Thursday, December 21, 2006

BBC story on Sami in former Soviet Union

Here's one to add to the HUM 221 syllabus ... a British Broadcasting Corp. story on the Sami in Russia and effects of Soviet policy on their culture. Here's an extended quote that sums it up:
The deserted and seemingly endless potholed road to Lovozero cuts through a landscape of vast lakes and forests that has changed little since the nomadic Sami people arrived on the Kola peninsula some 500 years ago.

The vast arctic tundra provided good grazing for their reindeer, so they quickly fanned out across invisible borders to the west, into neighbouring Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Over time, borders were drawn and strict controls were introduced. Then, during the Cold War, the border between Russia and the West was closed. Contact between Russian and Nordic Sami people was completely cut off.

The Sami people's traditional way of life has been under assault for decades as they have been gradually forced off arctic Russia's fertile tundra grazing-land and into artificially created towns.

Much of the displacement was caused by a steady expansion of industry, forestry and mining, and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of workers from other parts of the Soviet Union - many of them arriving as forced labourers in Gulag camps.

Then, during the Cold War, Sami coastal fishermen were ordered to move away from the shores of the Barents Sea, which is currently littered with secretive navy installations, and reindeer herders were forced away from a 200-mile exclusion zone that ran along the Cold War frontier.

To this day, the few who still herd reindeer complain about bored and hungry soldiers who use their machine guns to shoot their animals.

Urban Sami, meanwhile, bemoan the way powerful tourist companies prevent them carrying out their fishing traditions in Voronya River or Lovozero Lake.

"We are not used to private property rights, and we are not used to competing," laments Vatonena Lyubov, vice president of the Association of Kola Sami.

"We will never regain our grazing lands and our rivers."
A very different society in the former Soviet Union, but some of the same problems ... economic encroachment on subsistence patterns, borders drawn by the majority cultures (cf. the Tohono O'odham in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. Well worth adding to the syllabus.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

'Simon Ortiz chili' recipe -- in Alaska! ** UPDATE x1 ** w/ new address

Here's something I stumbled onto while doing keyword searches for something else -- a chili recipe based on a poem by Simon Ortiz. I know the poem, I like it and I want to try it (the recipe) someday. If I ever find the book! In the meantime, "Chef Boy Ari," the food columnist for the weekly Anchorage Press, has something that's almost as good. No, it's just as good. Maybe even better. Especially if you like venison. It's a column that tells how he followed the recipe in Ortiz' poem. It was in the Dec. 6-12 issue.

Chef Boy Ari begins, logically enough, a little before the beginning. You realize this isn't going to be your typical "cook page" column:
There's a poem by Simon Ortiz, of the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, called “How to make a good chili stew - this one on July 16, a Saturday, Indian 1971.” I like this poem, because it is at once a recipe and a meditation upon the many interconnected stories that come together behind a simple meal.

Like most recipes, the poem begins with a list of ingredients. But you quickly realize that this is no ordinary list. The poet in Ortiz demands a more in-depth exploration.

For example, the ingredient “beef” is more than just beef. It's “Beef (in this case, beef which someone who works at a restaurant in Durango brought this morning, leftovers, trim fat off and give some to the dog because he's a good guy. His name is Rex.)”

The directions likewise read less like a recipe and more like a poem: “And then put it on to barely boiling, cover and smell it once in a while with good thoughts in your mind, and don't worry too much about it except, of course, keep water in it so it doesn't burn, okay.”

This poem hits its mark with me for reasons beyond the facts that I'm a big Ortiz fan and I dig chili. It provides temporary release from a dilemma that's plagued me since college.
Chef Boy Ari's dilemma is this -- he doesn't like recipes, they remind him too much of college chemistry classes. For a cook-page columnist, not liking recipes could be a problem. Instead, he tells a story. This is the story of how he cooked his chili:
I've made Simon Ortiz chili, or something like it, several times - each time different, each time with what I had on hand, and each time it turned out delicious. What I've been making lately has diverged so much from the original that it hardly seems right to call it Simon Ortiz chili anymore, and that's OK. That's evolution. Last Monday, for example, I took one of the final hunks of last year's deer out of the freezer. Since I was in a hurry (sorry Simon, I know that's against the rules) I put the frozen meat in a cast-iron pot with a heavy lid and about an inch of water with cooking oil. I cooked it on high to thaw the meat. When the water cooked off, I added a bit more. When the meat was thawed, I cut it into little pieces, put it back in the pot and let it cook until the water cooked off again, at which point it began to fry in the oil. I fried it on medium heat until it browned nicely, and then I added cumin, Herbs de Provence, salt, pepper and red wine. Whenever the red wine cooked off I added more.

When the meat was delectably browned I added carrots, onion, garlic, crushed dried chili peppers, cubed potatoes, turnip, rutabaga and frozen cauliflower. I added water to fill the pot and let it cook on medium heat until the potatoes began to fall apart.

As it cooked, I adjusted the seasonings, added some soy sauce, vinegar from a jar of pickled peppers, more red wine. I don't have a dog named Rex, or any dog for that matter, but my housemate's dog Keelie stepped up to the plate for scraps.

As the water cooked off I added more, because I like a lot of broth with my stew, which I recommend serving with a nice dollop of mayonnaise.
I'd call it more a stew than a chili, I wouldn't use red wine and I'd feed the meat scraps to my cat since I don't have a dog. But Simon Ortiz' poem is more of a recipe for living than it is for chili. Chef Boy Ari's story is more of a recipe than a story. And things don't always have to be what they seem to be at first.

NEW LINK -- LATER (Feb. 2014): Googled into this while I was looking up something on Simon Ortiz, and the link to the paper in Anchorage is dead. But I found the column by a syndicated food writer named Ari LeVaux, who hails from New Mexico and Montana. It was in the San Antonio Current, another "alternative paper"(?), Dec. 12, 2006, and it's archived at

Ari LeVaux writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column that’s appeared in more than 50 newspapers in 25 states. Available on line at

Friday, December 01, 2006

HUM 223 -- today's presentations

Class is cancelled today. I can't get an answer when I call SCI, but we're on the Channel 20 list of school closings. Those of you who had presentations scheduled today won't have to give them -- I will just count your grade on the written part of your research project.

I'm posting this message to my blogs and the Message Board linked to my faculty page. If you see other students who are in our class, please let them know. And you'll turn in your final exam papers in the Presidents Room at the regularly schduled time Wednesday morning.

If you have questions, please contact me at or my email account at

-- Doc