“Sean Sherman The founder of The Sioux Chef, a company devoted to Indigenous foods, created recipes to showcase tribal diversity across the lower 48 states.”M. Nilsson, The New York Times
“Growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the 1970s, I ran wild with my cousins through my grandparents’ cattle ranch, over the hot, sandy South Dakota land of burrs and paddle cactus, hiding in the sparse grasses and rolling hills… Back then, there were no restaurants on Pine Ridge, just one grocery store and a couple of gas stations dotting the immense reservation. Our kitchen cupboards were stocked with government commodity food staples — canned fruit, canned meat, powdered milk, bricks of yellow government-issued cheese, and dry cereals and oats packaged in white cardboard boxes with black block lettering… I often think of my great-grandfather, who was born in the late 1850s and grew up like any other Lakota boy, riding horses bareback to hunt with a bow and arrow. At the age of 18, he witnessed the Lakota and Cheyenne victory against the United States government at the Battle of the Little Bighorn; he also encountered the aftermath of the Wounded Knee massacre, where hundreds of Lakota men, women and children were viciously slaughtered.
Later, his children were forced into boarding schools, forbidden to speak their Native language, required to learn English and to become Christians. Through the 20th century, these harsh efforts at assimilation began to erase thousands of generations of Indigenous traditions, wisdom and ceremonies.
As soon as I was 13 and legally eligible to work, I got my first job, at a steakhouse in Spearfish, S.D. I knew a little about cooking: As the oldest child of a busy working mom, I was often the one who got dinner on the table for my sister and me. I swept floors, bussed tables, washed dishes, prepped food and eventually became a line cook…Through my career as a professional chef, opening restaurants and cafes in Minneapolis, I gained experience cooking Italian, Spanish and other European cuisines.
But it wasn’t until I spent time in Mexico, observing how closely Indigenous people live to their culinary traditions, that I realized I had very little idea of what my own ancestors ate before colonization.
So I began to research the history of our land before the Europeans arrived…In piecing together so much of the story that has been lost, I learned that the original North American food system was based on harvesting wild plants for food and medicine, employing sophisticated agricultural practices, and on preserving seed diversity. My ancestors used all parts of the animals and plants with respect, viewing themselves as part of our environment, not above it. Nothing was wasted.
In 2014, I started a business, The Sioux Chef, with a focus on identifying, sharing and educating people on the authentic Indigenous foods of North America, from Mexico to Alaska, with dishes free of the colonial ingredients Europeans introduced: wheat flour, dairy, cane sugar and even beef, pork and chicken. Our team connected with Indigenous chefs, farmers, seed keepers, academics and leaders to create menus for feasts that we served in tribal communities. We obtained seaweed from Maine to season Atlantic oysters, and white cedar in Duluth, Minn., for a venison roast. Elders tell us they haven’t tasted these flavors since childhood… The Times asked me to choose dishes that, viewed together, form a portrait of Native American food in the United States.
I am not interested in recreating foods from 1491 — rather, I hope to celebrate the diversity that defines our communities now. And so these recipes offer a glimpse into the range of dishes Indigenous chefs and cooks are making today, and highlight ingredients from the regions they reflect… The true foods of North America may not be available at every grocery store or even online, and they are not coming from industrial farms: They are seasonal and vary from region to region.In many of these recipes, I offer substitutions, but hope readers will want to experiment with true regional ingredients, sustainably harvested.”