American Girl Kaya Part 2: Nimiipuu Food

Nimiipuu Food: Fishing, Hunting, and Gathering, and Cooking and Storing Food

Kaya’s people, the Nimiipuu were a fishing, hunting, and gathering people. They did not farm. Because they lived by rivers, almost half of their diet consisted of fish – mainly salmon, but also included lamprey eel, and any other fish that could be found. They caught fish with spears, weighted nets, hooks and lines, and traps. They also hunted and ate elk, moose, deer, rabbit, squirrel, and duck. They sometimes even hunted and ate bear. They would mostly fish in the spring, especially when the salmon were swimming up river to lay eggs. Hunting was done at all times of the year. The Nimiipuu even used snowshoes to hunt in the snow! They used bows and arrows and spears to hunt the land animals. After the Nimiipuu began to keep and ride horses in the mid 1700s, they also traveled to the plains to the east of the their homeland and joined in the buffalo hunt. The men did most of the hunting.

The women gathered food such as roots, berries, and plants such as wild carrots and onions. The camas root, which was the root of a lily plant, was a staple food. The women used shaped sticks to dig up roots. There was a method to this – they had to know just where to dig in order to dig up the roots without piercing them with the stick.

Boys and girls began to help with the work of fishing/hunting or gathering food at around age 3. Usually by age 6, a boy had made his first kill, and a girl had started to dig roots and gather food. There was a special ceremony to honor a child’s first kill or root gathering where the food was served to a respected hunter or gatherer.

Dig for Food!

Because Kaya would have had the task of gathering food and digging for roots with a stick like all Nimiipuu girls and women, we used a digging activity to learn about the foods the Nimiipuu ate. I gathered pictures of the different animals, roots, and berries that the Nimiipuu ate and buried them in a box of sand. As the girls dug up each picture with a stick (just like Kaya would have dug for roots!) I talked about that food, what is was, and the way it was obtained, prepared, and eaten.

Activity: Hunting Games!

A game that young Nimiipuu played was one where one child would roll a small hoop along the ground while another tried to throw a spear or shoot an arrow through the hoop while it was in motion. This was meant to help them practice the skills needed for hunting.

To simulate this game, use a hula hoop or any kind of hoop you have on hand. Have one child roll the hoop while another throws a stick or dowel through the hoop. We happened to have rubber-tipped arrows so that is what we used. You could also try a bow and arrow if you happen to have one!

Nimiipuu Cooking

The women and girls did the cooking and food preparation. The women would skin and prepare fish and other animals for cooking. They would smoke the fish and meat, or boil it. This was done in a tightly woven basket, as the Nimiipuu did not make pottery. The basket would be filled with water, and then hot stones from the fire would be dropped in the water to quickly bring it to a boil. As the stones cooled, they would be removed and replaced with more hot stones.

Roots would often be steamed or boiled, then made into a soup or gruel, or ground and made into cakes. Any excess food, including fish and meat, would be preserved through smoking or drying and stored for the winter months.

Let’s Cook the Nimiipuu Way!

You Will Need:

  • a small amount of salmon cut into 1 inch cubes (approximately)
  • a large pot (if you have a water-tight basket that would also be really cool!)
  • lots of clean rocks
  • water

You can simulate the way the Nimiipuu cooked by heating rocks and putting them in a pot of water. The water really does boil! This is how I did it: I gathered some rocks from a nearby river. I cleaned them really well by soaking them in clean water several times and scrubbing them off.

You will want rocks that are as non-porous as possible. I put them on a baking sheet and let them heat in the oven on its highest setting, which is 525 degrees in my oven, for about one hour. You could also heat the rocks in an actual fire if you have a place to make one, which I think would be really fun! I then carefully placed the rocks one by one in a pot of water.

When the water was hot and bubbling in places, we held chunks of salmon on skewers in the water and watched them cook. It only takes about 5-6 minutes. We salted the salmon and ate it. It was tasty! NOTE: You will want quite a few rocks for this – your water should be just barely covering the rocks or the water won’t get hot enough. Also, the water won’t come to a rolling boil, it will be bubbling near the rocks, steaming, and definitely hot enough to cook the salmon, but it won’t boil all over.

Activity: Weave a Food-Gathering Pouch

The Nimiipuu used baskets as containers for many things. Kaya would have carried a basket or woven pouch with her for gathering food. You can weave your own small pouch too!

You will need:

  • About 1/4 yard of burlap cut into 1 inch strips. You will need about 14 strips to make your pouch
  • 1/4 yard of Fusible interfacing
  • thick embroidery floss
  • a tapestry needle

Cut your burlap into strips that are one inch wide and about 10 inches long. I recommend using a rotary cutter for this. Once your strips of burlap are all cut, weave them together by first laying 7 strips side by side vertically, then weaving in the horizontal strips by alternating in an over, under pattern.

Once your strips are woven together, cut a piece of fusible interfacing to fit all but the edges of your weaving. Press it on with a hot iron. I recommend using a press cloth to protect your iron while you do this.

Next, flip your weaving over and trim off the edges. Fold the weaving in half, then whip stitch the open side and bottom with your embroidery floss. Whip stitch around the top as well, to keep the edges from fraying, but be careful to leave the top of your pouch open – don’t accidentally sew it shut! Now your pouch is done! You can decorate it if you would like – the Nimiipuu put lots of beautiful designs on their woven items, so that’s what Kaya would have done!

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