BISMARCK, N .D. (KXNET) — According to the Sacred Pipe Resource Center (SPRC), Native American women are one of, if not the most exploited minority groups in the United States. In order to better help those struggling with exploitation and in difficult situations, a new task force has been formed in North Dakota, known as the Heart of Our Nation — and the SPRC is doing everything it can to help support it.

To assist in providing necessary funding to the organization, an event was held this weekend that brought Native American culture to downtown Bismarck. Those that signed up for the event headed to the Universal Unitarian Church in Bismarck on Saturday evening for a unique evening of dining, discussion, and doing good in the local community. All proceeds from the meal will be used to assist the Heart of Our Nation organization.

“The task force actually came about because of concerns from the community about the exploitation of Native women- particularly homeless Native women- in the Bismarck/Mandan community,” explains SPRC’s Executive Director Cheryl Kary. “Because of the homelessness and the levels of evictions and homelessness, we’re seeing exploitation of, again, the most vulnerable population. And so the community members really wanted to do something about that. So this fundraiser is to help us be able to provide resources.”

To some, the major selling point was the dinner — a four-course meal highlighting the different aspects of Native American cooking and cuisine. The meal selections — including a salad, soup, entree, and dessert — were planned and curated by Native plant expert and ethnobotanist Linda Black Elk, and prepared by chef Ayanna Maynard using traditional ingredients. As one would expect, it featured a mixture of game meat, grains, fruit, and vegetables that different tribes enjoyed. Here’s a list of the four courses that diners partook in during the evening:

Salad: Three Sisters’ Salad (salad composed primarily of corn, beans, and squash)

Soup: Bison-based soup, served with tinpsila (prairie turnip) and hominy.

Main Course: Bison and wild rice meatballs with green chile sauce and wojapi (berry sauce) drizzle, served with whipped squash garnished with pumpkin seeds and chef’s vegetable.

Dessert: Toasted corn wasna (chokecherry patties), served with fresh raspberries and drizzled with maple essence.

In addition to these dishes, traditional teas were also available and brewed for each table. But there was far more to the meal than just good taste: these traditional ingredients, Maynard states, also have great health and historic benefits.

“For us, those are our historic foods,” states United Tribed Technical College student and the chef of the evening Ayanna Maynard. Our ancestors ate those foods, and they lived a very healthy lifestyle. And we want to go back to that. They want to go back to that, and get ourselves healthy.”

It’s important to note, however, that the meal was certainly not the only drawing feature of the evening. Native American culture was also on full display, and a guest speaker and performer was present throughout the evening to share Native history, heritage, and artwork with dinner guests. This interest even carried over to apparel, as Native American fashion was also on full display. The waitresses at the event all wore locally-made dresses, and on display was a special outfit from local artisan Norma Flying Horse (better known as Red Berry Woman) worn to this year’s Grammy awards. All of these aspects put together are meant to exemplify not only the mission of the SPRC, but Native traditions and values as a whole.

“We’d like our diners not only to have a native experience and experience all of these things,” says Kary, “but we also want them to feel a connection to the Native women. So you have the story about how the Heart of our Nation task Force developed, and we want people to connect with that so that they can continue to give and continue to do what they can to make sure the most vulnerable among us are not exploited.”

This idea of care is one that is at the center of the mission of the new organization: to provide assistance to Native American women in the community through care and essential support. There’s an old saying in the community, the SPRC has told us, that perfectly emulates what the organization — and the new task force — hope to showcase and spread in their community. A popular saying in Native American history is that a nation is not conquered until the hearts of their women are on the ground- and then it is done, no matter how strong their warriors. It’s the hope of the SPRC- and the community who rallied to support them- that the Heart of Our Nation Task Force will make sure that this statement never becomes a reality for the women of Bismarck.

To learn more about the Heart of the Nation Task Force or the Sacred Pipe Resource Center, visit the SPRC’s website.