Indigenous Solutions for a Sustainable Future
by Wenona Nutima

The Traditional Native American Farmers Association (TNAFA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1992. Its mission is to revitalize traditional Native American agriculture for spiritual and human needs. TNAFA achieves this through its educational programs with a particular focus on indigenous women and youth. Traditional seed varieties, seed saving and redistribution, as well as traditional foods and cultures are important areas of study.

One such program started in 1995 at Tesuque Pueblo. The aim was to increase the number of women buwa yaweh makers in pueblo communities of Northern New Mexico. Many books and news articles state that piki, a paper-thin, dry, rolled corn bread, is only made in the Hopi villages of Arizona. It is made at Hopi. However, it is also a traditional food for Pueblo Indians in New Mexico. We call it buwa yaweh in Tewa, the indigenous language of Tesuque and five other Pueblos. This unique bread was cited as a superfood on Alan Alda’s PBS television show Scientific American Frontiers because it includes the daily recommended allowances of calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.

A decline of both buwa yaweh and piki makers is likely the result of socioeconomic changes and choices such as women taking jobs in urban places, as well as changes in diet and food preparation. While these sorts of developments may have diminished the cultural significance of buwa yaweh and piki, there are still plenty of women cooks, and many interested new learners.
This unique bread is cooked on special non-stick stones that are quarried and cured with traditional methods. In 1995 the discovery of a family heirloom stone in an abandoned village home inspired some of us at Tesuque Pueblo to revive this culinary art. This stone, our elder, lay patiently for over 60 years, waiting.

A blue cornmeal batter mixed with culinary ash and water is applied by hand to the hot stone. With each pass, the cook’s fingers press to create layers as thin as possible, to construct the best “sheet” of blue cornmeal. The ideal sheet should be similar in thickness to delicate filo dough. The sheet is peeled from the stone, and the final part of the process is a delicate roll. The rolls are then stacked and allowed to air out. The bread remains nutritionally intact forever. They do not spoil. Buwa yaweh can be eaten alone or with meals. Consumption of this traditional organic food contributes to a healthy diet.
Having a strong knowledge and proficiency in the art of buwa yaweh/piki making can create an economic opportunity. Because this bread is not available in grocery stores or even at local farmers markets, buwa yaweh making can be part of a self-sufficient career using sustainable resources (farming, processing, and cooking).
The Program Director for TNAFA, Clayton Brascoupé, wrote a paper titled Sustainability Recipe, which echoes Priscilla Vigil, an author of the 1972 Pueblo Indian Cookbook. Both writers say that clean and healthy soil, water, air, sun, wind and rain are needed just as much as people to plant the seeds and nurture the crops to harvest. Their viewpoint is shared by people from around the world who are connected to Mother Earth for sustenance.

Buwa yaweh and piki makers have been invited to attend the 2010 Slow Food Event, Terra Madre, in Turino, Italy in October to share our experiences as indigenous food producers. We will tell the story of revitalizing our ancient culinary art. Terra Madre is a bi-annual international meeting of food communities. This year’s theme is Food Places: A New Geography for the Planet. We will be seeking inspiration and encouragement to continue our work through listening to and learning from other farmers and food communities throughout the world with similar stories. The experience of Terra Madre will be transferred back to TNAFA farmers and their families through face-to-face contact at regional meetings and newsletters.

The Terra Madre attendees are looking for funding to support their travel expenses. If you would like to help, or would like to learn more about TNAFA, call Clayton Brascoupé at 505.983-4047, e-mail tnafa_org@yahoo.com, or write P.O. Box 31267, Santa Fe, NM 87594. You may also visit TNAFA’s website: www.tnafa.org.