Frybread politics at South by Southwest
"Cathy's Fry Bread Truck" is forced to leave SXSW before the first Native American Cabinet member even arrives.
AUSTIN — If you’ve seen Rutherford Falls on NBC’s Peacock streaming service, your mouth might have at some point started watering for frybread, an Indian treat often served at powwows and lovingly made in many Native homes.
As with all good things in life, it’s usually unhealthy, and it can be highly addictive. Some people put all the traditional taco fixings on said bread and call it — what else? — an Indian taco.
Many a rabid fan of the very first Native-led television show have noticed “Cathy’s Fry Bread Truck” in a couple of scenes of the first season, and they’re hungry for more in season two. So shared Sierra Teller Ornelas, the program’s Navajo showrunner and co-creator, during a March 12 panel discussion at the ongoing South by Southwest (SXSW) festival.
Teller Ornelas said she’s been amused by the cult following for the Indian cuisine-themed vehicle, so Peacock organizers worked to get an authentic food truck, serving up free frybread and lemonade, on site at this year’s SXSW conference, long criticized for its lack of Indigenous inclusion.
A real-deal “Cathy’s Fry Bread Truck” made its grand debut at SXSW 2022 on March 12 and 13 near the main drag of S. Congress Ave., featuring frybread made in part by Texas-based Chickasaw citizen Teresa Velazquez, who’s involved with the Austin Powwow nonprofit, as well as the Great Promise for American Indians.
Show star Jana Schmieding (Cheyenne River), along with Amazon Studios’ Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache), and Teller Ornelas all celebrated and promoted the frybread truck on social media.
But for some fans, the brief appearance was just not enough.
“I did end up making it to the truck,” shared Jennifer Brown, a longtime conference attendee and media consultant, on Twitter. “Which got run off by SXSW permit team today (boo). But I met some cool folks there working the truck (Yay!).”
Run off by the SXSW permit team? Was this a scandal in action? Were Indians being unfairly kicked out of SXSW?
Teller Ornelas appeared to be wondering the same thing, exclaiming, “What!?” on Twitter in response. She was going to try to make things right if she could.
Turns out, all seems kosher, no one was kicked out early.
The truck was there for its allotted permit time and then had to exit from its prime convention location.
“Police/parking has no tolerance for infractions during festivals,” said Brown, who has previously covered the conference as a journalist. “SXSW volunteers determined all the multiple permits weren't available.”
Peacock reps, sensing the enthusiasm, apparently did their best to extend the permits, but no luck.
Still, Indigenous people would have liked to have seen some latitude granted for the permitting, especially give the oft-noted lack of inclusion of Indian peoples at the annual cultural event. (And the fact that these are tribal lands in the first place, permits be damned.)
And especially, too, because Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, is scheduled to attend the conference on Wednesday.
“How cool would it have been to see the first Native American Cabinet secretary eating at a frybread truck at SXSW?” one attendee mused.
A missed opportunity, for sure, which would have resulted in great promotion for all involved.
It could still happen, though, just not at SXSW.
Season two of Rutherford Falls is coming up. Joe Biden famously appeared on Parks and Recreation when he was veep. Why couldn’t Haaland appear on Rutherford Falls?
Stranger things have happened in the world of frybread politics.
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