Group works to restore knowledge and use of Shoshone ancestral foods - Cheyenne, WY Cap City News
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Group works to restore knowledge and use of Shoshone ancestral foods

“Members of the Restoring Shoshone Ancestral Food group: UW assistant professor Jill Keith, Caroline Mills holding chokecherry patties, Carmen Underwood with biscuitroot and Vernetta Pantzetanga with blue bells.” (UW Photo)

CASPER, Wyo. — The University of Wyoming said on Monday that the “Restoring Shoshone Ancestral Food Gathering (RSAFG)” group has been working to reclaim knowledge of traditional Shoshone methods used to gather and prepare foods.

UW says that the group’s efforts were supported by a National Institutes for Health grant through the IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence at the University of Wyoming in 2018.

“The grant was used to study the effects of Shoshone ancestral foods on health, identity, culture and well-being,” UW says. “The NIH grant assisted community efforts to identify traditional Shoshone foods and how they were used; gathering and processing of the foods; and preparing recipes for participants.”

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A three-month long health study began in January but was interrupted in March due to the COVID pandemic. Participants in the study received Shoshone foods each week for four weeks and were asked to keep food diaries and meet in person each month, according to UW.

“The data collection included a survey; biometrics, including blood pressure, height, weight and waist circumference; and blood draws — glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides — through Wyoming Health Fairs,” UW says.

The survey also asked participants questions about “how the traditional diet affected their overall feeling of cultural connectedness and wellness.”

Findings from the study will help determine whether traditional Shoshone foods make an impact on health. UW says results of the study are currently being analyzed.

In addition, the RSAFG group is developing a photo and recipe book and are working to create a traditional food database.

“Recipes include teas made from wild berries and fir needles; biscuits made from root plant flour; and soups made with wild game such as buffalo, deer and elk,” UW says.

The RSAFG group meets each month to “to collect, process and preserve foods such as yampah root and fireweed.” Those meeting have elicited some people’s childhood memories of preparing traditional Shoshone foods.

“Back in the early days, we lived on all of the wild game, big and small,” RSFAG avisory member Vernetta Pantzetanga said in UW’s release. “I remember watching my ‘gah goo’ (grandma) cooking the food for her large family.”

“Whether it was game meat or berries, it was the healthy way. Now, as I look back, I find myself trying to prepare good, healthy food for my family just like my gah goo.”

UW Department of Family and Consumer Sciences Assistant Professor Jill Keith has worked with members of the group on the project for the last four years.

She says the efforts have uncovered knowledge that wasn’t known such as how to dig up biscuit root and prepare it to make biscuits. Keith says the the photo-recipe book and traditional foods database will be important to sharing the group’s work with the community.

“The traditional foods database will be added to the group’s website upon project completion and identify the various plants and when to collect them; house information for what the plants are used; and offer traditional recipes,” UW says. “The database is intended for community members to reclaim traditional knowledge, and the RSAFG advisory group will guide the process of sharing the database.”

UW says that an elder member of the RSAFG group provided cultural training early in the project to inform people on how to respectfully gather plants.

Keith says that food has spiritual and cultural significance for people.

“I would not want to speak to the cultural value of the food because I don’t have an Indigenous lens,” Keith told UW. “But, I’ve gathered and processed and preserved foods alongside community members, and it’s more than just collecting and eating food. It’s really connected. That aspect of it being very spiritual is very, very important.”

Keith said that commodity foods that are provided to reservations across the United States tend to contain high amounts of refined carbohydrates. Meats tend to be higher in fat content and the foods provided make for a diet that includes more dairy and salt than a traditional diet.

Keith said that traditional diets were healthier and that more physical activity was involved in the act of gathering and preparing the foods.

She said that reclaiming knowledge of traditional diets is important to addressing health disparities that may have come about due to changes in colonization and changes to food supply.

RSFAG member Caroline Mills recalled that her mother gathered bitteroot when she was young.

“It was a chore to help put food on the family table,” Mills told UW. “Eighty years later, I enjoy gathering healthy food for my family’s table. This is food that is not available in the local grocery stores. And all of the various berries provide antioxidants.”

The RSFAG group worked with the Eastern Shoshone Business Council and UW’s General Counsel to develop a data use and sharing agreement for the project.

“All reports or presentations about study results must be approved by the RSAFG advisory group and the Rocky Mountain Tribal Institutional Review Board before sharing,” UW says.

This article originally appeared on Oil City News. Used with permission.