Tricia Fields Alexander serves traditional Native foods across Indian Country
Traditional Native American recipes are a symbol of resilience, surviving generations of removal, genocide, and cultural assimilation. These foods are still found today and serve a deeply meaningful purpose within Native American community gatherings, like hog fries. This is where the community comes together to eat and be in community with one another. Tricia Fields Alexander is a Native American business owner and an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She serves traditional foods that include cornbread, grape dumplings and various meat roasts.
Alexander owns Autumn Star Catering in Glenpool, Oklahoma, which caters traditional Native American foods many Indigenous Oklahomans know like wild onions, backstrap, venison and grape dumplings. The business is thriving, serving Native and non-Native communities across the state. Originally it was a way for Alexander to earn extra income to support her family.
“It’s helped me with a lot of things. It helped me raise my kids, I never had to put my kids in daycare,” Alexander said. “I was able to continue with school and supplement my income.”
As they grew up, Alexander’s children found ways to help serve in the family business. Most recently, Alexander was seen serving traditional foods with her youngest daughter, Katie, at a hog fry in Catoosa for the Cherokee Nation. Hundreds of people ate plates of food prepared by her.
Autumn Star Catering is part of a larger movement of Indigenous chefs and businesses that are bringing awareness to getting back to healthier Native foods that pre-date European contact. Alexander, along with Nico Albert, a Cherokee chef in Tulsa, Sean Sherman, founder and CEO of the Sioux Chef in Minnesota and Tocabe restaurant in Colorado, are all part of a wave of Indigenous chefs that are fighting food insecurity.
“We were given government rations and had to make do with what was left over,” Alexander said. “My understanding from my ancestors of stories that were passed down is that they were given rations, but that the soldiers or, you know, the higher ranking soldiers would pick over what was brought in that was supposed to be for the Native people. They would pick over and we would get what was left.”
She went on to describe the many ways meat can be used from an animal, such as venison, chili, and backstrap, a cut of meat known for its tender texture. Backstrap was popularized by Hulu’s original series Reservation Dogs.
“It brings me closer to the community that I live in and that I serve,” Alexander said. “It makes me feel good to bring happiness to other people that eat my food. It connects me with the past. It connects me to the people that taught me how to cook those foods.”
Alexander’s culinary talents have taken her all the way to Washington D.C., serving foods at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
One of the most requested foods that Alexander serves is the Indian taco, a dish that involves fry bread topped with meat, veggies and cheese. It’s a dish she has had conflicted feelings about serving in the past. It is a survival food, not a traditional one.
“It was just kind of an invented food for us and something that we had to have to adapt to be able to eat and survive,” Alexander said.
This story was reported and produced by Braden Harper as part of NPR’s Next Generation Radio, hosted by Native American Journalists Association and KOSU.