The Great Frybread Controversy

November 9, 2010 - 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Speaker: Dr. Maureen T. Schwarz, Syracuse University

littlechieffrybreadNative American owned and operated food companies have been manufacturing and marketing frybread mixes to non-Native consumers for more than a quarter century. In each case, companies use stereotypical images of American Indians to convince potential customers of their product’s authenticity and value. Careful attention to package layout and design reveals frybread mixes to be excellent examples how Native Americans co-opt the colonizer’s mental culture as a form of mimicry in order to mock the supposed superiority of the colonizer, with a special twist. On the surface they are selling an icon of Indianness–frybread; but what they are really doing is repatriating the unhealthy food which has become emblematic of colonization amongst contemporary American Indian activists.

Maureen Trudelle Schwarz is a cultural anthropologist who is interested in medical and religious forms of identity. Her area of specialization is Native North America and she considers herself to be an advocate for Native people and their rights. Her first and foremost goal as a scholar is to foreground native voices whenever possible and to present native views with respect. Her most recent book, Putting the White Man’s Indian to Work: Native Manipulation of Time-Worn Stereotypes in the Contemporary World, focuses on how Native Americans manipulate what has come to be known as the “White Man’s Indian” in order to successfully market Native-made products.