Skip to main content

Native American Heritage Month: 'Frybread Dreams,' a Poem by Richard Walker

It’s 1 in the morning and
I’m awake, thinking about

because some co-workers were talking Tuesday
about how they like Indian tacos

and one guy says, “They’re not really Native,
you know,”

and that comment is gnawing at me. Actually,
it pisses me off.

Didn’t we pay the price for the right
to claim frybread, or to at least decide whether
to claim frybread as our own?

It was 1863 when the Army moved the Navajo
to Bosque Redondo and gave the grandmothers
baking powder, flour, lard, powdered milk,
salt and sugar with which to feed the children.

This scene was repeated at rancherias in
California, at reservations on the plains.

Just as the communion wafer
joins in faith those who partake,
frybread joins those of similar experience
whose ancestors in good faith signed treaties
that sold millions of acres of land

in exchange for a portion of land where they could
continue their lifeways,

and were instead moved onto the poorest land,

and received in payment baking powder, flour, lard,
powdered milk, salt and sugar,

and rotting meat,

and promises of money that sometimes never

Frybread is our communion wafer, so let us
partake in prayerful remembrance
of our sainted grandmothers
who did what they could
to keep their children alive.

Yes, let us remember all the saints who have gone on
before us.

I remember you, Sainted Grandmothers,
who tried to keep the children alive when
they took you from the land of beans and corn
and squash and other good things,

and gave us a new diet.

Yes, let us remember all the saints who have gone on
before us, who struggled to survive with this
new way of eating — flour, lard, salt and sugar,
even as their bodies craved the foods that
sustained their ancestors since the beginning
of time.

I remember you, Sainted Cousin, whose gall bladder
burst and poisoned her body and took her life.

I remember you, Sainted Cousin,
who came back from war unscathed
but lost a leg to diabetes.

I remember you, Sainted Relative,
who chose to die rather than
lose his legs to diabetes.

I remember you, Sainted Aunts and Uncles, who
struggled with weight problems and other
diet-related health issues their entire adult lives.

In the name of all the angels and saints, Amen.

Richard Walker, Mexican/Yaqui, is a newspaper editor in Kitsap County, Washington, and is a correspondent for Indian Country Today Media Network. This poem was included in his chapbook, "The Journey Home" (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2012,

Scroll to Continue

Read More