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How changemakers are reclaiming Indigenous foodways

Sean Sherman on inspiring a more sustainable food system

Chef Sean Sherman sustainably harvesting native plants. Photo credit: Dana Thompson.

Ashoka entrepreneur Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota) grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota and has been cooking across the United States (and the world) for the last 30 years. In 2014, he started The Sioux Chef and has since founded a cluster of Minneapolis-based organizations, including most recently North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS), with the aim of revitalizing Indigenous culinary traditions.

Sean spoke with Paula Daniels, founder of Center for Good Food Purchasing and also an Ashoka Fellow, at our news hour this week. You can listen to the full conversation here. Here are a few highlights:

Wisdom of ancestors

Paula and Sean honor their grandfathers, whose inspiration they carry foward as they create more sustainable food systems. Sean’s great grandfather was born in the 1850s — it was during his lifetime that much Indigenous knowledge, including about plants, was lost.

Reclaiming lost knowledge

Sean shares the realization that led him to extensively study, on his own, Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship, salt and sugar making, hunting and fishing, food preservation, Native American migrational histories, and more.

Plants and their stories

Indigenous cultures have a deep connection with native plants — heirloom corn, beans, sunflowers, squash, many natural foods that nourish our bodies. “We are part of this ecosystem, not on top of it.”

Clean and healthy diet

Indigenous cuisine is free of glutens, dairy, and sugar. “We chose early on to only cook healthy food,” Sean explains. See Sean’s cookbook on the bounty of Indigenous cuisine and flavors: The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Food Kitchen, winner of the prestigious James Beard Award.

Funding and infrastructure at scale

How can we resource Indigenous food projects? NATIFS is set up to help tribal communities develop infrastructure and modern Indigenous kitchens, and help pass through federal and philanthropic funding to emerging Indigenous food leaders and entrepreneurs in its network.

The vision: Indigenous food labs everywhere

Sean shares his global vision to strengthen Indigenous communities through their foods, and partner with tribal communities to develop their own modern culinary operations with menus that reflect the native languages and plants.

New restaurant on a sacred site

Next month, Sean will be opening an Indigenous restaurant in Minneapolis, near waterfalls sacred to the Lakota people. Hear more about this first brick-and-mortar restaurant endeavor (and if you’re in Minneapolis, book a table!).

Listen to the full conversation here.

Follow Sean on Twitter: @Chef_Sean @the_sioux_chef @natifs_org

Follow Paula on Twitter: @PaulaADaniels @center4goodfood

Ashoka is a community of almost 4,000 social entrepreneurs in 90+ countries and their networks of social entrepreneurs. Welcome Change is our weekly “news hour” with Ashoka Fellows on timely topics. See upcoming (and past) conversations here.




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