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Community Kitchen’s Indigenous Takeover

Every year, it’s been a goal to work with Indigenous community during the month of November, Native American Heritage Month. I have mixed Indigenous Mexican ancestry myself and have developed a strong community here in the Pacific Northwest through the intertribal canoe journey movement. Many Indigenous chefs and community organizers are quite busy in November, but finally, after years of trying, we were able to put on an Indigenous Takeover for our November Community Kitchen meal. We worked with the amazing chef Jason Vickers, of Natoncks Metsu, and brought in a panel of Indigenous community organizers to share their hearts and minds for a meaningful event on Sunday, November 12.

We believe Native American Heritage Month is really just a reminder that Indigenous peoples and Indigenous histories need to be acknowledged, honored, highlighted, and celebrated every month and every day. There is a lot of history left out of our history books and left out of conversations because much of the reality is brutal, disheartening, and complicated. For instance, the true history of Thanksgiving and the atrocities that came afterwards could leave one dizzy, but disengaging from the holiday doesn’t help Indigenous communities either. For the past three years, we’ve been putting together a “Thanksgiving Information and Action” booklet for folks to bring to their families during the holidays. Instead of focusing on the atrocities, the booklet acknowledges and honors the Indigenous peoples who saved religious refugees from starvation and hypothermia in the early 17th century. It then goes on to list several actions folks can take to learn more and support the descendants of those Indigenous nations. The packet also now has a page on local Indigenous Food Sovereignty efforts you can explore. We’re offering it as a free download. 

The event centered around a meal of deer meat stew, traditional Johnny cakes, an autumn veggies hash, and a pumpkin mole pudding for dessert.

It’s important to learn more about our real and complex histories so we don’t repeat the ugly parts, and so we can start to understand how incredible Indigenous resilience and survival truly is. During the panel, we learned that all Native dances, ceremonies, potlatches, spiritual gatherings, and medicine practices were outlawed in the United States from 1883 until the late 1970s. That means that until relatively recently, Native people had to fear simply gathering for fear of legal and violent persecution. This was an attempt at systematic genocide. Most of our panelists lived through those times and are fueled by the pursuit of cultural reclamation, healing, and justice. 

During the panel we learned from renowned chef and activist Jason Vickers, a descendent of the Nipmuc Nation, one of the tribes who helped the Pilgrims; Indigenous midwife and medicine woman Nema Faaloua, a descendent of many tribes, including from Chihuahua Mexico; activist and community organizer Clinton McCloud, member of the Puyallup tribe and the descendant of many Coast Salish peoples; and we learned from veteran, writer, and canoe movement organizer Philip H Red Eagle, a Dakota tribal member and descendant of several Coast Salish peoples. Our panelists and moderator all spoke to the importance of everyone connecting to our ancestors. They reminded us that we all have a place in our lineage where our ancestors were one with the earth. We may not have all the stories and answers we’re looking for, but the panel spoke to how the answers are often inside of us, and how if we slow down enough, the answers to our quests for healing might be in the earth and in the nature around us. They each called us to slow down and connect with the earth through our food, through sitting with plants – however we can. Clinton spoke about how his ancestors are in the very ground beneath us  – thousands of years of bodies now turned to soil. Every time we touch the earth through landscaping, gardening, and construction, we are entering into a relationship with the Indigenous ancestors of this land. May it be a loving one. 

The event centered around a meal of deer meat stew, traditional Johnny cakes, an autumn veggies hash, and a pumpkin mole pudding for dessert. Jason cultivated the main course with love, rejoicing in making the first Johnny cakes of the season for this event. Johnny cakes are made with cornmeal and are somewhat like taking cooked polenta and forming it into patties that get pan fried. They are crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside, and they can be enjoyed savory like we did for this meal or they can be enjoyed sweet like a pancake. The deer meat stew sung with rosemary and thyme from the garden, and we were lucky enough to buy the meat from a Tsimshian family farm in Tacoma called Rose Island Farms. All of the veggies in the autumn veggie hash came from local Washington farms as well. We couldn’t have done any of it without the enthusiastic support of our many volunteers who worked hard to prepare the meal and clean up after the event.

Learning about and sharing food can be a wonderful way to honor Indigenous peoples past and present. We welcome you to download the recipes shared with us from Jason Vickers, and speak his name and speak his tribe, the Nipmuc Nation, when you share it with your loved ones. 

We are so honored to have collaborated on this beautiful event and to be able to share this information and insights with you all. We were even blessed by a song carrier, Jennifer Fuentes, a Tejana and Tlingit social worker. Jennifer opened, blessed, and closed out the event with songs she’s been gifted, and we ended the afternoon in a round dance with everyone joining in.

About Community Kitchen Meals

Tilth Alliance’s Community Kitchen Meals program is based at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands in South Seattle, and celebrates the diversity of food and food cultures in our neighborhood. Each month we partner with local home cooks and chefs to host an educational, cross-cultural event centered around a nutritious, delicious, and locally sourced meal.