Interview with an Indigenous food activist: Kirsten Kirby-Shoote

photo of Kirsten Kirby-Shoote

Name: Kirsten Kirby-Shoote 

Location: Detroit, Michigan  

Education/background: Worked as an apprentice on multiple farms 

Business name: Seed steward at Leilú Gardens  

Tribal affiliation: Tlingit  

What led to your passion for indigenous foods?  

My passion mostly stems from not seeing representation or accessibility, in tangible forms, of indigenous foods. Detroit is really far ahead of the game in urban agriculture, and I saw an opportunity here. I’m originally from Portland — where it’s super overpopulated and overcrowded — and the job and housing markets are flooded. I came to Detroit to form more relationships with urban indigenous people because that is something that was lacking at the time in Portland.  

Why do you think it’s important to make traditional foods accessible for Natives? 

It’s mostly that everything is made for the consumption or the gaze of white people. That’s what this country is really founded on. Being able to provide people with food is a rebellion against those systems. These foods are medicine; they go into our bodies, and they quantify their healing power for us. That’s just not something that happens with typical grocery store food.  

I had very little experience with wild rice before I moved to the Midwest, so that’s a newer food that is now irreplaceable to me. I think forever my favorite indigenous food will be salmon, in any and all forms.  

What is the importance of an indigenous diet for a healthy lifestyle? 

The importance is molecular in a lot of ways. I can’t imagine a culture without food, and that goes for any culture. Each of our foodways are so vital to our stories, our people, and where we come from, as well as our language. Consuming those foods, not just for the health benefits, but also for the cultural and spiritual benefits is something that I’ve found time and time again will never get old.  

What other ways are you involved in the education, restoration and accessibility of traditional Native foods? 

With the I-Collective, our mission is to bring the issue of food sovereignty to a wider audience. We want to help people gain the resources and tools to have sovereignty within their own personal lives and their communities.  

Locally, I’m involved in the Sugarbush project. It’s a maple tapping program that involves elders, the black community and the indigenous community. We all come together to carve out sovereignty. It takes place in a huge, public park and we tap maple and then process it on site. Last year I think we bottled around 70 gallons of syrup. We bottle it and gift it to different members of the community who may not be able to be there, such as elders, so they are still included in the process. 

How can community members be involved and support the cause of restoring and protecting indigenous food systems? 

I think it’s about connecting with the indigenous people in your area. If you’re non-Native, then I encourage you to financially support those local causes and initiatives so they can flourish. If you are Native, it’s important to connect with those folks and become part of the larger Native community. It’s always great to see new people get involved and see them come into their identity over the years, as they understand more about themselves. 

Anything else you want to mention? 

I always want to point people toward other I-Collective members’ and their work. Through them, I’ve become aware of so many amazing projects. You can view member projects on the I-Collective website.  

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