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Foods of The Plains Indians

Plains Indian women gathered edible roots and berries whenever they were available. The primary source of food came from hunting, especially from the buffalo. The Plains Cree and Ojibwa added fish to their diet, but fish was unimportant elsewhere on the Plains. Animal-skin disguises were used to get close enough to the game for the effective use of bows and arrows. Buffalo herds were driven into pounds or corrals and killed, or were stampeded over steep cliffs. While acquisition of the horse greatly facilitated buffalo hunting, muzzle loading guns proved often inferior to bow and arrows, which were given up only after shorter breech loaders were introduced by the 1860s.
When men hunted, women were busy processing and preserving meat. Some was cooked and eaten immediately, but most was sliced and sun-dried to keep for the winter, or grounded and mixed with fat and dry berries to make pemmican. Buffalo hides were used for making robes, tipi covers, moccasins and shields; tools and utensils were made of the bison's horns, hooves, hair, tail, bones and sinew; buffalo dung was used as a fuel on the treeless plains.
Cooking in a teepee

North American Foraging Foods

© Fotolia.com Chokecherry
Before the European settlement of North America the chokecherry was a very important and integral part of the Indian's diet. The chokecherry, as well as other fall fruit, was stored into the winter in a partly dried or frozen state to be eaten throughout the winter. As well, the plains indians harvested chokecherry fruit, mixed it with fat and suet and pounded it into the meat of buffalo. This mixture of meat, fruit and fat was known as pemmican, a staple of the native prairie people.

Sascatoon Berries - Photo G. Risser Assiniboine Tipis Saskatoon
Saskatoons are typical of the Canadian Prairies. They used to be one of the main fruits for natives. Saskatoons could be eaten raw but often these little berries were sun dried and mixed with fat and dry buffalo meat to make pemmican.

Photo de Jonas Bergsten, Public Domain, Wikipedia Lingonberry
The lingonberry grows wild across northern Canada, Alaska and part of the northeastern USA. Known as "wisakimin" by the Cree Indians, "keepmingyuk" by the Inuits and "nissimininanakashi" by the Naskapis, the vitamin-rich lingonberries were consumed fresh, cooked and sun-dried. Leaves were also used in traditional medicine.

Cloudberry, photo Gerry Risser Assiniboine Tipis Cloudberry
The arpiqutik, as the Inuits call it, is another typical berry found on boreal countries. It grows in bogs and marshes. The cloudberry or bakeapple looks like a yellow raspberry. Soft and juicy, the fruit was collected and consumed raw or frozen for winter food. Known to be rich in vitamin C, the berries were used to prevent Scurvy, leaves make an infusion used to treat kidney problems and stomach-aches.

Photo Wouterhagens, Public Domain, Wikipedia Highbush Cranberry
Known as "mushuminanakashi" by the Naskapi, "nibimina: by the Chippewa and"Anib" by the Mohawks, Native American Indians used many parts of highbush cranberry for food and medicine. The berries are high in vitamin C and were eaten fresh or made into pemmican. The bright red fruit was also used for ink and a dye for clothing. The bark and leaves were boiled into teas and used as sedatives and pain relievers. The jelly can be served with a wild duck or goose, with ptarmigan, grouse and other game birds.

Phoro Public Domain, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Herman Staghorn Sumac
Native American mix sumac leaves and berries in their tobacco. This plant was also used in traditional medicine to relieve stomach pains. Later, the settlers made a tasty and refreshing lemonade with its fruits..

Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS Wild Plums
Smaller than their domesticated cousins, the flavorful wild plums were harvested by many Native American tribes ; the Assiniboine, Cherokee (quanunasdi), Comanche, Crow, Kiowa, Lakota (kata), Omaha, and Pawnee ate ripe plums fresh from the tree, and also sun-driedsome often without removing there pits. The Sioux used the wild plum sprouts as a wand in a religious ceremony.. The bark of the tree contains a substance used antiseptic for mild skin infections.

Photo by KP Botany, Wikipedia, Public Domain Wild Grape
Mostly eaten fresh, wild grapes were known as "biimaakwad" by the Ojibway, "telvladi" by the Cherokee, and "Cuwiyapehe" by the Sioux. Many species of wild grapes were gathered by Indians. This plant is found growing all across North America, from the East Coast to the West, from Mexico to Canada.

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Assiniboine Tipis
PO Box 649 Lundar, MB R0C1Y0
Phone: (204) 762-5523
Canada
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