Kickoff to Native American Heritage Month


A plated provided at the event with greens, corn bread and pecans. PN Photo/Eliza

By: Elizabeth Hunt

The department of American Indian Studies kicked off Native American Heritage Month with its Annual Native Foodways. This year’s celebration was the 13th year reaching out to the University and surrounding communities to gather traditional and local Native American cuisine.

According to the department, the purpose of Native Foodways remains to celebrate Native American Heritage Month; help UNCP students, faculty, and other attendees honor, understand, and sample foods that are indigenous to the Americas; emphasize healthy foods that have been part of traditional Indigenous diets for centuries, and to cultivate campus and community collegiality through that experience we all enjoy: eating.

This year Native Foodways had additional sponsors including the Southeast American Indian Studies Program, the Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity, and the Museum of the Southeast American Indian.

Dr. Jane Haladay, associate professor for American Indian studies, said this is a great opportunity to educate the public about the variety of Native foodways.

“So many of us cook and eat them [Indigenous foods] regularly, but may not know they are Indigenous foods, like white potatoes, chocolate and tomatoes,” Haladay said.

The spread from the 13th Annual Foodways event had a variety of Indigenous foods including corn, beans, chili, cornbread, squash, cabbage, collard greens, field peas, tomatoes, sweet potato pudding, squash muffins, chocolate, sweet potatoes, turnips, pecans, pine nuts, rice, soups, venison, bison, game, fish and stews.

Last year the community was unable to gather due to COVID, instead, there was an opportunity to share recipes, as well as a description and video.

The celebration of honoring Native foodways is held in the University Center Annex. Typically, volunteers bring a dish featuring an Indigenous food cooked in the manner of some Indigenous or Native American group. There are also a host of dedicated elders from the Lumbee Tribe and Pembroke First Baptist Church who always join the celebration, along with Millard Locklear from New Ground Farm.

Food is sacred for Indigenous peoples. Traditionally, all gathering, harvesting, hunting or fishing began with a prayer and offering of thanks to the plant, animal, and fish people who selflessly sacrificed themselves to ensure everyone was fed. Centuries later, the majority of Native peoples still begin their foodway traditions in that same traditional way.

One student who was a diner at the celebration was Kortni Hunt, a senior. Although she has the last name many Lumbee’s in the area share, she is not a native of Robeson County.

She is from the Charlotte area. Hunt said this would be one of her last opportunities to celebrate Native American Heritage month with the Lumbee community as well as other representations of surrounding tribes.

“I always look forward to Native Foodways. It is an opportunity for people outside of the Native American community to experience traditional foods, free of charge which is great for college students,” Hunt said.

Hunt said in her first year on campus she didn’t take advantage of the event; however, she is grateful to attend during her last year on campus.

Honoring Native foodways serves as a reminder of Native American foods that have been nurtured, celebrated, prayed to and shared by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years, some of which are still available to enjoy in today’s society.

By growing, preparing, eating and sharing these foods, Native ancestors are being acknowledged and their descendants, to continue the fight to sustain healthy culturally relevant foodways that not only benefit the planet but all people.

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