Aug 6, 2016 - Indigenous Foods Foraging in North Dakota Hosted by ‘The Sioux Chef’ by Alex Jimerson

The third week of July contends as the hottest in summer, yet 15 dedicated “foodies” made the trek to the Coteau des Prairies Lodge to forage and learn about indigenous foods. The lodge located on the Lake Traverse Reservation home to the Sisseton-Wahpeton was the gracious host to the first annual Indigenous Foods retreat presented by The Sioux Chef Sean Sherman. An Oglala Lakota raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Sherman having worked in restaurants since the age of 13 has taken on the name The Sioux Chef a play on the title of French Trained “Sous-Chef” but Sherman doesn’t associate using French technique with Indigenous cooking. Drawing from Japanese and Spanish culinary techniques help him prep and cook indigenous foods for large crowds. The Sioux Chef aims to decolonize modern native diets by encouraging to forage for wild plants that are native to a particular region. Wild plants native to the Dakota and Ojibwe ancestral homelands were the focus of the retreat but can be applied anywhere. Sherman is currently based out of Minneapolis but has busy “pop-up dinners” scheduled all over the mid-west. Sherman’s future plans include opening a native restaurant and continuing an education plan around indigenous food systems.

Photos Courtesy of Coteau des Prairies Lodge and Phillip Breker

I am current graduate student at New York University’s Food Studies program, living in Brooklyn. I focus my research on indigenous food systems and food cultures. Upon learning about the Indigenous Foods Retreat I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn from an up-and-coming native chef encouraging a decolonized diet. One of the most interesting things I learned from Chef Sherman is his usage of natural salts and sweeteners consisting of juniper ash for salt seasoning. Pure honey and maple syrup for sweetener. Processed sugars and refined salts can contribute to obesity leading to the epidemic of type 2 diabetes which runs rampant among our native communities. Collaboration is vital between our community’s stakeholders to contribute to healthy eating practices using our cultural foods.

The 3-day retreat focused on cultural and historical significance of indigenous foods, foraging and harvesting techniques and most importantly how to cook using the plants gathered from foraging. Some of the plants we gathered in the prairie flatlands of North Dakota consisted of sun chokes, hyssop, oyster mushrooms, burdock root, milkweed pods, wood sorrel and many others. An offering of tobacco was placed in the taking of the plant. Just as I remember my elders saying “never take the first plant/medicine you see” this is to ensure that there are others to reproduce and to take only what you need. The open sky and the everlasting prairie garnished my appreciation for the great plains peoples and the sophistication of their food system. Wednesday night my foraging and kitchen skills would be tested as I became a part of the Sioux Chef team.

Photos Courtesy of Coteau des Prairies Lodge and Phillip Breker

The Canpasapa Wi (Dinner of the Berry Moon) was the first 5-course meal I helped prepare under a chef, plating each course meal identically for 46 guests. Utilizing the plants, we foraged the day of the dinner along with ingredients Indigenous to the Lakota and Ojibwe, the dinner focused on region and seasonality. The Canpasapa Wi was an opportunity for the participants to showcase what we had learned over the past few days through plant identification, foraging, preparing and presentation we prepared an extraordinary menu consisting of; smoked rabbit, wild rice, corn, wild berry sauce, walleye, sorrel puree, braised bison ribs, sun chokes, white sage smoked duck, sunflower crisp, a roasted honey corn sorbet and plenty others.

A spirit plate was offered to our ancestors and family members alive and those who have past to thank them and let them know we are thinking of them. The dinner was well received and applauded, guests came from as far as Minneapolis to get a taste of The Sioux Chef’s vision of indigenous food. The urgency of prepping, cooking, and plating was a rush but the camaraderie of working together as a kitchen staff was a rewarding accomplishment.

I felt a unique connection to the dinner having seen the ingredients in the prairie only hours before. Seeing them plated amongst a five course meal helped me realize and appreciate the strong relationship our ancestors had to plants. It is one thing to have a garden of plants and knowing how to care for them, but to forage in the areas in which they thrived encapsulates our ancestor’s traditional ecological knowledge. Immersing oneself in this knowledge is vital for the health of our communities.

Nurturing the relationship to plants is one definite way for our people to reconnect to the land. Whether that is growing our traditional foods, gathering medicines, learning and speaking our language names for these plants each is significant. Help is encouraged and needed from all areas. Reclaiming our food system will take the work of our health professionals, policy-makers, chefs, writers, entrepreneurs, elders and youth. For our food systems to take care of us we need to put our collective knowledge into practice.

I would like to thank the Seneca Diabetes Foundation for providing scholarship funding to attend the retreat. I am greatly inspired by the momentum and energy around reclaiming our indigenous foods and food culture. Being able to visit and exchange knowledge with others who are doing inspiring work is a privilege and I want to share it with my community. You can follow The Sioux Chef on facebook @thesiouxchef for latest updates. You can find more pictures from the event on the Coteau des Prairies Lodge on Facebook.

Photos Courtesy of Coteau des Prairies Lodge and Phillip Breker

by Alex Jimerson. Cattaraugus Territory. Wolf Clan.

Last Real Indians