Sean Sherman on Indigenous Food, Culture, and History

Hear stories of indigenous culture and food from Sean Sherman, a successful chef of indigenous dishes.

  • young sean and cousin
    Sean and cousin Justin on Pine Ridge, 1982.
    Photo by Sean Sherman

  • young sean and cousin

The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley is an introduction and education to the indigenous cuisine of the Dakota and Minnesota territories with an intent to expand beyond these borders. Part of the education includes dispelling notions about Native American food such as fry bread or Indian tacos. Readers are instead educated on the truth and areas of focus about which types of wild game and produce are embraced like venison, rabbit, duck, blueberries, sumac, wild turnips, and plums.

You can purchase this book from the Heirloom Gardener store: The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen

It is hard to describe the era and the area I was born into — Pine Ridge Reservation, 1974 — wide open prairies, scents of white sage, bergamot, tall grasses, big skies, and dry, windy, dusty heat. You can smell the weather coming on from miles away. Growing up on Pine Ridge in the 1970s was what most Americans experienced in the 1950s. No seat belts for kids: we rode in the open back of pickup trucks with gun racks in the rear windows.

My younger sister and I lived on our grandparents' ranch with cousins a mile down the hill. We all were a motley and feral group of kids, as wild as the dogs we ran with, exploring the grasslands and sand hills, scouting out antelope, mule deer, pheasants, grouse, sandhill cranes, salamanders, mallards, geese, jackrabbits, bull snakes, rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, coyotes, porcupines. Our TV had just three channels, so, except for the Saturday cartoons or reruns of The Brady Bunch, Petticoat Junction, and Little House on the Prairie, we were never tempted to watch.

I remember my father trying to teach me to drive a stick in his '76 Ford truck when I was just barely tall enough to stand up over the steering wheel. By age seven, I'd learned to handle a rifle and was good at hunting game birds and sometimes antelope and deer, could help dig the wild turnip of the prairie, timpsula, and gather chokecherries. We all pitched in with chores like mending fences, moving cattle to pasture, checking water tanks and windmills, tracking the horses and cattle. We were dusty and gritty, but I never knew that we were dirt poor.

The family ranch was about twenty miles outside the town of Pine Ridge and about ten miles away from Batesland, South Dakota, population 200, where I went to grade school in a class of about twelve. Being members of the Oglala Lakota, we attended powwows, Sun Dances, family gatherings, holiday parades, school events. Native American spirit was always present, as was the strong sense of our family. Lakota-language class was as much a part of our school curriculum as English, social studies, and math. My grandparents were both fluent in Lakota, and people from the smaller villages would stop by to visit and talk for hours in that musical language. We were proud of our tribe, proud of our heritage.



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