Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Native American food, Native American Foods, Storyteller, Uncategorized
I started this blog soon after I moved to Arizona in 2009. At the time I had long dreamed about publishing a book that would be a combination of a cookbook on Native American traditional and contemporary recipes, the meaning of food within the context of Indigenous cultures, and a sort of memoir of my experiences living and working in Native communities in the United States and other countries.
I wanted to share in a way I had watched my relatives do–teaching and sharing with others in a non-threatening and entertaining way. It was also an opportunity to give people in the local storytelling community a chance to get a sense of the sort of Stories I would tell when performing. But ultimately, I thought of it as a chance to get something down I would one day show to a publisher.
More recently epublishing has revolutionized how books in various forms can be distributed to the public. Just so, I began to transfer parts of my CoyoteCooks blog into an ebook form. The first was published through Amazon as Coyote Cooks: A Cookbook of Native American Recipes, Memories, and Traditional Legends. I’ve also published Cooking with Coyote and Coyote in the Kitchen. My expectation is to continue to publish separate ebooks, eventually combining them into a complete set that will become the book I had planned to do so long ago. I will continue to delete my original CoyoteCooks blog, since Amazon does a very close scan on the Internet and doesn’t allow publication of anything accessible to the public. You can check out my progress at: Amazon.com/author/tynolan or at my blogsite: http://www.TyNolan.blogspot.com
Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Native American Foods, Storyteller
Tags: Feast Day Pork Roast, Pili, Pueblo Indian Recipes, Robert Mirabal, Southwest Indian Cookbook, Taos Pueblo
My apologies for letting this site lie fallow for so long. When I first moved to Arizona three years ago and started the blog, I had been going blind for some time. This blog was a little bit of comfort for me. Having lost the ability to drive greatly reduced my mobility. I was thankful for the laptop that allows me to increase the display size so I can more easily read the text. Over the last two years I’ve undergone 6 major eye surgeries–the last two to reduce the scar tissue from the previous operations. This has led to what one of my four eye specialists calls a “life-changing experience.” He even provided me a letter to give to the Department of Motor Vehicles authorizing a driver’s license. He said, “Given your loss of peripheral vision–if I had tested you on Wednesday instead of Monday, you probably wouldn’t have passed.”
After a great deal of thought (and a couple of very minor test drives) I decided not to apply for the license. One of my eye diseases is “Low Vision,” where I am unable to see unless there is a high contrast–for example, black ink on white paper. One of my personal nightmares is shopping and picking up an item that has a colored label with colored ink. If there isn’t a high contrast, I just can’t read the label. Another recent frustration–I was at the airport trying to use a self-check in kiosk for American Airlines, and the whole structure was black plastic. For someone with my visual impairment (and Low Vision is just one of three eye diseases I have) that means the places where you are supposed to swipe a card are invisible. For me, it’s a solid lump of black. Just so, I feel I can drive at a certain time of day, when it’s not too bright and not too dim, but I would never consider driving at night again. I’m rather at the “Goldilocks” stage of driving, where I should only go out when it’s “just right.” Which basically means I take the bus or walk.
But this does mean after being able to see somewhat better–sadly, no eye operation can restore the blindness I already have–the surgeries slow down further vision loss–I’ve had a chance to return to work. I had accepted I’d probably spend the rest of my life working from home, squinting at a computer screen. While I’m most grateful for the surgeries and being able to work outside of my home again, it does mean I’ve really neglected this site, and felt bad several visitors had left comments that I had not had a chance to post.
Recently someone asked for information on Pueblo Indian recipes, curious if this was something he wanted to explore (he’s non-Native). I usually don’t share as much about the southwest side of my family because traditionally, Pueblos tend to be very private. Our legends and family stories aren’t always shared with people we don’t know or trust.
Just so, there’s always a fear you’ll be criticized by other Pueblo people as having “told too much” to outsiders. For that reason, it’s usually easier to say nothing, or always shape it with, “I can’t tell you what we do, but this is what they do down south,” or, “Well, the Hopi people do it this way.”
One of my relatives, Robert Mirabal, has achieved a lot of recognition for his artistry, and he’s embraced the 21st century’s use of social media. I’ll be a good Pueblo, and give him the space to share his words with you:
Corn Dance & Grandma Mirabal
|Grandma Crucita Romero Mirabal, Aunt Annie and Uncle Tony|
|Grandmas of old|
|Walla-Towa (Jemez) Corn dancers August 2nd|
|Santo Domingo (Kewa) august 4th|
As a Tiwa Pueblo (father’s side of the family) one of my favorite publications is theSouthwest Indian Cookbook that is lavishly illustrated with the photography of the author, Megan Keegan. She also has interviews with a number of Pueblo people discussing the sacredness of food and its preparation. In many cases, the foods are displayed in Pueblo pottery and baskets. If you’re not familiar with her work, she’s been capturing the most amazing images of Native people for many years and doing an excellent job of letting the local folks speak for themselves. Here’s one example of a recipe from Ms. Keegan’s cookbook:
Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Mitsitam Cafe, National Museum of the American Indian, Native American food, Native American Foods
Tags: Mitsitam Cafe, National Museum of the American Indian, Richard Hetzler
I regret deeply not being able to participate in the 2004 opening of the National Museum of the American Indian—my family flew in to dance for the celebration, but I was presenting at a conference, and wasn’t able to join them.
Over the intervening years when I’m in D.C., I’ve always tried to leave time to visit the Museum’s Mitsitam Café (in the Piscataway and Delaware languages, mitsitam means “let’s eat”). It’s been recognized as one of the major culinary attractions in the D.C. area, and Rachael Ray has recommended it on her television show. Atlantic Monthly has featured Mitsitam Café and its Executive Chef, as has Cowboy and Indian Magazine. Gourmand Magazine has awarded its new cookbook as “Best Regional” in the U.S. In March, it will be competing in Paris for “Best in the World.”
Executive Chef, Richard Hetlzer, was involved from the inception of the restaurant, with its intention of integrating the Museum’s emphasis on Native cultures through indigenous foods. He is a 1995 graduate of the Baltimore International Culinary College, “We were involved with
planning a year and a half before the opening,” Richard told me.
In the Atlantic Monthly article, architect Duane Blue Spruce discussed some of the challenges in designing the café: “The assumption was that, of course, the cafeteria would serve native food, but we had a difficult time backing that assumption up… We wanted to show that there are regional differences. Not only culturally, but in terms of food.”
The Mitsitam Native Foods Café is divided into five geographic stations, with each region having a separate menu. These include the Northern Woodlands, South American, Meso America, the Great Plains, and the Northwest Coast and Columbia Plateau.
Richard has discussed working with foods very familiar to most Native Americans, such as fry bread, or salmon prepared on cedar planks. He’s also been creative about combining what
was available to local Native Nations. “A great example is the maple-brined turkey…We know that Native Americans cured items in salt, so essentially they were doing a brine, infusing the flavor, adding moisture…They definitely had turkey. They had maple syrup. It works for us,” he said in a Smithsonian Institute interview.
One of the issues that came up during our interview was the
challenge of providing Native based foods for the enormous volume of customers served. “In the winter, our slow season, we’re serving 500-600 people a day. During our peak that climbs to 1,500-3,000 a day.” Richard is always looking for sources of Native foods from tribal suppliers. He has salmon flown in from the Quinault Nation of Washington State. To supply buffalo meat, he works with the Montana based Intertribal Bison Cooperative.
(Mitsitam Indian Buffalo Taco)
We also talked about working with what food sources are available. Some items that a tribal group might supply may be too small in number, or simply too expensive for the general Café format. This isn’t a problem, according to Richard. “Nothing is too big or too small. Winter is a slow time of the year, and we might feature something on the menu that we couldn’t provide in the peak season. We change menus every three months. We can run it as a special—turn it into a vinaigrette—giving customers the flavor. For example, with fiddlehead ferns, it would be too expensive to serve them by themselves. But I can have twenty pounds of salad and add five pounds of fiddleheads, so everyone gets a taste of them. “ (Fiddlehead Ferns)
Richard also mentioned his fondness for saguaro cactus syrup, comparing it to a truffle as an item that costs too much to use every day. He buys the syrup from Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), a Native American non-profit organization based in southern Arizona. Expensive items like this might be used as a drizzle for a special presentation. One of the reasons it costs so much is how labor-intensive the syrup is to make, as the TOCA site explains:
The saguaro fruit ripens during the hot months of June and July and is hand harvested just before the torrential monsoon rains using a traditional picking stick up to fifteen feet high made of saguaro ribs. Traditionally, the fruit is made into syrup and the tiny black seeds and saffron like pulp are sun dried. Most saguaro syrup – bahidaj sitol – is used in the annual rain ceremony. A very small amount is available to the public. Thick and mahogany colored, this is the most rare of the world’s fruit syrups. Made from hand-harvested saguaro fruit, cooked slowly over mesquite fires, its unusual, deep flavor is both sweet and smoky. Saguaro syrup can be used in a similar manner as the finest aged balsamic vinegars. It is excellent as a glaze, garnish or drizzled over fresh fruit or ice cream. The crunchy seeds are rich in healthy oils and fiber and can be used in place of poppy seeds in any recipe.
TOCA provides Richard with another favorite of his– Ciolim (Cholla Cactus Buds), as well as Bawĭ (Tepary Beans). It’s easy to understand why these Cholla Cactus Buds are such a hit—again, turning to the TOCA site: Ciolim – cholla buds – have sustained the Tohono O’odham for countless generations. Just before the buckthorn cholla cactus flowers in the spring, its buds are hand picked, cleaned of their many thorns and dried for use year-round.
Cholla buds have a unique flavor that includes tones that range from artichoke to asparagus –green and vibrant. Once cooked, cholla buds will triple in size. These delectable desert vegetables love marinades and will readily absorb the flavors of whatever they are cooked with. Terrific in antipastos, chiles, salads and sautées, use them as you would artichoke hearts or asparagus tips.
Cholla buds are incredibly healthy. Even as a side dish in a meal, cholla buds can improve how food affects the body. Two tablespoons of dried buckhorn cholla, for example, provides as much calcium as a glass of milk (14 grams of dry cholla buds supply 394 mg of calcium while one cup of whole milk supplies 276 mg of calcium). Yet, while a glass of milk may have 100-150 calories, the cholla buds only have 28 calories. And because cholla buds contain soluble pectins, they slow down digestion of sugars and other carbohydrates. The result is better control over blood-sugar level, eliminating the highs and lows.
Richard shared with me the restaurant wants to buy from and give back to Native communities, the way they work with TOCA, ITBC, and the Quinaults. While the non-Native Richard has had the opportunity to employ only two American Indian workers, the week of our interview, he had entered into discussions with the Navajo Technical College to explore placing interns with the college’s culinary arts program.
The Mitsitam Café Cookbook was the result of three years of labor, and features 90 recipes with beautiful photography from Renee Comet. Because the restaurant serves so many people per day, the recipes had to be modified to meet the needs of a home cook. Richard explained, “The staff at the museum each took three or four recipes home, made them and critiqued them, and we adjusted the recipes. One of the pushes behind the book was to really find and make recipes that any person could make. You don’t have to be a chef to recreate any of it.”
Richard will be flying to Paris this March, where the Mitsitam Café Cookbook will compete at Gourmand Magazine’s World Cookbook Awards. There are 53 categories, with over 150 countries represented. When I asked him what he will demonstrate, he told me he planned to showcase his Wild Rice Salad, explaining it was something he could do that would easily fit within the 20 minutes he will be allotted, and uses ingredients that are easily available.
Wild Rice Salad
This recipe is from Mitsitam Cafe,
National Museum of the American Indian.
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
6 cups chicken stock
11/2 cup wild rice
1 carrot, cut into
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
1 Roma tomato, finely diced
4 or 5 scallions,
3 bunches watercress
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spread the pine nuts and pumpkin seeds in a small baking pan and toast them in
the oven for about 10 minutes, until they are golden brown. Let cool.
Combine the chicken stock and wild rice in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 45–55 minutes, until the grains are just opened up and tender. Spread the hot rice on a baking sheet and let cool.
When the rice is cool, scrape it into a large bowl and add carrots, dried cranberries, diced tomato, toasted pine nut and pumpkin seed mixture, and scallions.
Toss all of the ingredients together with the vinaigrette, refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and serve over watercress.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1/4cup plus 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons honey
Place cider vinegar in a bowl, and slowly mix in oil. Sweeten with just a touch of honey.
Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Native American Foods, Storyteller
Tags: Brett's Blueberry Special, Butterfly fetish, butterfly legend, Butterfly Story, Coyote fetish, Creator, husband and wife, Mayan tradition, Wedding Story, Zuni fetish
Long and long ago, when the world was still new, the Creator watched children playing. He watched their sheer joy, and enjoyed their laughter. In the four directions he looked, he saw beauty—before him, behind, him, above him, and below him. He smelled the sweetness of flowers, heard the song of birds, saw the bright blue of the sky, and tasted the first touch of the coming cold on his tongue. This reminded him that time was passing…that winter would come again…that these children would all grow old and pass away as he had watched human children do over and over again. The leaves would turn brown and fall from the trees, and the flowers would fade to replenish the Earth.
He decided to create something to memorize this moment, something that would be a part of all this beauty. And so he gathered the blackness from the hair of the children’s parents. He took the orange and reds of the falling leaves. He grabbed bits of sunlight, and the colors of the flowers. He took the evergreen needles of the pines. He took the soft whiteness of the clouds, and added all these things into a bag of buckskin. He smiled and after a moment, added the songs of the birds to his bag.
When he finished, he held the bag close to his heart, and called the children to him. He handed them his bag and told them to see what was inside. When they opened the bag, a cloud of butterflies emerged. They were like winged jewels. They were all the colors of the rainbow. It was as if flowers were flying. The spirits of the children and the adults soared like hawks, for they had never seen anything like this before. The butterflies, light as a lizard’s lick, touched on the heads and shoulders of their grateful audience. The butterflies swirled around and began to sing.
But then a bird flew to the Creator’s shoulder and began to complain. “Why have you given our precious songs to these small and pretty beings? You have already made them wings more beautiful than ours—why give them our songs as well? You promised us that each bird would have his or her own song. It is not right to do what you have done.”
The Creator looked at the small bird and nodded. “You are right. I promised one song for each bird, and it is not right to give them away to others.” So the Creator made the butterflies silent, and thus they remain today. But their beauty touches all people and opens up the songs in our own hearts.
Further south, it is said the world is a reflection of itself…the world of dreams and the world of work. It is taught these two worlds are like the wings of the butterfly. The dream world is one wing, and the working world is the other. The wings must connect at the heart for the butterfly to fly and live. Real life – true life—happens because of the movement of the wings. And this is what marriage is like. It mirrors the butterfly’s heart, kept alive by the love of the husband and wife, moving together like twin wings.
retold by CoyoteCooks
I was asked by a friend for help in finding an appropriate story for her to tell at a friend’s upcoming wedding. I requested more details about those involved, and was told this was a couple in their 50’s, and it was neither’s first wedding. I suggested the butterfly story, for a number of reasons. First, I wanted a story that wasn’t overly long, since the focus should be on the ceremony and celebration rather than on a performance. I wanted a story that acknowledged a couple who are able to appreciate their experience of marrying again in a way a couple in their early 20s who have never been married can’t fully imagine. That’s why I emphasized in the story how the Creator both celebrated the moment of joy, but also had sadness that this was the Autumn of life, rather than the Spring.
Here’s part of the e-mail I sent to her: .
I thought this might be appropriate for your needs. I decided to do a retelling of a traditional Tohono O’odham legend. These are the people who are Native to the general Phoenix area, so it will let you bring a gift from where you have been. I then finished with a teaching from Native people further south—the Mayan.
In similar situations, after I would tell a story of this nature, I would then end by giving a small butterfly image as a gift to the new couple. I would probably then add the suggestion: “And in the weeks to come, you will see an image of a butterfly. Perhaps you will be at work, or perhaps you will be with the one you love. You will see a butterfly and you will smile, remembering this precious day.”
She responded that she felt the story was “perfect for this couple,” and that she would let me know how the event went.
One of the advantages of being from the southwest is the abundance of Zuni “fetish” carvings of various animals one can find at various shops. I notice that for butterfly “fetishes” the artists often use mother of pearl or abalone shells as their media, which I suspect, is to capture the iridescence of their models Since these small carvings usually range from $10.00-35.00, I’ve given away quite a few during presentations. My favorite happened when I was asked to keynote the International Academy of Sex Research when its conference was held in Seattle. The President elect was the clinical director where I was working. She said, “I’ve never heard you talk about sex, but you say so many interesting things in the staff meetings, I’m sure you talk about sex as well.”
I went home to the reservation and asked my mom, “What should I tell a lot of white people from around the world about sex?”
And so I did, and at the end of the story, I presented a small Coyote Zuni fetish to the new president. She later told me it’s become a tradition that when the new president takes office, he or she is presented with the coyote fetish
I wanted to pair a recipe that would go well with the Butterfly legend, and thought something light and sweet might do it. This is Brett’s Blueberry Special: Take a cup of fresh blueberries (or thawed) and add to a cup of diced fresh heirloom tomatoes. Tear fresh basil into small bits to release their fragrance and add to the tomatoes and berries. I’ve been carefully tending my “plantation” of basil plants that I’ve mentioned before on my patio. Now drizzle a couple of teaspoons of honey and squeeze the juice of one fresh lime onto the ingredients. Toss and enjoy.
OH–UPDATE: I was happy to find this in my e-mail this morning–
Many, many thanks for sharing your version of the story of butterfly. I told this (with appropriate recognitions) at M’s wedding last Friday. It was the perfect story for that perfect day. M and T and their family and friends loved it – it was especially significant to M (which was my intent). I followed your advice and gave them a butterfly fetish (Zuni) at the end of the story – the perfect touch!
Thank you for being such a wonderful storytelling friend.
Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Native American food, Storyteller
Tags: American Indian Legend, cannibal woman, diabetes, monster, Native American Legend, pumpkins, stuffed pumpkin, traditional jackolantern, Tsonoquah
She is tall…bigger than Sasquatch, and her body is covered with long, black, greasy hair. Her eyes are large like an owl’s, and her fingers are tipped with sharp claws. Her lips are formed in the eternal pucker of an eerie whistle, and children are told if they don’t listen to their elders, she will come to them at night and suck their brains out of their ears. She is called At’at’lia, Dash-Kayah, Tsonoquah, and names whispered when the time is right, and not for publication. Children are warned not to take food that she offers. If she catches you, she’ll throw you inside the basket she carries on her back. Her basket is so large she can fit 10 children in it…and that’s her favorite meal—10 children. She is a cannibal…she eats human flesh.
Long Time Ago…there was a young boy, named after the Silver Salmon. He woke up early in the morning and the warmth of the rising sun felt good on his face. He sang a song to thank the sun. The boy went out to go fishing but he went so far he realized he wouldn’t be able to return home before the sun went down, so he decided to camp where he was.
It was late at night and the moon was full. Now White people tell us there’s a man in the moon, but our old people tell us it’s really a frog. And so it was , the frog in the moon was looking down at him when clouds covered the moon and everything was dark.
Suddenly he heard a strange whistling, and the clouds blew away from the moon and he could see a monster standing in the darkness.
“Don’t be afraid,” she called out to him—“People make up terrible stories about me, but I’m really a very nice person. In fact,” she said, holding out her hand, “I’m a very nice person. I have some berries for you…I know you must be hungry. Children are always hungry.” And in her claw like hand he saw a pile of berries.
When he reached to take some of the berries, she took her other hand from behind her back. It was smeared with sticky sap from the trees. She slapped him with her hand and his eyes were glued shut! He was blind! She grabbed him up and stuffed him into her basket and ran through the woods whistling.
She was so proud of herself, that she was going to have such a fine meal of young children, she started to sing and dance around the fire.
The boy was afraid, because he knew he would be eaten. He wished he could start his day over again. He thought of how his day had begun, with the warmth of the sun on his face. The warmth of the fire reminded him of the warmth of the sun. Just so, he leaned closer to the fire. The heat of the fire began to melt the sticky stuff on his eyes, and he could see again. As the Cannibal Woman continued to dance, he got an idea and whispered this idea to the girl next to him, who whispered it to the boy next to her…and so it went around the circle of the children.
When she finished, the monster was so tired she could hardly stand up…and that’s when the boy shouted, “NOW!” And all the children jumped up and pushed her into the fire. She began to burn…but she didn’t burn like ordinary things burn.
That was the end of At’at’lia …but she had three sisters…and those sisters are still around. And that’s why we teach our children “you must never whistle at night…because you don’t want to call those spirit beings to you!”
Retold by CoyoteCooks
I thought I’d share the At’at’lia legend as a celebration of Halloween. A number of years ago, I first met the Medical Director of the clinic where I would work at a Halloween Party for Medical Residents. He was wearing a tuxedo and a gorilla mask. My mentor, Carolyn Attneave was a scarecrow, and I had on an articulated skull mask and a button blanket I had made. I had been cast earlier in the play Raven, based on NW Coastal legends, and was playing “Shadowman” which explained my costume decision.
The Medical Director was from Belgium, and I asked him about Halloween customs in his own country. He said he was shocked the first year in the United States, when children suddenly knocked on his door demanding candy. To my own surprise, he shared Jackolanterns in Belgium were made from turnips instead of pumpkins. In retrospect, I suppose this makes sense, given the reality pumpkins are Native America in origin—they’re a type of squash. Pumpkin seeds dating back to at least 8,000 years ago have been found in Mexico. In fact, the word “pumpkin” in Europe refers to what would be called “winter squash” in the United States. In a quick search, carved turnips and other root vegetables used as a jackolantern were well known in Ireland and the British Isles, but there’s not a lot written about Halloween customs in Belgium.
(Traditional Irish Jackolantern)
While it was certainly traditional to use fire to celebrate the harvest time, apparently jackolanterns are a relatively late addition. Nathaniel Hawthorne is reportedly the first to mention them in 1837 in his Twice-Told Tales, making reference to making a jackolantern, and a magazine article from 1885 is the first to mention Americans introduced the idea of carving pumpkins into jackolanterns—much easier than carving a turnip.
For dinner, I took a small sugar pie pumpkin, and did the standard scoop and clean, saving the seeds for planting and roasting. I washed out the inside and rubbed in butter, with a sprinkling of garlic, ground black pepper, and salt. I put the “lid” top back on and microwaved it for four minutes to cut off time in the oven. Let’s face it, when you live in Arizona and it’s still hovering in the 90’s, you really don’t want your regular oven on any longer than necessary. This is also something I often do with other squash. I then took four slices of bacon and cut them into smaller pieces. Plopping them into a skillet, they provided the grease to sauté chopped onion, carrots, and celery. I also took out one of the sweet Italian sausages I’ve been enjoying, and sliced it up to add with the rest. I seasoned the mixture with Italian herbs, and a few sprinkles of Worcestershire sauce. When the veggies had softened and the meats were done, I added breadcrumbs, a handful of parmesan cheese, and enough water to have a soft consistency dressing. (btw–in re-reading, I should mention I’m not giving specific measurements, because I was “eye-balling” what would fit into the pumpkin, and that would vary based on the size of pumpkin you might use. Since I’m always thinking a meal or two ahead, the leftover stuffing I had went into a freezer bag to be used to stuff portabella mushrooms in the next couple of weeks.) I stuffed the little pumpkin with the dressing, placed the top back back on and wrapped it tightly with aluminum foil and placed it on a cookie sheet in a 350degree oven. This results in a pumpkin softened to the point you can eat everything (Hey—in my family, we were raised to eat the skin of the salmon and the “outside” of a lot of vegetables) and the dressing is extremely moist. I had also prepared chicken kabobs, and after spending about an hour in the oven, I removed the pumpkin and then used the oven to grill the kabobs. A knife piercing the pumpkin let me know it was done, but it was easy to just look at it and know it was ready.
Incidentally, there’s an interesting recent study in China on the use of pumpkin extract which shows it may regenerate pancreatic cells. This could have a potential beneficial impact on pre-diabetics, although American researchers stress it’s too early to know if the animal study can be directly applied to humans. Apparently, however, pumpkin is traditionally used in Asia in alternative medicine for the treatment of diabetes. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSCOL06164820070710
Update: I had some leftover stuffed pumpkin, and on a whim, I prepared some angelhair pasta, and microwaved the pumpkin (cut into cubes) with the bacon/sausage dressing, and a few tablespoons of leftover fresh salsa, since I didn’t have any tomato sauce. When tossed with the angel hair, this was so good I think next time that’s how I’ll serve it–as the entree, rather than using it as a side dish.
Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Storyteller
Tags: American Idian Storytelling, Autism, Gay and Lesbian Suicides, Healing, Medicine, Placebo, Storytelling
This is a different post than I normally do on this blog.
Someone I know as an on-line friend recently shared with me that she’s been going through a really excellent period of her life. She and her husband have 2 young girls with autism. I urged her to share her story with an on-line support group in which she participates. She indicated her hesitation was around members of the group wondering if her experience was a fantasy—she emphasizes it was real and meant a great deal to her, but worried about not being believed. I thought I’d share my response with you, since it touches so much on Storytelling and the recent suicides of gay and lesbian young people:
My Dear S,
I was trained as a traditional American Indian Storyteller. I’ve used traditional legends in my work as a Family Therapist. We’re taught that sometimes, people need stories more than they need food. A story is a type of map that tells you where you’ve been and where you need to go. Sometimes a story is so powerful…the story tells you.
To put it less poetically, a story can be understood as a “script” that directs your action in the theater of Life. That’s why one of the first questions I’ll ask of a new couple who come into therapy is about what sort of role models they had for being part of a couple. In a nation where about half of all marriages end in divorce, many young (and not so young) adults don’t have the experience of a healthy, happy set of parents (or grandparents). They don’t have modeled for them how to argue—or indeed, how to fight, in a way that’s healthy or loving. What many have modeled is how to be resentful, how to be constantly angry, or how to consistently blame.
While some therapists say “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood,” it’s difficult to go back and “reprogram” a person’s personal history. But one of the things you discover as a therapist, is the “story” (model) doesn’t have to come from a person’s parents. A story is like water…it seeks its own level. It goes where it needs to go. A model of a viable couple may come from a movie, or a book, or from me telling them, “Well, last week this is what a couple who were sitting exactly where you’re sitting, told me about how they solved a problem similar to yours…”
To put it another way, American Indians consider stories to be a type of “medicine.” For American Indians, our meaning of “medicine” combines the idea of “healing” and “holy.” Just so, the other thing I have tried to teach my university students and professionals in training—the only difference between medicine and poison is the dosage.
Just as there are Stories that can be used in healing, there are Stories that can be used in poisoning. Some Stories can kill.
In the past few weeks, there have been a number of stories of young gay and lesbian people who committed suicide because of treatment by others of their sexual orientation. Even more disturbing to me is the knowledge these are only the needless deaths that have been picked up and made known by the major media. There are deaths like these that happened in silence, or happened and were silenced.
This is an example of the Power of Story. Children who grow up with a message that they are damaged…that they are “bad”—that they are a mistake and an “abomination” can learn to believe such a Story. A Story can kill.
A few moments before I read your e-mail, I was watching this video:
It’s about a little boy who enjoys “pretty” things. It’s about how much he enjoys dressing up in sparkly dresses and dancing. It’s about how his family and 8 year old brother think his behavior is fine because it makes him happy and they want him to be happy. It’s about the mother going to his school to be “pro-active”—that instead of waiting for school children to make fun of her son or bullying him, to ask about how his school teaches respect for difference. It’s about the whole school being involved. It’s about the mother writing a children’s book about her son being a “Princess Boy” so her child’s Story could be used as a teaching tool in the school. The book is now being sold in bookstores.
A Story is like water. It seeks its own level. It goes where it needs to go. This is the story of this little boy in Seattle, who likes to dress up in sparkly dresses and dance because it makes him happy. But the reality is…the Story of a little boy is a “real” book. The Story of a little boy is a “real” video clip that was shown to viewers of a program on a major television station, which has since been seen by hundreds of thousands of people on Youtube, and may eventually be seen by millions.
Should you tell your story?
There’s a wonderful storyteller from Chile. Her name is Isabel Allende. In an interview on National Public Radio, she laughed and said, “Of course I’m a liar. A storyteller is a type of liar.” A real storyteller is able to tell an audience the truth it needs to know. A Story is often a type of lie. Does a hero always win in “real” life? Will the Princess Boy always be greeted with love and respect in “real” life? Stories are a type of map. In the “real” world, there is a great deal of chaos. Awful Things Happen. Stories are tools that can help give a person a meaning to chaos. Stories can tell people to look at tragedy, at pain, and to continue going forward. Sometimes people need stories more than they need food.
I taught for many years in the clinic of a medical school. Do you know what a placebo is? Most people use the word in a dismissive way—“It’s just a placebo.” One of the most common references is that a placebo is a “sugar pill.” A provider gives it to a patient instead of “real” medicine.
The word comes from the Latin for “I please.” But here’s the “real” part of the placebo effect. Pharmaceutical companies hate placebos. Do you know why? Because the FDA requires them to test their new drugs in a double-blind way against placebos. This means the persons doing the testing and the patients don’t know if they are about to get the “real” drug or the placebo. Why do the pharmaceutical companies hate the placebo? Because over and over again the patients get better results from the placebo than they do from the “real” drug.
A Story is a type of Medicine. A Story can heal. A placebo is a type of Story.
I was once on a panel with Andrew Weil, a Harvard trained physician famed for his work in Alternative Medicine. This is what he said about placebos—that we were missing the whole point of them. A placebo proves there is nothing that can be done by a pharmaceutical intervention that the human body can’t perfectly duplicate on its own.
Will members of your group believe your story, even though it may seem by some to be a “fantasy?” You know what I think? I think that even if your experience didn’t happen…it should have happened. It should also happen in the future, where another good couple, where another good set of parents…get a taste of happiness.
Do I need your story to be true? Your Story is already true. Did it need to happen exactly the way it was Told? No. Most Stories don’t. That is why a Storyteller is a type of liar.