Charles Trimble: Lakota popcorn and other Sioux subjects

Several months ago I received an e-mail from a friend telling me that he had found some real Lakota popcorn in a local supermarket. He was intrigued by the packaging that told how the Lakota people of old – way before Orville Redenbacher was even a gleam in his father’s eye – used to sit by the campfires enjoying this very popcorn.

What intrigued him was that the stuff he had bought was microwave popcorn. Being the smart alecky type, he asked how long were the extension cords they dragged behind their ponies to power the microwaves back in those days? I answered with that old Lakota expression, “DUH!” then I explained that our ancestors merely plugged them into the nearest current bush (yeah, yeah, it’s currant, I know).

It didn’t surprise me when I bought a package of that same Lakota Popcorn to learn that it was grown, packaged and marketed on the Lower Brule Indian Reservation. The Kul Wicasa Oyate there at Lower Brule have always appeared to me as the most progressive on the Northern Plains, with their agricultural projects and manufacturing.

First of all, they are blessed with an excellent location for development, with plentiful water and an excellent landbase for farming. Most important to their progress, however, has been their leadership continuity. Michael Jandreau, their tribal Chairman, was first inaugurated the same year old Abe Lincoln came into office, or so it seems, and has served the tribe well ever since.

In olden days at the Mission school, we would steal field corn from the corn cribs and head for the hills with a tin can punctured with holes in the bottom and a long wire handle; then we’d parch the corn over an open fire. The kernels would burst just enough to show a little bit of white, but even those that didn’t were just as delicious.

The popcorn sold in the Mission gym during movies on Sunday evening was made the day before in a basement room under the workmen’s kitchen. Three lucky eighth grade boys were picked to help a scholastic bag the popcorn and pack them carefully in large metal cans with lids on them. The boys who did this could help themselves to all the popcorn they could eat, and would usually bring a few bags of “old maids” – kernels not fully popped – for their friends. Us mixed bloods never were so lucky, because the scholastic – John Bryde – wanted Lakota-speaking boys, so he could learn the language from them as they worked.

I have also found some new food products coming out of the Pine Ridge Reservation, in the form of nutritional, high-energy candy bars made of dried meat (papa saka), chokecherries, and other natural foods. I recently read an article in the Omaha World Herald of new national markets for chokecherries and chokecherry products, and the domestication of those fruits for farming. That industry seems like a natural for Pine Ridge and Rosebud, especially with the availability of start-up loans from the Lakota Fund.

I remember back in my hometown of Wanblee in the late 1940s when we would pile in the back of an old International truck to go to the Niobrara River to pick chokecherries and plums, the harvest of which would be divided up among families for canning. We’d also pick buffalo berries, but they were sometimes hard to pick because of the thorns, and they’d make your lips pucker like a carp when you ate them.

I am pleased to see people back home taking economic advantage of the national trend toward healthful foods, which Lakota foods of olden times most certainly were. But I have a cousin who has started a frybread-mix business. She’s a lovely young woman, and very bright, with a doctorate in business administration.

But I’m concerned over her judgement in the frybread business just as the country, led by First Lady Michelle Obama, is moving away from fatty foods in the fight against obesity. And frybread has been targeted by the First Lady’s Native followers to be done in along with Twinkies. Actually, frybread isn’t really all that traditional in terms of years. Lakota “kabubu” bread (Lakota word for “you pound it”) is equally as traditional, or more so, and much more nutritional.

So much for that; now on to another subject: being Siouxish…

Years ago I had heard about one Christian religion that professes American Indians as being lost tribes of Israel, and that has always interested me. Except for the fact that it gives bigoted yahoos one more reason to dislike us more than they already do – being Indian and Jewish – I kinda like the idea.

But it would change much of our history and folklore. For one thing our ancestors in boarding schools would have been beaten for speaking Yiddish instead of Lakota. Maybe that’s why those mean priests and nuns at the mission school beat us up for singing OyVey Maria to the tune of Hava Nagila. Of course I’m joshing, so chill, you squeamish politically- and culturally-correct readers.

Anyway, have a good day. I hope I made your day a little bit more joyful. If not, you’re a mishuganah anyway, so fergetaboudit.

Charles "Chuck" Trimble, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, NE. He can be contacted at cchuktrim@aol.com and his website is www.iktomisweb.com.

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