in the realm of food. “Oh, do come over, we’re having a huge potluck, bring whatever you would like," people so often say. At most socials, it works out beautifully. In Indian country, giving and offering thanks is inbred, a part of everyday life. The economy today makes it difficult for most hosts to foot the bill for a big holiday celebration, so a potluck is a good solution. Sometimes a lot of travel is necessary to be able to spend time with those we love and keep traditions alive. The goal is always driven by the heart—to let them know how much they mean to us and how much we care about them.
Because of the epidemic of diabetes in our country, we should all be mindful of the sugar content in gifts that we give. It can be hard to do this. I love chocolate and candy; so do a lot of people. But we can't indulge in "treats" so blindly anymore. It is too bad, but there are a lot of alternative foods without the demon "sugar."
This gift or dessert recipe can be doubled and then packaged in cellophane bags and tied with a pretty festive bow. It is healthy and satisfying. You could make a copy of this recipe and tie it on the package—the gift that keeps on giving!
4 cups rolled oats (uncooked oatmeal)
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup walnuts
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup chopped dried apricots
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup honey
½ cup light vegetable oil
Optional: you can add other dried fruit like chopped dates, cut up prunes or dried apples
Set the oven to 325 degrees. Blend the honey and oil together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Now combine the first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir the honey-oil mixture into this with a wooden spoon to blend well. Use two 10x15 baking pans and spread granola evenly. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring now and then until brown. Cool to room temperature and put in gift bags or store in an air tight container.
Another holiday dessert that is Native-based is so simple. Use cold cooked wild rice and pour a small amount of real maple syrup over it. This is delicious alone, yet even better with a small dollop of whipped cream on top.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.
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