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USDA seeking Northeast Indigenous food experts to help create cooking videos, recipes

A photo of a person holding up a bowl of berries and a packaged bakery mix in an industrial kitchen. The person is wearing a t shirt reading Wahpepah's Kitchen
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Courtesy USDA Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative
Chef Crystal Wahpepah demonstrates how to make pancakes and salmonberry in a new video created in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to work with Northeast chefs and foragers as part of a project to restore Indigenous foodways.

In 2021, the USDA launched its Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative. According to Director of the Office of Tribal Relations Heather Dawn Thompson, the goal is to rethink the USDA’s food and nutrition programs from an Indigenous perspective.

“Help us really think about addressing climate change by encouraging sustainable, Indigenous agricultural practices, and really support our Indigenous communities' goals to restore their cultural balances, as those are linked to their Indigenous foods,” Thompson said.

So far, the USDA has collaborated with chefs and foragers in the western part of the country to create cooking videos and recipes. These show how to incorporate Indigenous foods into what people receive through the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Examples include bison meatballs with dandelion tomato sauce and pasta, mulberry rosehip bars and pinto bean dip with roasted pine nuts.

In the coming year, Thompson says the department wants to create similar resources for the U.S. Northeast and Southeast.

Those with expertise in Northeast Indigenous foods and interest in working with the USDA can email tribal.relations@usda.gov. Thompson says they’re hoping to choose chefs and foragers to work with by January.

As far as she can tell, Thompson — who is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe — says this is the first time the government has done this kind of collaborative foodways work with Indigenous communities. And there's a lot of trust to rebuild.

“So it's really hard history we come with. You know, the federal government actively participated in destroying some of these Indigenous foodways," she said. "And there are heavy conversations that have happened in order to start to build that trust back up.”

Thompson says the USDA is trying to rebuild trust by sending its staff directly to tribal nations, and creating relationships one person at a time.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
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