‘So it’s kind of my way of teaching a history lesson,’ How one Oklahoma woman uses Native American cuisine to educate others on the diversity of tribes

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It’s a history lesson being taught through food. An Oklahoma woman, utilizing her skills in the kitchen, has gone global with honoring Native American food.

Although she isn’t classically trained, Loretta Barrett Oden definitely is a chef. Her start in the industry comes from a time when she was figuring out how to provide for herself.

Oden had traveled west after her boys grew up, in search of a new adventure. She told News 4 that after a while, though, reality set in.

“Loretta, you’re going to have to do something to make a living. What’s it going to be and what do you know how to do? So cooking pops up in my mind,” said Oden.

Oden and one of her sons joined up to start a restaurant in Santa Fe.

“We were going to continue our research into Native foods and serve this food in this restaurant,” said Oden. “It was called the Corn Dance Cafe.”

Loretta Barrett Oden’s Cord Dance Cafe (Photo: Loretta Barrett Oden)

Neither of them had any experience in the business, but they had plenty of experience in the kitchen.

“We opened this place and it just went like gangbusters,” said Oden.

The Corn Dance Cafe was such a hit that they opened a second location.

Oden said she had been bitten by the Native foods bug, always looking for new ways to share Native heritage.

“We’re not all just Indians, you know? We’re very, very different people, different languages, different traditions and certainly a different food culture,” said Oden. “That’s when the touring got serious and I traveled across the country.”

Oden was invited to universities and tribes to share what she knew about Native foods.

“And as we trek across the country with the menu, we find an amazing diversity of people and food,” said Oden. “So it’s kind of my way of teaching a history lesson. I feed it to people.”

Eventually, she made her way back to Oklahoma, ready to start her next adventure with a project she’d been excited about for years: First Americans Museum.

“I said, you know, when and if this happens, I want to do the food,” said Oden.

So, she did. Today, Oden acts as the chef consultant at FAM, offering advice and knowledge on Native recipes for the museum’s restaurants.

“Who could ever have imagined that I, growing up in Oklahoma, and just an ordinary person, housewife, mom, would be doing what I’m doing now, and it still kind of blows me away,” said Oden.

Oden is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

She’s traveled across the country, as well as Europe and Asia to share her knowledge and cuisine.

Oden told News 4 that it’s been an amazing journey and she hopes to have many more years to continue doing what she loves.

You can get a taste of her food at First Americans Museum, which recently opened in Oklahoma City.

Loretta Barrett Oden
Loretta preparing a meal at First Americans Museum (Photo: KFOR)

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