Name: Mariah Gladstone
Location: Babb, MT (Blackfeet Reservation)
Education/background: Bachelor of science in environmental engineering, Columbia University; Master of science in Environmental Science, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (In Progress)
Business name: Indigikitchen
Tribe: Blackfeet, Cherokee
What led to your passion for indigenous foods?
While I was encouraged from a young age to experiment in the kitchen, seeing the health issues that plague Indian Country led me to start Indigikitchen and share information about Native foods. This merged my love of culinary experimentation with plants and foraging in a way that also helped my community. I’m lucky that I get I can step outside and find foods (both plants in our garden and wild foraged as well as local trout, elk, and deer) and transform them into delicious meals for my family. The selection changes with the season and it’s pure magic to get to taste those changes.
Why do you think it’s important to make traditional foods accessible for Natives?
When Native people eat the foods of our ancestors, we are feeding ourselves nutritious food that reconnects us to the land. Not only does this benefit us physically, but we gain a spiritual sense of wellbeing. Because we have a traumatic history of being forced onto subsidized food programs, creating food sovereignty helps heal these pains and strengthens our political sovereignty as well.
What is the importance of an indigenous diet for a healthy lifestyle?
It goes without saying that everyone (both Native and non-Native) should be eating fresher, less processed foods. While indigenous foods are nutritionally “healthy,” they also benefit the landscapes they come from through sustainable harvesting, cultivation, and land management. Understanding where our food comes from encourages us to take part of the connected web that makes it possible. We support the clean air, soil, and water that plants and animals need when we understand how much we too rely on it to survive.
What other ways (besides your business) are you involved in the education, restoration and accessibility of traditional Native foods?
I serve on the board of FAST Blackfeet, a local non-profit that helps the Blackfeet community access foods. This allows me to help provide the reservation’s population with immediate food sources while helping teach traditional food information. Beyond that, I’ve focused my master’s degree on Blackfeet food systems. I study the ways that traditional food harvesting practices are a method of land management that can be used today to encourage biodiversity and conservation.
How can community members be involved and support the cause of restoring and protecting indigenous food systems?
Anyone can get involved by growing and harvesting Indigenous food in their own locations and supporting Native producers. I always encourage folks to learn about the plants in their area and find ways to sustainably harvest those which can supplement their diets. When people have the space and ability, I love to see people growing diverse vegetables and greens and sharing with their neighbors. And of course, buying from Native farmers, harvesters, fishermen, and ranchers helps them support their families while also creating a demand for sustainable food systems.