Author discusses preservation of indigenous traditions

Allison Mueller

Junior MaKayla Culpitt had indigenous writer Heid E. Erdrich sign her newest published work “Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories and Recipes from the Upper Midwest” for her after Erdrich’s speech on Wednesday, April 6. (Photo by Taylor Nyman)
Junior MaKayla Culpitt had indigenous writer Heid E. Erdrich sign her newest published work “Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories and Recipes from the Upper Midwest” for her after Erdrich’s speech on Wednesday, April 6. (Photo by Taylor Nyman)

Michaela Gaffke / Winonan

Indigenous Ojibwe writer Heid E. Erdrich spoke on Wednesday, April 6 about the relation to all living beings and the vital balance to keep a healthy relationship. She also read passages from two of her books, “Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories and Recipes from the Upper Midwest” and “Cell Traffic.”

Erdrich is the author of four poetry collections and has won awards from Minnesota State Arts Board, Bush Foundation, The Loft Literary Center and First People’s Fund. She was named as one of the City Pages Artists of the Year in 2013.

She discussed the importance of preserving indigenous food and knowledge through recipes and cultural stories in the Midwest in her cookbook “Original Local.” The cookbook contains recipes, stories and photographs.

According to Erdrich, people forget how to find their own food and are losing the ability to save and preserve food.

“If the grocery store closed tomorrow, there would be chaos in a week,” Erdrich said.

She said she learned how to gather her own food as a child, a skill many people did not have the opportunity to learn in their childhood.

She told the story of how she created her cookbook “Original Local.” The Minnesota Historical Society Press, which she worked with for her previous books, contacted her and asked her to do a cookbook.

Erdrich wanted her book to be about contemporary indigenous people saving practices their family have traditionally done, and not a historical cookbook of outdated cooking methods.

It took Erdrich two years to complete her book. She said often times indigenous people are depicted in a historical view only, wearing clothes and hairstyles that are not popular anymore.

She contacted indigenous people from the upper Midwest to compile her recipes.

“The upper Midwest has some of the most nutritious food sources on earth,” Erdrich said.

She mentioned she would sometimes get a shopping list or stories of the food instead of a recipe. Erdrich said the cookbook turned into a memoir with stories as well.

Erdrich said memories are preserved through smell and taste, and a bite of a dish someone had in the past can bring up memories of certain events. Audience member and junior Aaron Camacho told a story about her grandpa whom she picked raspberries and blackberries with. Camacho said when she has berries now, she is always taken back to those memories of berry picking.

Erdrich joined Professor Colette Hyman’s history class and the students made dishes from the recipes in her book and shared a potluck together. The dishes included venison stew, green bean and smoked fish salad, sweet potato salad, wild rice garden salad, sunflower pie and golden corn cake with raspberry-mint bubbles.

“I didn’t think [‘Original Local’] would be used in a classroom,” Erdrich said.

Hyman said “Original Local” shows how indigenous people “lead lives in the present and breathe new life into century old practices.”