Take a little nibble of frybread and close your eyes.
Hear the ancient winds chanting through the canyons?
Feel the sunlight on your bare skin?
Smell the cedar and sage perfuming the air?
Can you taste the blessing of life?
More than 500 Native American tribes can. For them, frybread history epitomizes a time when they were destitute and steeped in hopelessness. Uprooted from their homelands, and incarcerated on reservations mapped out by the U.S. government, Indigenous people were no longer privy to familiar hunting, trapping and fishing domains. Starving and relying on scarce Army rations in the 1800s, Native Americans concocted a simple bread that became a lifesaver.
History’s Most Startling Frybread Story
Between 1864 and 1866, scout Kit Carson and the U.S. Cavalry drove the Navajos (Diné) from their homes on the Colorado Plateau to Window Rock, Arizona. From there, they were herded like cattle to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, a reservation along the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico.
Navajos called it Hwéeldi.
As many as 8,000 Navajos uprooted.
Three to four hundred grueling miles on foot.
Slow, elderly or injured Navajos were often shot and killed.
History calls it The Long Walk of the Navajo.
“Many of the Navajo people went to the Arizona mountains to hide. Some of the people are still living there. The Navajos who lived in the desert or valleys had no place to hide. They were either captured for slaves or killed. Some of the people who were captured were taken to Hwéeldi [Ft. Sumner] as captives.” (John Beyale, Sr., OHLW 1989:42) – From A Navajo Diaspora: The Long Walk to Hwéeldi, by Neal W. Ackerly, Ph.D.
While imprisoned in Fort Sumner, the Diné were given Army rations of flour (varmints included), salt, lard and water. From those few simple ingredients, they created pliable dough, fashioned it into balls, stretched it and fried it in hot lard.
Voilà . . . frybread!
It saved their lives.
It gave them hope.
It ensured the survival of their tribe.
Forget About Frybread?
Most Native Americans share a love and respect for frybread. In recent years, a movement to disqualify frybread as a staple of Native American culture has mostly fallen flat. Who gives up a comfort food that symbolizes the spirit of persistence?
Cut back on eating it and use discretion? Sure. But give up frybread? Never!
It’s even funny!
Frybread is Funny?
T-shirts, cartoons, comedians, competitions and even movies make light of the soul food of the Indigenous.
All tribes want to claim frybread as their own, and they kid each other about who makes the best. Now, “More Than Frybread” is the only feature length film devoted entirely to the love and passion of frybread. It features a fictional frybread competition among twenty-two tribes and spoofs all that is sacred – and not-so-sacred – about the golden-brown delicacy.
You know you want to check it out!
So, eat it plain or stack it high with everything from meat, chicken, and olives to salad, fruit, honey or jam. Just remember…when you take a bite out of frybread, you’re taking a bite straight out of history.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy frybread? Do you make it yourself? Is it a recipe passed down from your grandmother/mother/aunt? For a delicious homemade version, see Lolita Tsosie’s Navajo FryBread recipe. A little simpler version can be found here. Don’t forget to buy your Blue Bird flour first – it’s the best!
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If you like Sassy, Danger and Mystery, you'll love my any-age novels. Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves: SUMMER OF THE ANCIENT and Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves: CANYON OF DOOM are available at your nearest Barnes & Noble Bookseller, on this website, Amazon, B&N.com and more. For your convenience, it’s also available on Kindle, the Nook and most other eBook readers.
Book Three of the Silki trilogy, VALLEY OF SHADOWS, launches fall 2016. Here's a quick synopsis:
Bummed that yet another summer has passed all too quickly, Silki and her best friend Birdie head out for one last hurrah at the Navajo Nation Fair. When the fun is overshadowed by the theft of a famous horse, Silki is plunged into a baffling adventure teeming with international undercurrents and intrigue. What’s more, boy-crazy Birdie is fluttering her eyelashes at Silki’s good-looking, visiting cousin at every turn, and Rez legend Old Man Concho is coughing up secrets dating back to 1942. What possible connection could he have to the Japanese tourists, and will Silki discover an ancient truth about the Valley of Shadows in time to save Lava, the leader of the Ghost Herd, as well as salvage her own broken heart?
Meet my CANYON OF DOOM AND VALLEY OF SHADOWS illustrator, the Drawing Hands.
Jodi Lea Stewart was born in Texas and grew up in Apache County on a cattle ranch near Concho, Arizona. She left the University of Arizona in Tucson to move to San Francisco, where she learned about peace, love and exactly what she didn't want to do with her life. Since then, Jodi graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Business Management, raised two children, worked as an electro-mechanical drafter, penned humor columns for a college periodical, wrote regional western articles and served as managing editor of a Fortune company newsletter. She currently resides in Texas and New Mexico with her husband, two Standard poodles, two rescue cats and numerous gigantic, bossy houseplants. SUMMER OF THE ANCIENT is Jodi's debut novel and Book One of the Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves trilogy. CANYON OF DOOM came next, and VALLEY OF SHADOWS hits the shelves summer of 2016, completing this exciting and fun adventure-mystery set in the Navajo Nation. Next on the horizon? A historical mystery novel set in the 1930s told through the eyes of a sharecropper's daughter.