The Cultural Conservancy - “Traditional Foodways of Native America – Oral Histories of Native Food Revitalization” Audio Recording Project
A Lakota/Dakota elder, whose spiritual name “Woableza” identifies him as “One who seeks the Knowledge of Life” or “One looking for Understanding.” He has traveled throughout the Americas for the past 37 years, acquiring and sharing indigenous stories and wisdom regarding care for the land and people. He has produced films, TV programs, educational programs, and has worked with a number of Native American organization concerned with health, media, spirituality and the environment. Woableza proudly comes from Buffalo Nation.
My name is Woableza. I am a Lakota elder and storyteller. And also have studied the use of plants and herbs for Native peoples. I live in Rochester, Minnesota at the present time. My father is from Minnesota and Eastern South Dakota, and my mother is from the central part of South Dakota on the banks of the Missouri River. And her tribe today is called the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. My father’s tribe is called the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe. Those are names that were given to us later on when they relocated us from the Great State of Minnesota area.
We used to harvest a lot of native foods. Mostly berries and leaves from trees, roots. And we used to harvest things for medicines. We still do. I was brought up by my grandmother and she was the one who really taught me a lot of things. She always used to take us on herbal walks and teach us many things about what it is that grew in her area of the region, which was the lake area near the wild rice area. We ate a lot of wild rice in my younger years because I actually grew up for the first ten years of my life in Minnesota. So wild rice was a wonderful food that we were served by our grandparents and parents.
Well, I like what they called minascuya and that’s dried corn soup. That’s a really wonderful soup, and you can add different things to it. In the different types of boiled stews, like buffalo stew and elk stew, and deer stew and rabbit stew, all those different ones I used to.. we used to eat a lot of those, and wild pheasants.
One of my former classmates, his name is Fred Dubray, is really working hard to bring back the buffalo on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation and also establish a elk reserve, and other animals that we use for meat. He’s trying to have us eat healthier and I’m really glad that he’s doing a good job and really inspired a lot of other tribes around the nation to do the same thing.
He travels all over to help people bring understanding of how we used the buffalo in the old days and how we still can use it today, and also the by-products that come from it, you know, using it for arts and crafts and for ceremonies as well as for meat. And to actually have more land in what they can roam free, because the buffalo, as they traveled across the Great Plains, you know, they ate wonderful wild foods, and the manure that they spread in their path would receive all the wild choke cherries and berries and different native plants that we ate.
They take a lot of land to grow healthy. So that’s an issue, we’re always trying to get more land. Many of the tribes that don’t have much land are getting small buffalo herds, but it’s a real problem with them trying to get bigger herds because they just don’t have the land.
I used to have a friend – I worked with her in the Bay area – and then she went back to work with her people in upstate New York and she actually got hired by New York State Prison system, and they did a research project in where they had some of the people who were in the prisons eat a certain kind of food, and the other would eat regular modern-day foods. Now, the one group, they were working with to get a lot of results from their studies was the people that they fed buffalo to, and wild game. And especially the buffalo meat. They found out that those people, their immune systems were great. They even had some with different illnesses that were incurable and they almost overcame those diseases. Diabetes and all those things those were greatly reduced because of the content of the nutrition in the foods, the meat.
I would call it Bison Nation. The Buffalo Nation, the Tatanka Oyate. But that’s our native name for them. Tatanka means buffalo. It’s actually the male buffalo. And oyate means nation. And we refer to whether it be an animal or plants, they were all nations that lived side by side with us and in harmony.
They used to eat like the wild prairie chickens and those are declining in population a lot, because of the pesticides. They used to eat the wild geese that came on their migration times. And even frogs, I mean, Minnesota used to be.. there used to be so many frogs in Minnesota. I mean, I remember my grandparents saying, you know, they used to drive in the summertime across Minnesota when they first built black top highways, and there would be so many thousands of frogs in different areas crossing the road that the cars would slip and slide and almost have an accident because there were so many frogs that were growing wild and very abundant. The roads were like slick like covered with ice. But it wasn’t ice, it was so many frogs. But today there’s none. And they’re like the miner’s, with their canary. It’s a sign of the times that we’re.. we’re losing a lot and we’re really polluting Mother Earth.
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