The Alchemy of Fry Bread

Peace as Seeing the Deliberately Dismissed

There’s real­ly no such thing as the ‘voice­less.’ There are only the delib­er­ate­ly silenced, or the prefer­ably unheard.” (Arund­hati Roy)

Ellie: I am lucky to say I mar­ried a bread bak­er. He loves the phys­i­cal­i­ty of the process. I love the warm, scrump­tious result. For years now, I have savored the taste of home­made bread. Now, my two lit­tle boys run into the kitchen when they hear my spouse pulling the bin of flour out of the cup­board. They love mix­ing the ingre­di­ents, knead­ing the dough, and watch­ing it rise through the oven win­dow. Shar­ing bread with friends, fam­i­ly, and neigh­bors has become a delight­ful part of our days.

Bread brings peo­ple togeth­er. The ingre­di­ents in bread are so ele­men­tal. When com­bined with love, they nour­ish and sus­tain a peo­ple. At the cen­ter of a gath­er­ing, at the cen­ter of a cul­ture is a foun­da­tion­al grain that sus­tains life — naan, tor­tilla, rice, ugali, injera, and fry bread to name a few. Food, then, is a bridge between worlds. Learn­ing about the cen­tral food of a peo­ple, if done well, is access to the his­to­ry, her­itage, resource­ful­ness and per­se­ver­ance of a cul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ty. The mag­ic of food can be an instru­ment of peace.

Fry Bread

Fry Bread: A Native Amer­i­can Fam­i­ly Sto­ry by Kevin Noble Mil­lard is a beau­ti­ful, acces­si­ble pic­ture book sto­ry that rais­es vis­i­bil­i­ty and chal­lenges stereo­types of Native Americans.

Fry­bread is food. Fry­bread is shape. Fry­bread is sound. Fry­bread is col­or. Fry­bread is art.

Kevin Noble Mil­lard brings all of the reader’s sens­es to atten­tion, deep­ened by col­or­ful, engag­ing illus­tra­tions. Then he shifts. “Fry­bread is his­to­ry. The long walk, the stolen land. Strangers in our own world. With unknown food, we made our own recipes from what we had.”

He includes the names of hun­dreds of indige­nous nations and com­mu­ni­ties in the U.S., help­ing stu­dents under­stand that the terms Native Amer­i­can, Amer­i­can Indi­an, and Indige­nous Amer­i­cans include many diverse cul­tures and peo­ples. There is no sin­gle sto­ry. He reminds read­ers, “Fry­bread is us. We are still here. Elder and young, friend and neigh­bor. We strength­en each oth­er to learn, change and survive.”

In an inter­view with Sal­ly Lodge, Kevin Noble Mil­lard says about Fry­bread: “Peo­ple had to make do with what lit­tle they had, and from these sim­ple ingre­di­ents they made fry bread. It was a food that had its begin­nings due to depri­va­tion and the absence of food they were used to. And now fry bread has become a food cen­tral to the lives of most Native fam­i­lies — and some­thing very celebratory.”

Teaching Fry Bread

Use the cul­tur­al ice­berg idea to explore how Fry Bread brings us deep­er into Amer­i­can Indi­an cul­ture and his­to­ry. Fry bread is a cul­tur­al aspect that is easy to see and access. The book opens a door to learn about oth­er cul­tures begin­ning with some­thing as ele­men­tal as bread. It encour­ages us to real­ly see each oth­er for who we are and rec­og­nize the unique gifts that dif­fer­ent cul­tures bring to soci­ety. What is above the water in your cul­ture? In Kevin Noble Millard’s? What is below the sur­face in each?

Questions for Kids

How is fry bread part of every­day life and spe­cial occa­sions in this book? What foods are part of spe­cial occa­sions that you take part in?

Do you have a favorite food in your fam­i­ly or cul­ture that is spe­cial or has a spe­cial his­to­ry? Who makes this spe­cial food? How did they learn to make it?

How does food help tell the his­to­ry of a peo­ple? What sto­ries have you heard about foods your fam­i­ly eat?

What steps does Kevin Noble Mil­lard take to chal­lenge stereo­types of Native Amer­i­cans? What steps can you take to chal­lenge stereo­types you encounter?

What are the words on the end­pa­pers of the book?

Whose voic­es are delib­er­ate­ly unheard in your fam­i­ly? School? Com­mu­ni­ty? Coun­try? How can we hold more space for all voic­es to tell their unique story?

Digging Deeper

Trau­ma in a peo­ple looks like cul­ture.” (Res­maa Menakem)

Playing IndianIn Play­ing Indi­an, Philip J. Delo­ria explores the his­to­ry of the sym­bol of Indi­an over the course of US his­to­ry. White Amer­i­cans have his­tor­i­cal­ly mim­ic­ked Native Amer­i­cans’ cloth­ing, tra­di­tion and cer­e­monies, hop­ing to build a legit­i­mate insid­er iden­ti­ty while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly steal­ing land from the native peo­ples. The idea of the Amer­i­can Indi­an has changed over time to suit the needs of the rul­ing élite. Den­i­grat­ing Native Amer­i­cans as sav­age oth­ers even­tu­al­ly became dis­miss­ing them as con­sent­ing to van­ish, will­ing­ly rid­ing off toward the hori­zon. This final image solid­i­fies the sym­bol of Amer­i­can Indi­ans as his­toric. Yet Native tribes are here, as Fry­bread states, “learn­ing, chang­ing and surviving.”

Native Amer­i­can tribes have been delib­er­ate­ly silenced and prefer­ably unheard. Books like Fry­bread are impor­tant tools for peace in that they expand the aware­ness of hun­dreds of unique cul­tures through sto­ry. Our work of peace includes dis­pelling the sin­gu­lar and his­tor­i­cal sym­bol of Indi­an to see and hear the var­ied liv­ing, breath­ing, and fry­bread-eat­ing tribes across the land.

Nov­el­ist Chi­ma­man­da Ngozi Adichie gave a TED talk back in 2009 called “The Dan­ger of a Sin­gle Sto­ry.” Her mes­sage is still rel­e­vant, pow­er­ful and worth watch­ing or watch­ing again.

Read the full inter­view of Kevin Noble Mil­lard in Pub­lish­ers Week­ly.


For each Peace-olo­gy post, Caren and Ellie part­ner to learn and explore the mean­ing of peace by talk­ing and lis­ten­ing with each oth­er. If you’d like to share your ideas about peace, books, and chil­dren, please share your com­ments here, or vis­it our websites.

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