Subject: Nutrition and Home Economics

Grade: 9-12

Topic: Apsáalooke Foods and Nutrition

Content: After completing this lesson students will know the history of traditional foods Apsáalooke people enjoy.

Goals: Students will identify three main sources of traditional Apsáalooke foods, two modern Apsáalooke foods, and explain the how they are served.


Essential Understanding 1: There is great diversity among the 12 tribal Nations of Montana in their languages, cultures, histories and governments. Each Nation has a distinct and unique cultural heritage that contributes to modern Montana.

Essential Understanding 2: There is great diversity among individual American Indians as identity is developed, defined and redefined by entities, organizations and people. A continuum of Indian identity, unique to each individual, ranges from assimilated to traditional. There is no generic American Indian.

Essential Understanding 3: The ideologies of Native traditional beliefs and spirituality persist into modern day life as tribal cultures, traditions, and languages are still practiced by many American Indian people and are incorporated into how tribes govern and manage their affairs. Additionally, each tribe has its own oral histories, which are as valid as written histories. These histories pre-date the “discovery” of North America.

Objectives: After completing this lesson students will understand the importance of feeding to Apsáalooke people.

Materials: Ingredients listed below if cooking, posters for students to list a traditional food recipe from their own family, picture of Apsáalooke Nation flag to post with recipe.

Introduction: Students and instructors will read information included with this lesson plan and then bring family recipes from home to share with the class. The class can then discuss the food safety issues of each recipe as well as the history of it. Students will discuss the need for the types of all recipes studied and why those foods were a part of each group’s diet. How did those foods meet the needs and lifestyle of each group? Instructors may ask students to post their recipe on a wall in the classroom. Consider having a food fair and inviting another classroom to come and sample some of the recipes as well as the Apsáalooke recipes included. Ask all students to be prepared to explain the history of the Apsáalooke foods as well as of their own recipe. Discuss how the history is similar and different. The fair is a good opportunity to experience sharing the knowledge they have gained. Perhaps the class would like to “feed” someone special in their school.

Development: This hands-on approach will offer the students an understanding of one of the most important values of identity. What their family cooks for special occasions has a lot to say about their cultural and ethnic identity.

Practice: Students will read the materials and learn about Apsáalooke food traditions. They will also consider their own family traditions.

Checking for Understanding/Evaluation: Students will identify two Apsáalooke foods and explain how they are gathered.

Closure: Students will discuss how their family food traditions are shared with others.

Foods/Nutrition Unit

Like all cultures, a lesson in Apsáalooke food and etiquette is a lesson in Apsáalooke culture. When most Montanans think of Indian food they think of fry bread. Fry bread isn’t traditional at all. Apsáalookes did not have the ingredients for fry bread until the government began dispersing rations in the summer of 1869. This was a result of a land treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, when the Apsáalooke land base was reduced from 33 million acres to about 10 millions acres of land. In return for this land the United States government agreed to educate and feed Apsáalooke children in perpetuity. It is the diet resulting from rations of salted meats and flour that began the trend for a high incidence of type II diabetes among the Apsáalooke. Currently about 20% of Apsáalooke people either have diabetes or are showing a predisposition for this preventable disease.

Apsáalookes hunt and eat buffalo, deer, and elk. Antelope was not a favorite and is still not today. Buffalo is hunted in the Big Horn Mountains from a herd the Tribe has managed since the 1930s. The Apsáalooke added many other items to this diet including wild carrots, potatoes, rhubarb, turnips, parsley, sego lily and bitterroot, all of which are roots they dug using what is called a digging stick.

The Apsáalooke enjoy picking fruits, often as a family outing for the women. They pick chokecherries, Sarvis berries, elderberries, plums, gooseberries, wild grapes, and occasionally huckleberries. These items are all eaten fresh, and all can be dried. To dry fruit the Apsáalooke pound the berries first and then dry in the sun, an oven, or in a food drier. To dry in the oven place fruit in sheets in the oven at about 140 degrees, follow food drier instructions if using that device. Once dried, foods were kept in storage containers made of rawhide called parfleches; today most people save dried meat in paper grocery bags, and dried fruits in zip locks. Dried foods are reconstituted in soups and stews. The Apsáalooke enjoy beverages such as mint, chokecherry bark, and huckleberry leaf teas.

In general, Apsáalooke people like organ meats more than their non-Apsáalooke neighbors. They especially enjoy tripe intestines, kidneys and tongue. A “traditional” meal for a special occasion includes boiled meat (short ribs), or dried meat dinner, an intestine meat, round steaks, fry bread, boiled potatoes, corn on the cob, berry stew or pudding, cake or pies and tea or coffee. On very special occasions a sausage is made from fat and strips of tenderloin. This smaller meal might be served when someone is asking for prayers for their child headed to a district or state basketball game. This is called feeding a clan aunt or uncle. These smaller functions take place at a family home and often include time before the feed for a sweat.

At a feed for a birthday, baby shower, graduation, or similar special occasion, Apsáalooke people like to serve many guests an abundance of dishes. A meal for this occasion would include boiled meat, round steaks, hot dogs, kidneys or another organ meat, boiled potatoes, corn on the cob, fry bread, macaroni salad, potato salad, jello salad, coffee, juice, cakes and pies. Apsáalooke people invite friends and relatives for these feeds and always invite a special clan aunt or uncle or respected family friend to pray for the individual being honored. At a birthday party sometimes one person is asked to pray for the food and one person for the cake, which they make the first cut into. These individuals are praying for the well being of the honored guest. In return the family gives these individuals four traditional gifts.

If such an occasion occurs during a time of bad weather families usually rent a church hall or community center because of the great number of guests, ranging from 30 to over 100. It is not uncommon in the summer time to see families holding feeds in the city park.

While some parents are able to make the financial and time commitment to host an entire feed on their own, more often a family undertakes such a feast not as one family unit but, especially in the case of a young family, an entire extended family will help with the feed. It is not uncommon for aunties to decide to throw a baby shower or birthday for a child. Then each aunt and her family will help with the meal. Often times siblings will help one another with a party. A mother holding a birthday party may ask her father to purchase some of the meat, and then ask her brothers to cook it outside over an open fire. She would then turn to her sisters-in-law and sisters (this would include first cousins) and ask them to bring salads, her mother may be asked to make the berry pudding, she may ask a favorite auntie and uncle to purchase a bakery cake, and request that her sisters help her prepare the remainder of the meal. Feeds are a good example of the connectedness of the Apsáalooke people to their families.

When an individual is invited to an Apsáalooke home it is polite to remain standing until they are told when and where to sit. Apsáalooke men and women often sit separately when eating, or at times the men eat first followed by the women. Apsáalooke people rarely converse much when eating, they save the conversation for after the meal. Apsáalooke people will offer what and all that they have for a meal, so it is improper to ask for something else, or for more of a dish already eaten. Apsáalooke people do expect guests to eat till they are full, and they are often sent home with food. A courteous guest eats what they are offered and always thanks the hostess for the meal.

Feed Recipes

Fry bread is difficult and time consuming to make as you can only make one or two pieces at a time. If a cook is too busy she may decide to provide rolls instead. Near the Apsáalooke Reservation in Hardin at the local IGA grocery store the bakery will make frybread for $1 a piece. This is expensive but simpler for a working mom.

Apsáalooke cooks are not known for measuring ingredients when they make their bread. They tend to eye the amounts needed. But this recipe should be a close approximation.

Fry Bread

Put yeast and warm water in a bowl for a few minutes. Mix the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Add milk to flour mixture, add yeast mixture. Stir together till mixed. Cover bowl and let mix rest for a few minutes or more. Take dough by 1/3 cup blobs and place on an extra well floured board. Mold into circle shape, turn over to coat with flour. Put hole in dough at center. Place in fry pan with 2 inches vegetable oil or melted Crisco at med high temp. Fry till golden, turn with fork, fry other side. Rest on paper towels. You will need to add additional oil as you fry.

Dried Meat

The meat of elk, deer, buffalo, and moose is dried for preservation and for the ingredients needed in Apsáalooke delicacies such as pemmican and dried meat dinner. Pemmican is made from pounded dried meat, some type of ground dried berry, and fat. Dried meat dinner is made with dried meat, potatoes, water and a pork hock.

To dry meat

Slice meat thinly or fillet into thin pieces. Hang these over a pole or rack in a dry place. Turn the meat occasionally so that it dries well and quickly. Many families have an old tipi pole hanging in their kitchen or somewhere else in the house for this purpose. If meat is dried in the summer prior to Apsáalooke fair then it is dried outside, and it is not uncommon for the children of the house to be asked to keep the birds and flies away from the drying meat. However this method is not approved by home economists, as it takes experience to understand when to turn the meat and when it is dry. Non-experienced meat driers should try this alternate option: slowly roast tenderloin or another beef cut filleted to ¼” in a pre-heated 140 degree oven turning occasionally. When the meat is bone dry raise oven temperature to 275 degrees and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Now you have meat useable for various recipes. Children love dried meat as a snack.

EZ Berry Pudding

Adapted for the classroom setting.

Mash some of the berries but not all.

Heat on medium until near a boil then thicken with some flour or cornstarch and water. Bring to a boil to thicken. Add some butter or shortening at this point if you like.

Additional reading: A Taste of Heritage Apsáalooke Indian Recipes and Herbal Medicines By Alma Snell ISBN 0-8032-9353-4, Absarog-Issawua From the Land of the Crow Indians by Joy Yellowtail Toineeta Master of Education thesis from Montana State University