Before colonization, blue corn mush offered members of Navajo tribes a form of calcium when milk was not available. The recipe has been passed down from generation to generation, and on Monday morning, students at Park Elementary School made their own in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day.
K-5 students from the Native American Crew class came into the multipurpose room, where Chelsie Begoody, author of “Hozho Meals: A Resource to Promote Indigenous Flavors,” was making blue corn mush.
Assistant Principal Laurel Pate said “crew classes” are a period of the day when students meet for 30 minutes to discuss character traits and goal-setting.
“It supports academics but it’s not strictly academic. It is more social and emotional learning,” she said.
Principal Marie Voss-Patterson said the Native American Crew class is more culturally specific and closely represents an affinity group.
“We’re really trying to build relationships in the community within our Indigenous students” she said.
Toward the back of the multipurpose room, Begoody was mixing the blue corn mush ingredients into a pot. Blue corn mush consists of roasted corn mill, water and juniper ash. It is made by boiling the roasted corn mill and water together. Then, the juniper ash is added which makes the mush rich in calcium.
Begoody said blue corn mush is known for its high concentration of calcium.
“They did a study in Flagstaff questioning why Anglo women were more prone to hip fractures than Navajo women,” Begoody said. “They looked into the food that they were eating and one consistent food they were eating was blue corn mush. They found in the juniper tree branch, when burned and ashed down, it creates that calcium.”
Begoody was excited to host the cooking activity. She works for Southwestern Colorado Area Health Education Center, a nonprofit organization that strives to improve rural health.
As the Community Health Programs Associate, she provides nutritional information for the organization and conducts community outreach to get younger students interested in careers in health care.
“For students who are interested in a health care career, we try to nurture that interest and help them with resources or information they might need,” Begoody said.
She tries to connect nutrition, Indigenous foods and a career in health care with her cooking activities. It is a way for her to talk to students about how they can use healthy cultural foods in the health care setting.
She’s done previous cooking activities with high school students but said it was fun to do with young kids.
“Capturing their interest is where it matters most,” she said.
Durango School District 9-R Title VI Coordinator Orlando Griego said the event was valuable because it allowed students to bring their culture to a school setting.
It was encouraging for Griego to see many of the older students interacting and helping the younger students.
“Those fourth grade and fifth graders really stepped into leadership roles and took care of the younger kids. And that's something that is taught at home,” Griego said.
Park Elementary Native American Liaison Jennifer Fernandez said the event allowed students to share their various Indigenous cultures.
She cited students’ knowledge of blue corn mush as an example. Because blue corn mush is a Navajo recipe, some students knew what it was while others did not or had never tried it.
She said the event was important because the district has students from more than 25 different tribal nations and some are not as in touch with their culture as others.
“You have kids who were raised on the reservation, and then you have urban Indians, like myself,” Fernandez said. “We weren’t raised on the reservation and the only time I went was when I went to the doctor. It’s great that they get to see part of their history as part of their culture.”
Griego said the school district will continue to have more cultural events in the future. He said the district plans to have a Native American literacy night at the Powerhouse Science Center in November where different Tribal Nations will be highlighted.
“It’s just continuing to make sure that our students feel like they’re recognized and have a voice,” Griego said.