Do Native American traditions include bread-making?

Native American traditions include a controversial bread.

Frybread was created sometime during the waves of Europeans coming to the new world. With them, they brought war, colonization and the pig, which provided lard essential for frying bread, a future staple of Native American traditions. Partly a symbol of oppression, but also a testament to survival and a basic need, frybread symbolizes the two different sides of Native American activism. In 2005, Indian activists in South Dakota succeeded in having the bread declared the official state bread. On the other hand — it’s a fatty food, filled with carbohydrates that other activists say are contributing to chronic obesity in the tribes and in America.

But Native American traditions include other breads as well.

The name “Ash bread” conjures up images of dying flame and the rising sun. The dough is simple: flour, salt and baking powder. The bread itself is important in Apache ceremonies and is similar to other Native American tribal customs. Ash bread is present at the sunrise and sunset of life. In an important ritual, ash bread is baked in the embers, mixing with the charcoal dust of the fire, then placed into the casket to serve as accompaniment to the next world.

But it’s just as prevalent in moments in a young child’s life. When a baby laughs for the first time, whoever made him or her laugh has to throw a party, and ash bread is on the menu.

That’s not all!

Cornbread and tortillas play an important role in Native American traditions as well. They’re filling, delicious and the recipes have been handed down for generations. Baking bread is a simple act that reminds us of our basic daily needs. It keeps us humble and nourished. It connects us to our past, for when we bake bread we remember a time where basic things had to be made from scratch — and that was something to be thankful for.

For Native American bread recipes and more, check out Lynne Golodner’s The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.

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