Learning about Native American culture through food, dance and bingo


Local Native American students preform on Nov. 6 in the Rotunda at Bovee University Center. 


Corn, beans and squash, the three sister crops of Native American culture, were a few ingredients featured in the annual Native American food taster in the Bovee University Center Rotunda Monday night. 

The event, sponsored by Native American Indigenous Student Organization (NAISO) and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., allowed participants to learn about the Anishinaabe culture through flavor, dance, music and bingo. 

The game of bingo featured Anishinaabe words and winners were asked to shout “bakinaagewin,” which translates to “I am winning,” rather than “bingo.” There were 27 prizes for the winners that included travel mugs, speakers and a lunch cooler.  

Attendees tested their palates with authentic Anishaabee dishes that included a wild rice casserole, bean soup, a dense fry bread, a strawberry desert and berry infused water. 

Harper Woods junior Emily Crombez came into the event thinking that any authentic cuisine is full of spices and exotic flavor. After trying the Anishinaabe food, she found that the flavors were very natural and earthy. The ingredients used made for a flavorful dish, even with a lack of spices, she said.  

“This is the kind of thing that you would have to go to someone’s house to find,” Crombez said. 

While participants ate, four dancers performed traditional Native American dances to Triple Threat by Young Bear. The dancers ranged from age 9 to 18, all from the Central Michigan area. 

For Mount Pleasant native and CMU freshman Zach Jackson, this was not his first time performing at this event. He has performed at the annual food taster, as well as several other events around the country since he was in high school, and has been dancing since he was two years old. 

“Being surrounded by different counties at the reservation, a lot of schools actually come to people on the reservation to do presentations about outfits and dancing and things like that,” Jackson said. 

Despite being asked to perform this time last minute, he was able to grab his priceless dance ensemble from home, and come out to share his culture with students and the community. 

“Dancing is a selfless action; that’s kind of what it means to us,” Jackson said.  “They always tell us when you’re dancing, you’re not dancing for yourself, you’re dancing for the people who can’t dance anymore.”

This was especially true for Jackson who danced in moccasins gifted to him by his grandfather, who can no longer dance himself. 

His handmade garments, unique to him, also featured several brass pieces and a flower design, to represent the culture of the woodland people. He also wore deer toes on his ankles and across his body, a trade-cloth apron, and a breast plate made of bones and brass beads.  

Originally a grass dancer, Jackson now performs the men’s traditional dance. The men’s traditional dance is the oldest traditional dance to the Anishinaabe people and is crafted to tell a story. While he was originally reluctant to dance the traditional dance, he now finds that it suites his personality well.