Print this Page


Native American Fry Bread

By Bonni Miller
Published March 30, 2006

Fry bread, whatever its origins, is a symbol of natives taking what’s given them and making it their own, and making the best of it.

 “A good piece of fry bread’ll turn any meal into a feast.”—Thomas Builds-The-Fire


From Smoke Signals, a film based on the book The Lone Ranger And Tonto Fistfight In Heaven, by Sherman Alexie




A rusty Ford LTD stopped in front of my house. Voices ringing with laughter from within,  its driver leaned on the horn. I poked my head out the window and a big, broad-faced Ojibwa woman named Charlene hollered to me, “Come on, eh? We’re going to Keshena for the powwow.”

            “Sheeeee! Gimme a minute,” I said. I grabbed some cash from my stash of tips, and ran out the door, squeezing myself into a car already overfull of teasing, laughing Indians. We drove through the dark, cool, piney forest, from our home on a Northern Wisconsin Ojibwa reservation, through sunspotted stands of hovering oaks. We periodically crossed and recrossed the rushing Wolf River as we drove to Keshena, on the Menominee reservation, home of a woods so dense that its boundaries are clearly identifiable in photos shot from the space shuttle.

We paid our $2.00 admission at the gate and pinned on the button that served as our ticket. At the entrance two large Menominee men, one with his gleaming hair loose, the other in two thick braids tied with red cloth, sat in front of a sign that read, “Welcome to the Menominee Nation Traditional Powwow. No drugs. No alcohol. No exceptions!”

The powwow bowl at Keshena is the center of a natural bowl, as it is in most outdoor powwow grounds. But Keshena’s is particularly steep-sided, carved there centuries ago by the great glaciers, and ringed with pines so tall and thick that the shade makes you feel as if you’re under water.

            Rimming the edge of the bowl is bleacher seating created by rough boards nailed to the stumps of even more trees. B




2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1 T. baking powder

2 T. oil

¾ cup milk or water


In a deep, heavy skillet, heat an inch or so of oil, preferably sunflower oil, to 350° F. Mix the dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Add the oil and milk or water and stir to gather into a

slightly sticky dough. Let rest for a bit.

Turn out onto a floured board and knead just 10 or 12 turns to bring the dough together. Pinch off a piece of dough about the size of a child’s fist, and with floured hands pat the dough out between your hands to a uniform thickness until it’s as broad as your hands. Poke a hole in the middle of the piece with your finger, and carefully lower it into the hot oil.

It should rise to the surface in a short time. Let it cook for another minute and then turn it when it’s lightly colored and cook for another minute. Remove it from the oil to a tray of paper towels and let it drain. Repeat until all the dough is fried. Makes about 8 pieces. Serve with butter and honey or use it as the base for Indian tacos. Fry bread is best eaten immediately.





2 T. oil

2 onions, minced