Sharing Culture Through Food

So much of Minnesota’s history and culture is tied to the land. Not only has the land fed many Indigenous Tribes like the Dakota and Anishinaabe for countless generations, but it is also an essential part of their identity. Native cultures have a spiritual connection to the land. They consider it sacred. Understanding and exploring the connection between native cultures and the land is essential to their past, as well as to their present and future.

Pile of wild rice

Land can mean many things to different people. It can be the location where your home is built, a place you like to play and explore, or the soil that is used to grow plants and raise animals. How are you connected to the land?

Food plays an important role in helping us remember and learn about the past. Do you have a family recipe that has been passed down for generations? Maybe your Grandpa’s famous meatballs, or an aunt's tamales? Unfortunately, many of the foods that Native Americans ate and used as medicines were lost and forgotten when the government made them live on reservations and stop practicing their way of life.

Vern DeFoe Headshot
Vern DeFoe
Manager, Indigenous Food Lab
Indigenous Food Lab Employees
Photos Courtesy of Vern DeFoe

Vern DeFoe is working to bring those foods and history back by sharing them with everyone. Vern is the kitchen manager at the Indigenous Food Lab in Minneapolis. He’s also a member of the Red Cliff Anishinabe, (pronounced An-ish-in-aabe) or Ojibwe Tribe. Vern cooks meals that use ingredients historically used by his ancestors. He cooks with native foods found in Minnesota, like fish from Lake Superior, turkey, duck, bison, elk, wild rice, and even uses dandelion greens for salads. Some locally grown foods like squash, corn, beans and chili peppers, originally made their way to Minnesota through trade routes. These trade routes brought food from Aztec and Mayan Tribes in Mexico, the Incas in South America, and the Miami Tribe in Ohio.

Cooking meals for people that are made with ingredients that are grown and raised locally is one of the things Vern loves about his work. Just like when he was a young boy helping his Grandma bake bread in her kitchen, Vern loves making meals that make you smile, and that teach you about the Indigenous people who live here.

Indigenous Foods Native to Minnesota

Which foods from the list have you tried?

  • Pumpkins
  • Corn
  • Squash
  • Sunflower
  • Wild Rice
  • Berries
  • Fish
  • Turkey
  • Elk
  • Bison
  • Duck
  • Dandelion
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