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The apple berry crisp with huckleberry syrup? To die for.

The seasoned roasted potatoes? Killer side dish.

And the entrée, the bison roast in raspberry sauce? It rocked.

Indian Education for All is one thing as an educational initiative, but quite another when the food hits the plate.

That much students across the Missoula County Public Schools District found out Friday during lunch hour at the MCPS Native American Foods Celebration.

All day, students of all ages got bellies full of buffalo flatbread tacos, but students at Big Sky High School got the works - an entire meal of Native delicacies, complete with barley teas flavored with berries.

"Food is an important part of the culture, because it brings people together," said Kathy Sharbono, Indian education specialist at Willard and Big Sky high schools. "So I think it's important to recognize Native foods in our curriculum."

The luncheon in the Big Sky cafeteria was attended by Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, Missoula Mayor John Engen, MCPS Superintendent Alex Apostle, Indian educators and around 40 students of Native culture, history and cuisine from Missoula's high schools.

The Friday meal, cooked up by the Big Sky food services staff, was followed by a demonstration of Native dances - grass and traditional - by 10 Indian students from throughout the district.

"Everybody loves to eat," said Jessica Skinner, a Willard student who is taking the school's "Native Eats" class, the only Native cooking course offered in Missoula.

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Indian Education for All, which requires school districts statewide to adopt a curriculum that incorporates the teaching of Native culture, has many different faces across Montana, said Juneau, who spent Friday assessing Missoula's schools.

Food is but one way - a very tasty way - to start the learning process.

"Food is a great way to learn about other cultures," said Juneau. "It's a really good introduction and a good way to start those discussions in schools."

Valerie Addis, supervisor of MCPS food and nutrition services, developed the Native American Food Celebration program and said the district plans to incorporate Native meals and side dishes into the regular cafeteria food offerings.

"This is something you can not only do at home, but across the district," she said.

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It's also important as districts nationwide begin to tackle nutritional issues in an age when obesity is a major health problem. Children need to know not only what is good for them, but where their food comes from, said Juneau.

"This is really exciting because there is a big push for health in children, and a heightened attention paid to it," said Juneau.

Almost every ingredient in Friday's meal came from Montana - the bison from Superior Meats, the vegetables all from Montana farms.

Juneau, still a teacher at heart, handed out a grade after lunch was served: "It was good," she said. "B-plus."

As usual, Engen was at the front of the line when the lunch bell sounded.

"If I go first," he warned the crowd, "there will be nothing left."

Turns out, there was plenty to go around.

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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