Thursday, August 18, 2011

Frybread - A Love Story (Nesika Illahee Pow-Wow)

In the Chinook language Nesika Illahee means “our land” or “our country. Every year during the second weekend of August, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians celebrate their aptly named Nesika Illahee Pow-Wow on top of Government Hill in Siletz, Oregon.

After a former coworker, who also happens to be an enrolled member of the tribe invited me to attend 10 years ago, this has become an annual event for my family - morphing from a quick day trip my first year to now making an entire weekend of it. Not only does my husband’s family live in the area (which I found out about after I met him and this had already become a tradition for my oldest daughter and I) but I also have roots in the area through my father’s side of my family.

There are many reasons I enjoy this event so much – the beautiful wooded pow-wow grounds, the colorful costumes of the dancers, the rhythm of the drumming and the booths selling so many unique items from handmade creations to a rainbow of beads. However, there is one thing that stands out year after year – frybread!

Frybread is quite simply that – a piece of bread dough fried. Frybread entered the world during the US Government’s removal of the Navajo from their traditional lands in the mid 19th century. Imprisoned and starving at Fort Sumner, the only provisions supplied by the government to the Navajo were lard and white flour. From these poor rations, frybread was born.

I distinctly remember the first time I ever ate fry bread. It was October, 1998. I had just spent the morning exploring the ruins of Mesa Verde National Park, one of the most incredible places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, when my friend and I happened upon what seemed like a mirage in the desert. A little gift shop and a small stand selling fry bread. Having never tried either before, I figured what the heck. I’ll give it a shot. I was immediately smitten with the warm, soft yet crispy, pillowy creation, covered in a light dusting of powdered sugar. I feasted on three pieces that day and have been hooked ever since.

Frybread can be served a whole multitude of ways. My favorite – Indian (or also known and Navajo or Native) taco style. It is quite simply exactly what it sounds like – a piece of frybread piled high with beans, seasoned ground beef, lettuce, cheese, fresh tomatoes and salsa, though the ingredients can vary depending on who is making it.

Sweet frybread is another option. My husband calls them elephant ears, which makes me cringe every time he says it. Elephant ears are thin and crispy. Frybread is thicker and more flavorful. It can be tossed with cinnamon sugar, served plain and then slathered in jam, or even strawberry shortcake style. The options are only limited by your imagination.

The Nesika Illahee Pow-Wow in Siletz is a great event. Put it on your calendar for next year and make plans to go down and make a weekend of it. Go to the parade through town on Saturday morning, stick around until Sunday for the tribal salmon feed, and in between watch the dance contests, do a little shopping and the vendor booths, and try some frybread for yourself!! 

Getting there:

The Siletz Nesika Illahee Pow-Wow is held annually the second weekend of August, which also normally coincides with the Perseid Meteor Shower (hint – hint).

Siletz is located approximately 13 miles northeast of Newport, Oregon along the Siletz River. While there is limited camping available on Government Hill, lodging options are plentiful a short drive away in Newport.

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  1. I had fair warning, but clicked anyhow. YUM O.
    Living in AZ, I've had my fair share of pow-wows and frybread. It's a delightful treat for sure!
    My favorite part is always the dancing, though. The hoops and the feathers and the silver, jangling cones are like a window to our nation's past through which we get the full experience. Thank you for sharing!

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