• The main meat of the First Nations of the Northern Plains was the bison (buffalo). The meat was prepared in different ways:

    • roasted on a spit on the campfire.
    • boiled in a skin bag
    • cut into thin slices, hung to dry and made into jerky
    • made into pemmican
    • liver, kidneys, marrow and nose were eaten fresh

  • Sausages were made from strips of meat and fat seasoned with wild onions and herbs (sage)

  • Besides the bison, antelope, deer, elk and moose were hunted. Gophers, rabbits, prairie chickens and other small animals and birds were caught in snare traps.

  • Fish was also a source of food.

    The sap from the Manitoba maple was used to make syrup and sugar.

  • Many kinds of wild berries were picked including chokecherries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and saskatoons. The berries were eaten fresh or dried for winter storage. Berries were also used for dyes, jewellery and medicines. Food was gathered and stored in birchbark containers.

    more about wild fruit

  • Plants that grew wild such as mushrooms, wild rice, bitter root, wild onions and prairie turnips were also gathered. Wild turnips (or Indian Breadroot) were eaten raw, boiled, roasted, fried, added to soups, dried, or ground into flour. The flour was used to thicken soups or made into a porridge flavoured with wild berries. A wide variety of wild greens including watercress, pigweed (Lambs Quarter) and dandelion greens were added to soups and stews or eaten raw.


  • Sage was a seasoning for meat and stews. Dried sage was used in smudging ceremonies and for healing..

bow drill

Campfires were started with a bow drill. The bow spun a stick in a hole. The spinning made the stick get hotter and hotter. Smoke would start to rise as the wood started to burn.

drying meat
Meat was cut into strips and hung on racks ( or a tripod ) to dry in the hot sun. It was also dried over a smoky fire. Dried meat was called jerky.

boiling meatboiling meat
Meat was cooked in a sac instead of a cooking pot. The bag was actually the stomach of a bison. The sac was hung on sticks. Red-hot stones were scooped from the campfire and dropped into the sac. The water in the sac hissed and sizzled and boiled. This is how buffalo soup or stew was made. Chunks of meat were cooked with vegetables like the wild turnip.

Dried meat was pounded with a rock until it became powder. Then it was mixed with melted fat and berries. The meat was kept in a parfleche. It provided a balanced diet since it contained meat for protein, berries for vitamins and fat for energy. Pemmican would last for months. Deer, antelope, elk and moose meat was also used to make pemmican. If pemmican was stored properly it did not spoil and tasted like it was freshly made. Pemmican that was put in a pouch made of bison stomach or intestine and sealed with hot grease would keep for years.

Grease (fat) was collected from bones and animal fat. It was used for frying bannock. Bannock was a type of bread that was cooked over the fire.

making bannock and frybread

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bison and pemmican at

J.Giannetta, June 2002
(updated 2017)

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