As kids are going back to school, Blackfeet and Cherokee Nations’ Mariah Gladstone is finding a way to bring indigenous foods back into those kids’ diets. Gladstone is the creator of Indigikitchen, an online cooking show that uses traditional foods to create new recipes as a way to revitalize the important cultural, ecological and health ties to the indigenous food system. She is now working with No Kid Hungry to make sure traditional foods are accessible to students in schools on reservations.
“There’s a lot of interest, not just through reservation schools, but in general for more local purchasing in our food system and to break this chain of the prepackaged food in the school system… but there are regulations for schools for food safety requirements and navigating some of that stuff can be really challenging,” explains Gladstone.
Her solution is to build a tool kit that anyone will have access to that explains how to go about getting these foods into schools.
“This will be a resource that goes through the purchasing guidelines on how you are able to count bison, for example, as part of the nutritional requirements of school lunch programs. It will explain things like how do you make wild rice, a reimbursable food through the USDA lunch program, or how do you navigate buying from local producers, and what are recipes that work or don’t work,” explains Gladstone.
Gladstone knows building this tool kit takes more than just the researching on her own though. She is working in partnership with four reservation school districts and their food service directors to advise and contribute to the document, including the St. Labre Indian School, the Nkʷusm Salish Language School, Hays-Lodge Pole school, and Hardin public schools.
“We are documenting what they have tried in the past and what are they already doing; that way we are able to plan some things out and test different implementation ideas so that they can be incorporated into the toolkit too,” explains Gladstone.
Once the tool kit is developed, other schools, whether on a reservation or not, can have access to the information and have a template that already works.
“Wisconsin has done it for their tribes and their school districts, so there’s a precedent for it. Now we are doing it for Montana schools,” says Gladstone.
Gladstone has already witnessed exciting and thoughtful conservations about re-indigenizing school foods such as the partners discussing trading and exchanging resources. Gladstone says discussions like this are exactly why this project matters.
“We are reestablishing traditional foods, reestablishing trade routes, all while navigating these challenging systems of USDA standards and trying to build meals that kids actually like that also make sense within those nutritional guidelines,” she said.
Gladstone will share the findings with other school systems, such as our own Browning and Heart Butte school districts, as the project comes along, and the final document will be available to any school interested. This work by Gladstone is just one of her many food sovereignty projects and ways she is giving back to the community.
She and her Indigikitchen partner, Kenneth Cook of the Onondaga Nation, are both on the board of the Blackfeet Food Access and Sustainability Team (FAST). She is also currently working with Montana Farm to School to provide culturally relevant education materials on bison so it can be a Harvest of the Month food in schools. She is doing all this while completing her Master’s Degree as a Sloan Scholar at SUNY - ESF through the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. The Blackfeet nation is lucky to have her working to improve availability of culturally appropriate and healthy food.