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American Indians reclaim Thanksgiving with food traditions

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The typical American Thanksgiving fare owes a great deal to American Indians. In fact, food consumed on a daily basis can trace its literal roots to what was cultivated in the pre-Colonial era.

A book published this week by the Minnesota Historical Society Press details the influence of American Indian culture on contemporary diets. "Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes from the Upper Midwest" was written by Minnesota poet Heid Erdrich. MinnPost said the book includes recipes that are "intriguing, accessible and downright delicious," with the bounty of harvests beyond Minnesota. They include indigenous staples like wild rice, game, foraged plants, nuts and berries.

In a recent interview on MPR, Erdrich said while she's not a chef or even an experienced cook, she grew up sharing foods of the harvest. While there has been controversy over Thanksgiving's origins, she regards it as a celebration of her community's staples.

"I don't want to give up a holiday that is really pleasurable to me and to my family because it's a harvest thing," she said, suggesting that the holiday be called Indigenous Foods Day.

A story in the Minnesota Daily looked at Thanksgiving from a historic perspective.

“Two-thirds of all food we eat in the world today comes from the Western Hemisphere,” said Jean O’Brien, department chair of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. She said that includes ingredients in Thanksgiving dinner: potatoes, cranberries, corn, squash, pumpkins and turkeys.

In an interview with the Indian Country Today news site, Ramona Peters, tribal preservation officer for the Massachusetts Mashpee Wampanoag, said 90 Wampanoag Indians came to Plymouth in 1621 in response to shots fired by colonists. When they learned the shots were fired in celebration of the harvest, the Wampanoags stayed three days and ended up sharing meals. No turkey though – probably venison and seafood. Another story on the Indian Country website called the 1621 event "the original surf and turf meal."

“There have been lots of protests against Thanksgiving as a reminder that the narrative doesn’t hold for Indians,” the University of Minnesota's O'Brien said. "Having said that, I’d say that most Indian families spend [Thanksgiving] getting together for a big family meal.”

The Drumhop website says an annual Thanksgiving Powwow will be held from Nov. 28-30 at the Minneapolis American Indian Center at 1530 East Franklin Avenue.

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