Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations

The Southwestern Indian's diet was primarily fresh and dried vegetables.

The American Indians of the Southwest comprise many tribes, including the Navajo, Hopi, Pima, Zuni, Papagos and some Apache tribes. These indigenous people were a strong, healthy race before the European settles arrived. They believed that everything, including their food, was interrelated, and their spiritual life is closely connected to what they eat and how it's prepared. Rowena Dickerson, from the Hopi Foundation, says food has immense social and spiritual importance in the Hopi culture. From less than ideal environmental conditions, they managed not only to survive, but to thrive, in the rugged climate of the Southwast, eating a variety of foods.

Main Crops

The three main crops of the Southwestern Indians were corn or maize, beans and squash. According to Tahtonka, these three crops provided a trio of foods that was at the heart of most native diets. As with many aspects of the Indian way of life, these three crops were grown together and dependent upon each other. The beans grew up the stalks of corn and added needed nitrogen to the soil to help the other plants grow. The squash grew between the stalks to reduce unwanted weeds.

Bread and Grain

One of the most famous Southwestern Indian breads is Indian fry bread. This bread is similar to the tortilla, which is native to Mexico and South America. However, Indian fry bread wasn't developed until the 19th century, when many tribes of Indians were sent to reservations and kept from their traditional food sources. They were forced to develop new things to eat, and fry bread was born. Since then, fry bread has become a Native American food and has been adopted by many tribes.

Another bread native to the Southwest is piki, a paper-thin bread traditionally made from blue corn and ash. According to Native Recipes, this bread was commonly cooked on a hot stone for a few seconds before being rolled together with other piki.


The Southwestern American Indians didn't often eat sheep, but they raised them for their thick wool to make blankets. When they did eat mutton, they ate all parts of the sheep, including the organ meats. Nothing went to waste. The Southwestern Indians also hunted deer, prairie dog and rabbit, gathered pinon nuts and ate the seeds from squash and the mustard plant, drying and storing these items for later consumption.

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