WASHINGTON – W.J. Strickland shed a few tears Wednesday as he carefully prepared food native to his North Carolina Indian tribe.
“It's beyond words,” he said as he wiped a tear from his eye. “My emotions are still catching up with me.”
Strickland,64,is a member of the Lumbee Tribe of Pembroke,N.C. Tuesday's opening of the National Museum of the American Indian was something he and his family have waited many years to see.
To celebrate,Strickland,who now lives in Manassas,Va.,and his family are one of five food vendors offering a taste of their tribe at the six-day First Americans Festival on the National Mall near the new museum.
While sharing their culture with non-natives,the Lumbee Tribe family is enjoying their time together.
“Making traditional foods is almost like a family affair,” said Strickland,owner of Strickland Enterprises,a part-time catering service. He has taken part in Smithsonian events on the National Mall for the last 25 years,but every time he serves food native to his culture,his family comes from North Carolina to help.
“If I'm doing an event on the Mall I want my family here,or I seriously would reconsider whether or not I'd want to do it,” said Strickland,a federal employee who helps bring Head Start programs to Indian communities.
The vendors are part of the Three Sisters Café and include Shalifoe Native Foods,Mashpee Cape Codder,Charcoal Chicken and Strickland's tent,Dakota Native American Foods.
His menu,however,resembles meals found on tables across America today. It includes barbeque sandwiches,smoked turkey drumsticks,sweet potato fries,corn on the cob,pumpkin bread,Indian tacos and three sisters soup,which includes corn,beans and squash.
“It's a wonderful opportunity for non-native people to be able to share in our traditional foods,” he said. “They might be surprised at how they've incorporated them into their own menus without ever even realizing it.”
Mary Seals,45,of Bryan,Texas,agreed as she lunched on an Indian taco. Seals,who is part Creek,participated in museum dedication Tuesday and was back at the festival Wednesday. She plans to stay through the weekend.
“I think it's important for people to realize that maybe tacos didn't come from Mexico,and if they did come from Mexico,maybe they came from the Indian tribes,” Seals said.
Strickland said a lot of pride goes into every ingredient his family serves,but just as important is the bond of family and tradition that's in each and every dish.
“I call it back in the day – being with family,not forgetting your roots and not forgetting where you came from,” said Strickland's brother,James Everette,50,of Pembroke,N.C.
The free festival continues through Sunday. In addition to the Three Sisters Café,the festival features contemporary and traditional music,dancing,storytelling,demonstrations of instrument-making and dance regalia-making. A festival marketplace sells native-made arts and crafts and museum memorabilia.
For more information about the First Americans Festival or the National Museum of the American Indian,visit www.AmericanIndian.si.edu. For more information about the Lumbee Tribe,visit www.lumbeetribe.com