The jerky and drying course an opportunity to learn from the elders a tradition that is rapidly disappearing
IGNACIO — Kayla Armstrong took the morning off Thursday to attend a jerky and curing workshop at the Southern Ute Reserve Multipurpose Facility in Ignacio. But she didn’t do it because she needed jerky, or even because she needed to learn how to make jerky.
“It’s part of our culture here,” Armstrong said. “…I missed seeing that. It brings back memories. I just wanted to be with some of my seniors, it’s been a while.
The event was hosted by multi-purpose facility manager Elise Redd. The facility hosts a variety of workshops for community members – mostly retirees and elders – to socialize and practice various cultural traditions. Events include canning and beading, beading and sewing workshops. This was only the third of the curing and charcuterie workshops to take place in recent years.
On Thursday, Redd stood behind the service counter in the establishment’s industrial kitchen, shaving strips of beef from a roast with a cleaver. Five participants, all women, were seated scattered around the perimeter of a long plastic table; soy sauce, sesame seasoning, hot sauces and spices crowded the table space between them. Several plastic trays for electric dehydrators were placed next to each woman. Dehydrators are a relatively recent addition to a much older tradition of meat drying among the Southern Ute tribe.
The women tossed their favorite sauces and spices into bowls of beef strips while joking with each other, massaging the flavors into the fibers of the meat before spreading the strips on the dehydrator trays.
Armstrong said she learned to dry meat as a child.
“Back then, we used to hang the meat over a string by our fireplace and every day we would turn it over before going to school,” she recalls. “When we came back and we were hungry, we used to dig.”
Jacqueline Frost and another attendee joined Armstrong, speaking in unison, describing how they would tackle jerky in their youth. Laughter erupted from the table as they remembered the childish practice.
“We used to dry ours in the garage – cover it, season it with salt and pepper – and when it got tough, it took a while, we would go in there and take a piece and chew it,” Frost said. . “My grandmother used to pound it and make meat powder.”
While bison, deer, and elk are the traditional meats eaten by the tribe, beef offers an easier-to-obtain alternative. The tribe began hunting buffalo after colonizing Spaniards brought horses to the area in the early 1800s and still maintains a small herd in the interest of cultural preservation.
Armstrong said she still relies on traditional foods year-round. Although she herself does not hunt, she receives deer or elk through a program run by the tribe’s Wildlife Management Division to provide meat to elderly, disabled and single tribal members. .
“I’m going to distribute this with me and my kids and stuff and that’s how I live in the winter,” she said.
Armstrong attended the workshop not just to be with her elders and learn how to use a dehydrator (a new skill for her), but because she saw it as an opportunity to preserve a cultural tradition of her people that blends into the ‘story. She says she is doing her best to ensure her continuity within her own family.
“It’s a dying skill if we don’t preserve it for the next generation,” she said. “…I’m trying to teach my grandkids how to do a little canning (with) the chokecherries we pick in the fall. Even if it’s just a bucket, I try to have enough so that we have jam.
Some traditional practices are taught in the tribe’s Montessori academy. On Fridays, students learn indigenous dances, beadwork, basket weaving and other cultural practices. The school also includes a language program. Yet Armstrong and Frost pointed out that most of these traditions are passed down from generation to generation within a family.
Armstrong said the physical division imposed on tribesmen after the US government forced them to settle on a reservation is partly to blame.
“I think what keeps the tradition alive is that we all try to come together no matter what, no matter where we come from,” Armstrong said, speaking of the attendees at the event. “I think what keeps some of the older people away and some of the younger people is the divide – the ‘don’t go, don’t do that’. … (We) have to start trying to put that aside and think about what we’re losing.