UAII’s Annual 2019 Thanksgiving Community Feed
UAII’s Annual 2019 Community Feed was a huge success. It took place on Thursday, November 21st in the UAII Community Room, providing a warm, welcoming environment for all and inspiring joy, togetherness, and spiritual renewal for young and old alike.
Scrumptious homemade food was the focus. “Food is the glue that keeps us together,” said an enthusiastic community member enjoying a meal complete with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, fresh bread, and buttered corn.
“My perspective on Thanksgiving has really changed,” she added. “At first, I felt a sense of bitterness surrounding the history. Thanksgiving was a day of mourning for us. But now, we have hope for what our celebrations can be. We can focus on the values that apply to everybody: togetherness, generosity, and gratitude. We can make the day about what everybody wants it to be about: the food!”
Some in attendance spoke about the traditional Native foods eaten by their ancestors: turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, maple, mushrooms, wild rice and the like. Old-World foods were unheard of – fry bread, pasta, cakes, any dish containing wheat flour, beef, pigs, milk, cheese, chicken, butter. These foods were introduced by the colonists, and they caused a dramatic decline in the health of Native populations throughout the country.
“Fry bread is fried white flour,” said one Elder who wished to remain anonymous.
“It shares almost no similarity to breads made by Natives before the introduction of wheat. Corn, shuck, sour, persimmon, acorn, hickory, sunflower, pumpkin seed, potato, bean, mesquite, peanut, bamboo vine, camas, or cane breads. These are all truly Native breads. We need to go back and learn about our traditional foods.”
From the American Indian Health and Diet Project Website
Although UAII serves members of over 200 tribes from around the country, many at the event took a moment to honor the original habitants of Los Angeles: the Gabrieleño (also known as Kizh, Gabrielino, Tongva), who arrived in the Los Angeles area from the Mojave Desert more than 2,000 years ago, the Chumash, and the Tataviam Peoples.
The Gabrieleño inhabited the southern portion of what is today Los Angeles County, the northern portion of Orange County, and some western portions of both San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. There were an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Gabrieleño living in the region when the Spanish arrived in 1781. Today, most traces of L.A.’s original people are gone and only a few thousand Gabrieleño are estimated to remain living in California.
The Chumash, who are believed to have arrived in the Los Angeles area about 3,000 years ago, ranged into the Malibu area of Los Angeles County, although they mostly lived in parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Being a seafaring people, Chumash Indians spent much of their time building small boats and fishing and were accomplished fishermen and artisans. When the first Spanish missionaries arrived, there were believed to be as many as 22,000 Chumash. However, as did happen with the Gabrieleño, their population, communities and culture rapidly disappeared. By 1906, there were only 42 known survivors.
The smallest group of original Los Angeles Natives are the Tataviam. The sites of 20 early Tataviam villages lie north of the San Fernando Valley and in the Santa Clarita Valley. They were believed to have numbered about 1,000 people.
According to Devon Mihesuah, the Cahuillas ate antelope that they boiled, roasted or sun-dried, several types of acorns, cacti, deer, pinon nuts, rabbits, reptiles, screwbeans, and fish, while Chumash along the Pacific coast also ate fish, shellfish and marine animals. One UAII Elder described his view of the original Thanksgiving feast: “Well, leading up to the arrival of the Mayflower, the Wampanoag had years of slaving and raiding by European explorers along the coast,” he said.
“They were suspicious of the English. But the English were suspicious of them also. The Wampanoags outnumbered the colonists and represented a real threat to them. At the same time, the English realized that they needed the Wampanoags to supply them with food and protection if they had any hope of their colony succeeding. The Wampanoags felt sorry for the colonists, and they were generous by nature. But twenty years later, they were all slaughtered by the colonists. That is why Thanksgiving has always been a day of mourning for us.”
Native Americans living in Los Angeles County now suffer from high rates of food insecurity, poverty, and diet-related disease, yet this data is often under-reported in national data collection efforts due to relatively small population size. A study published this year in Food Security highlights the high rates of food security in Native households.
Native foods are the most nutritious choices for Native people and over 99% of households in the region say they want more of these foods, but nearly 70% of households surveyed never or rarely get access to their traditional, Native foods.
UAII is working to change this…
We are in the planning stages of an Indigenous Food Garden right here in Los Angeles – a “living classroom” for the traditional foods, herbs, and medicines that our Native ancestors thrived on for centuries.
Stay tuned for more information about this exciting new project!
In the meantime, enjoy the following Native recipe from the American Indian Health and Diet Project website:
Butternut Squash Soup
(From the American Indian Health and Diet Project Website)
Top: Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Red Peppers;
Middle: Thicker soup;
Bottom: Peeled and chopped squash.
100% Native Ingredients:
1 peeled and cubed butternut squash
I large yellow onion (or any other onion you prefer)
1 red bell pepper
4 cups of vegetable, turkey or game broth
Black pepper to taste
1 red bell pepper
Salt to taste
Garlic to taste (Old-World ingredient – optional)
If you have access to a newly-harvested butternut squash, the skin should be tender and you won’t have to peel it. If you make this soup in winter, then the squash you find may have tougher skin and it needs to be peeled.
Tip: Invest in a good potato peeler—it will make your cooking life much easier; but, be very careful with your peeler since it is easy to slice off some of your hand. As an option, you can roast the squash after cutting it in half length-wise and then scoop out the meat.
Peel and cut the squash into medium to small squares (and don’t forget to take out the core of seeds; it’s similar to a pumpkin). Chop the onion (rough cut is okay). Put ingredients into skillet or saucepan and cook until squash is tender. Place all hot ingredients into food processor or blender, mix with water or broth and blend it to the desired consistency. In the meantime, put the sliced red pepper into the pan to sauté and cook until tender. Pour blender contents into a bowl, then top with the pepper and it’s ready to eat.
Photos from the UAII Community Feed, courtesy of UAII’s own Nolan Eskeets: