Traditional Indian food included nopales (cactus) which is cooked in various ways. Above you see that the nopales are grilled. When the Lipan Apache were exiled to the reservations and sedentary life, they had to be taught how to grow gardens and crops, because they had always relied on foraging for food. They had such an extensive knowledge of wild plants, they could easily find a feast, even in the barren deserts. Like their prehistoric predecessors, native groups of the Plateaus and Canyonlands lived, in many cases, in temporary shelters constructed of branches and reeds or even more simple wickiups (lean- tos), such as those shown in this image of a southern Paiute encampment in Utah. As noted in historic accounts, this simple mode of shelter enabled native peoples to move frequently from place to place as resources, such as cactus fruits, nuts, or deer, were depleted.
For example, many cacti are nutritious and tasty. Above you see Belen Anaya preparing nopales. Did you ever eat chopped up green nopalitos in a Mexican food breakfast? That’s the prickly pear (opuntia). You can eat the flat green cactus pad (once you remove the thorns!) and the red fruit is very sweet. According to historic accounts, the ripening of fruits, such as the red "tunas of the prickly pear cactus, brought hunting and gathering groups together seasonally to harvest the fruit and to socialize with other peoples. In some cases, territorial warfare among native groups erupted over areas with the largest cactus fields.
Plants provided food and medicine, too. For example, oak bark contains tannic acid which is astringent and antiseptic- or in other words, is an agent that kills germs and cleans wounds. Don’t forget plants were important for making things like cords for stringing bows. Since they didn’t use nails or duct tape to hold things together, they used the fibers from tree bark and plants twisted together to provide strength to lash things together. For example to hold the poles and branches together for making shelters, they might use rope made from the twisted fibers of cedar bark. They also might use leather for lashing or sinew.
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Traditional Food
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Lipan Apache Band of Texas
Red tuna of the prickly pear cactus.
Pictured on right red tunas of the prickly pear cactus. Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Click on photo to enlarge.
Wickiups used for shelters