NATIVE COMFORT FOOD

Grant D. Crawford | Daily Press

Sarah Bearpaw, left; Jami Murphy, center; and Sara Barnett help make an Indian taco at the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of Oklahoma fundraiser in Tahlequah.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — A favorite Native dish in Northeastern Oklahoma has often been tied to charitable causes, since Tahlequah seems to always have an Indian taco fundraiser going on at any given time.

Recently, the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of Oklahoma held an Indian taco and meat pie fundraiser, as the group is working to become an official nonprofit organization.

With the help of hungry local residents, the group successfully raised enough money to file for 501c3 status.

"This was kind of a tester, because we've never had one before and we didn't want to have a bunch of food left over," said Jami Murphy, of IPAO. "We're selling out, which is awesome. The meat pies are gone, and we made 73 pieces of bread and we only have about 20 pieces left. As of right now, the tally is that we have enough to cover our nonprofit filing."

IPAO's mission is to empower Indigenous communities through service and education. The group tries to help out those in need when it can, and the Indian taco, meat pie fundraiser was to help replenish funds it used during the holidays.

"This past December, we chose a couple angels off the [Cherokee Nation] elder tree and provided some gifts for a couple elders," said Cole Hogner, of IPAO. "We provided ham dinners with all the trimmings and pies to a three or four elder families in surrounding communities - people we knew were in need. It was just our good deed to give back to the community. In some form or fashion, we're hoping to do be able to do more as it grows."

IPAO was one of the organizations that petitioned the city to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day rather than Columbus Day. It also has helped organize the Indigenous Peoples' Day march through downtown Tahlequah. With Indian taco and meat pie fundraisers, IPAO hopes to continue educating folks about Indigenous communities.

While Hogner said the fry bread used for Indian tacos is not historically a traditional food from Native American cultures, it still has become an engrained dish among Indigenous families.

"An Indian taco is basically just a taco on top of fry bread," said Hogner. "It's got meat, beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and salsa. Some people put peppers and onions on them. Fry bread was not traditional to Native Americans; we didn't have flour. It's become a staple, though, at various powwows or ceremonial grounds."

Meanwhile, a meat pie typically has seasoned meat, potatoes, cheese and peppers inside of fried bread. For Osages and many other Native cultures, suet - the hard, white fat on the loins of cattle kidneys - is an essential element.

These pies might include just meat and suet, or have surprises like pico de gallo or green chiles tucked inside.

Every single one of the meat pies at IPAO's fundraiser last week was consumed.

"They were about 6 inches long at least, and 2-1/2 inches wide," said Murphy. "We don't mess around. They went really quickly."

The IPAO plans to continue hosting Indian taco fundraisers, with the goal of raising enough money to provide bigger Indigenous Peoples' Day celebrations and more service to the community. Those who are considering getting involved with IPAO can contact ipao2017@yahoo.com.

Anyone who is hungry for Indian tacos has a couple chances to find them around town this week. Today, Thursday, the D.D. Etchieson Indian Methodist Church will host its monthly benefit taco sale from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. It's always on a Thursday.

The Indian taco meal is $8, which includes dessert and a drink. Diners may also call in orders at 918-772-5055.

Faye Morrison said it's easier for people to go somewhere for Indian tacos than going through the trouble to make them at home, and the proceeds from the sale will go toward keeping the lights on at the church.

"It's normally just for our usual maintenance," she said. "We have been opening our doors to the homeless lately, though, so we're thinking we'll have some higher bills to pay this month."

Friday, those hankering for Indian tacos will have another chance to get them when the Northeastern State University Miss Native American Indian Taco Sale kicks off at the NSU Baptist Collegiate Ministries from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Indians tacos are $5 and drinks are $1.

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