“. . . everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.”
— Mourning Dove (Salish), 1888-1936
Christopher Columbus gets all the fanfare today, but it’s the Native Americans who gave us:
Together, they’re known as the Magic 8, and with reason — these foods are essential to almost every cuisine. These and more indigenous, ancestral foods feature on the menu at Mitsitam, the cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian. I lunched there recently with Robin Asbell, chef, author and the bestie I hardly ever get to see.
From an autumnal salad of apples and chard to three sisters stew, Mitsitam’s menu not only integrates Native American indigenous ingredients, it reflects a conscious effort by James Beard-award-winning chef Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota) to showcase them. One of the best ways to understand a people is to experience their food.
In fact, integrated and conscious describe the culture of all Native American tribes, from their rich tradition of dance, art, myth and oral storytelling to their respect for the land — saving heirloom seeds for future crops, synergistic ways of farming. The three sisters in that stew are corn, squash and beans, three of the Magic 8. They taste great together, and grow better together, too. The tall corn stalks support the leggy bean vines, the beans roots improve the soil by adding nitrogen, the broad leaves of the squash provide shade. They support and protect each other naturally. That’s two more lessons from indigenous people — valuing community and valuing place.
The Seminole, South Florida’s native tribe, take their name from a term meaning in its natural place. They and all America’s 573 indigenous peoples are the ones to celebrate today.