Indigikitchen: Healing from trauma through traditional foodways | Mariah Gladstone | TEDxBozeman

Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney I’m going to talk to you guys
about the colonization of the Americas. Now, when we talk about this,
we normally talk about Columbus, and small pox, and Indian wars,
and broken treaties, and reservations … I don’t want to talk about that stuff. I want to talk about
the colonization of food. We rarely hear about
the systematic eradication of the bison as a means to starve Natives. And we hardly ever hear
about how the damming of rivers cut fish from the diets
of upstream tribes. And we rarely hear about the movement
of nomadic, hunter-gatherer people into farming communities
on arid, unfarmable land. By the late 1800s, most Western tribes were 100 percent dependent
on government rations. Government rations turned into
the commodity food programming, issuing a limited number of staples
like flour, sugar, lard – thus was born fry bread. Delicious! And absolutely devastating
to Native people. To be clear, this was a radical shift
from our traditional diets. As a Blackfeet person, my people have lived in Montana
for over 12,000 years. We thrived on things
that come from the land. Before the decimation
of the bison populations, the average Blackfeet man consumed
seven and a half pounds of bison per day. Keep in mind that this was measured
in fresh meat weight, and we were consuming it dried. Nevertheless, our diets
were 90 percent meat. And though supplemented
by roots and berries, our bodies evolved
to digest protein-rich foods. We were able to store fat
for a slow burn later. In times of food uncertainty,
this was beneficial; now, it’s dangerous. Studies have consistently shown that Native people are facing sky-high
levels of obesity, malnutrition, and the diseases that accompany them. The CDC estimates that one in every two
Native children born today will develop type 2 diabetes
in their lifetime. That’s 50 percent. The life expectancy for Native people is 20 years less
than the general population. No longer can we blame
Indian wars and small pox. Now, a lot of our health problems
are stemming from our diets. Indian nations around the country
are asking themselves, How do we fix this? The solution lies in food sovereignty,
and the re-indiginization of our diets. Food sovereignty, if you’re not aware,
is the right of people to healthy, affordable
and culturally appropriate food, harvested through ecologically sound
and sustainable methods. To give you an idea
of the type of problem this is, let me tell you about my home. I’m from the Blackfeet Reservation,
next to Glacier National Park. It’s an area about
a million and a half acres – it’s about the size of Delaware,
for comparison. In that space,
there are two grocery stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables,
both located in the same town. In most places, it’s a lot easier to find
a bag of chips or a can of spam than it is to find “healthy” food. We’ve been on this land
for over 12,000 years, and my community struggles to feed itself. In the words of Anishinaabe
activist, Winona LaDuke, “How can we call ourselves sovereign
if we can’t feed ourselves?” What’s amazing, is that all of the foods
that my people traditionally ate are still accessible, and healthy. The problem is
that we don’t talk about it. Just what is traditional food anyway? What classifies as pre-contact? Well, obviously, Native people had meat. Bison, moose, elk, deer, fish, squirrels. For farming tribes,
there were the three sisters: corn, beans, squash, as well as tomatoes,
sunflowers, wild rice. Most Indian nations also supplemented
their diet with roots, berries and nuts – all of these foods, and we don’t know
what to do with them. To combat this problem, I started an online cooking show
called Indigikitchen – a linguistic blend of ‘indigenous,’
‘digital,’ and ‘kitchen.’ The goal is to get Native,
and hopefully non-Native, people, excited about food sovereignty
and indigenous foods. It shouldn’t be too hard, after all,
Paleo diets are already popular among everyone from
CrossFit bros to hippies. (Laughter) Pre-contact eating is just
locavore Paleo, anyone can do it. It’s no secret that your body fares better
when you avoid processed foods. Preservatives are meant to keep foods
from breaking down on the shelf, and our bodies require extra energy
to digest that in our stomachs. That’s energy denied
to the rest of our beings – our brains, our muscles, our organs. Ultimately, your body
fares better, physically, when it switches
to an indigenous-based diet. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply that traditional foods
from other continents are not healthy, but there is an additional
spiritual aspect to Native people
eating the foods of our ancestors. Native people recognized their dependency
on the cycle of the earth, and our diets consequently reflected that. Harvest ceremonies were done,
songs were sung, dances were danced, and thanks were given to every life form
that gave up its own life in order to nurture our existence. Ultimately, we can strengthen the health
of individuals, families, communities, villages and nations
by decolonizing our diets. Ultimately, this strengthens
the relationship to the spiritual tie to Mother Earth. For Native people,
re-indiginizing your diet recognizes the wisdom of our ancestors as well as seeing the inherent
value of our identities. For non-Native people,
adopting an indigenous diet recognizes the thousands of years
of civilization that have come before, and the contributions
of indigenous peoples. Together, indigenous diets help allow for a stronger, more elevated lifestyle,
both physically and spiritually. So the next time you sit down to eat,
think about where your food came from. How far did it travel to reach your plate? Would your ancestors recognize it as food? And most importantly, will it nourish you,
both physically and spiritually? The true measure of wealth is by health, so eat for longevity, and restore
the spiritual tie to real food. (Applause)

Glenn Chapman


  1. Mariah, I would love to host a community discussion on this topic if you ever find yourself in Los Angeles. Best of luck on the Indigikitchen program.

  2. This video came on after a video I watched about acupuncture for trauma. I'm also a anthropologist and a huge foodie. What a perfect video for me – saving to my favorites! Great talk, Mariah!!

  3. Love the idea… Eating as close to fresh-off-the-land should be good for anyone but especially the indigenous Nations. But should we eat only what's fairly local? Or could, for example, a Hopi eat bison or wild rice with the same beneficial results as a diet of the Three Sisters?

  4. Great breaking down of fry-bread and how thoroughly colonial it is. With obesity and related health problems ever increasing in our homelands your words and those of awakened others need to travel far across Turtle Island. Wopila (Thank you).

  5. If we really want to show ourselves the power that resides in our individual choices, OPT OUT OF THE PROCESSED FOOD SYSTEM. Mariah, what you are doing is important not just for indigenous people but for all of us. My husband and I have been learning how to feed ourselves with what we grow and what is grown locally. It takes time and focus and draws us together with our neighbors into local markets. It is fun and delicious! But we are also aware of how much harder it is to do on the reservation. We are helping to build a community kitchen in a remote area near Four Corners with no running water or electricity. Our Dine friends there are trying to reclaim ancient ways. One starting point has been to use bulk ordering from an organic food distribution company to get folks eating cleaner, more economically, and remembering their from-scratch recipes from their grandmothers.

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