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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

A taste of tradition

During a weeklong celebration of Native American culture, UC Davis’ Native American Culture Days group offered several educational and entertaining opportunities for students to learn about the traditions of indigenous peoples inter-continentally.

Easily the tastiest of these tutorials was the Native Foods Demonstration and Tasting at the Silo Union on Apr. 9.

Chef Robert Faris of the Blackfeet Tribe from Redding, Mont. taught students and Davis residents alike how to make three different dishes that utilize Native American recipes. Attendees of the Native American cooking class were served American Indian tacos, buffalo stew, blackberry cobbler and a generous helping of breathtaking music.

Paul Stone, a full-blooded Native American of the Paiute and Washoe tribes, treated the students with several stories and a fabulous flute performance. Using a small maypole wood flute, Stone opened the cooking class with “Amazing Grace.” He also brought two larger flutes made of cedar wood, both of which Stone used to play a song he called, “Two Flutes At Once.”

The title of the song says it all. Stone was able to play two flutes at once, one flute per fist. However, a cautionary tale came with this song. Stone had been telling observers that he liked to practice playing the flute with one hand – while driving.

“So if you ever hear the [‘Two Flutes at Once’] song on the highway, look out,” Stone said. “I’m driving with no hands.”

After sampling the beautiful Native American music, it was time to eat dinner.

The first dish of the evening was American Indian tacos, which are simply tacos minus the tortilla. Instead of a crunchy shell or flour tortilla, Faris used Indian frybread. Frybread is made of flour, water – or milk, which is Faris’ preference – and salt. Faris gave observers instructions on how to make the frybread, saying that you roll the dough into meatball-sized balls and cook them for two-and-a-half minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit in oil.

After the frybread is ready, you put refried beans, ground beef, lettuce, salsa and cheese on top and voila, you have made Indian tacos.

Full recipes of all of the food prepared at the Native American Cooking Lesson are available at spac.ucdavis.edu.

When asked where he learned to cook, Chef Faris said, “Well, growing up, everyone knew how to make Indian tacos. I enjoy eating more than cooking, but you have to cook for yourself eventually.”

While the buffalo stew was being served, a trivia game on Native American culture was played. Four questions were asked, and each of the winners received beautifully-woven, wallet-sized bags.

After the games, co-coordinators June-June Shih and D.J. Worley talked about the importance of celebrating your culture.

Shih, a senior, was very proud of the turn out and graciously thanked Stone, Faris, the Campus Union Programs, Sodexho and the University Dining Services for their participation in the evening’s events.

Worley, a graduate student of Native American studies, is a full-blooded Native American of the Dine and Mescalero tribes. He told students not to dissect their blood, but to be proud of each distinct culture that they come from. He introduced himself as a “full-blooded German, full-blooded Irish, full-blooded Dine and a full-blooded Mescalero.”

An encore performance by Stone concluded the evening, as if the schedule was designed in a full circle. Stone’s songs, which seemed to have cast a sort of musical spell on students earlier that evening, are available on his first CD, From the Forest. Those interested in Stone’s music can visit his website at paulstone.us. There, you can also view his artwork, which includes everything from sketches to wood burnings.

Students walked away from the Silo filled with an appreciation for the music, cuisine and history of Native American culture. So students, if you’re contemplating eating Ramen noodles for the 10th night in a row, go to spac.ucdavis.edu and learn how to make an Indian taco. Like Chef Faris said, you have to cook for yourselves eventually.


MEGAN ELLIS can be reached at features@californiaggie.com.


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