By Kath Coetzer ’23, Staff Writer

Poster courtesy of Dr. Lewis and Dr. Stremlau

The “Resilience Recipes: Native Food-preneur” series began a month and a half ago with a livestream cooking demonstration featuring Brian Yazzie (Yazzie the Chef), a Diné Chef from Dennehotso, Arizona. The series, which concludes June 29th, spotlights a different Indigenous chef each Monday at 4pm EST, who provides a guided demonstration of how to prepare their favorite dish, followed by a live question and answer session. Dr. Courtney Lewis, the Mellon Visiting Professor of Justice, Equality, and Community in Anthropology and Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina, co-organized the series alongside Dr. Rose Stremlau of Davidson’s History Department.

From Chef Loretta Barrett Oden of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, to Chef Tawnya Brani of the Tekarihoken Turtle clan, the series features Indigenous chefs from a plethora of regions and communities, illuminating the diversity of Native cooking. Dr. Stremlau explained that this range  seeks to dispel the stereotype that Native people are a homogenous group, as many unfamiliar with Native history and culture presume. “Native people live very much like modern Americans who have cultural traditions and belief systems and community ties that are rooted deeply in this continent, and in this land.”

Similarly, Dr. Lewis, a citizen of the Cherokee nation, noted that many people view Indigenous foods as something belonging in the past. “They place Indigenous foods in the category of history, but that’s not true. Indigenous foods are a thriving part of diets today,” she said. “I really hope that this series takes Indigenous food from the historical to the contemporary in people’s minds.” 

The series focuses on the food sovereignty movement and the contributions of Indigenous “food-preneurs” to this movement. Dr. Stremlau explained that there are many health disparities that stem from U.S. government policy beginning in the 1800s, instituting a reservation system in which Native people could no longer hunt for sustenance or access enough arable land to meet their consumption needs. Thus, they became dependent on notoriously unhealthy government-issued commodities, such as refined flour, white sugar, coffee, lard, bacon, and pork products. 

“The food sovereignty movement seeks to reclaim control over Native food systems, reintroduce traditional foods––which often means leaner sources of protein like bison and venison and fish–– and reintroduce traditional plant foods,” Dr. Stremlau said. “Rather than canned vegetables that are preserved in salt, people have access to traditional seeds and the knowledge to garden, but also the land on which to do that. In that way, the food sovereignty movement is not just a public health movement; it’s an environmental movement.”

The series was originally planned to consist of three in-person panel series. The first, “Policies and Plates,” explored how policy implemented at the federal, state, and community levels intersects to support Native food-preneurs, while “Grassroots and Global Chefs” focused on how Indigenous chefs function as “food-preneurs,” and finally, “Agriculture and Activism” engaged with academics who are working on how the larger U.S. population can support Native food-preneurs. While the first panel series successfully took place in-person in January earlier this year, the later panels were moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Additionally, Dr. Lewis had intended to use the remaining funds for her class, ANT 384: American Indian Nations Today: Pressing Issues in Indian Country, to attend the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association conference in Toronto; however, the trip’s cancellation due to COVID-19 opened up funds to develop a new series, “Resilience Recipes: Native Food-preneurs.” 

According to Dr. Stremlau, she and Dr. Lewis conceptualized the series after the aforementioned panel series revealed the need to support Indigenous chefs. “We were able to take that money and not only get it into the hands of Indigenous chefs who are being disproportionately impacted by the economic repercussions of COVID-19,” Dr. Lewis said, “but also bring these voices forward to the Davidson audience that we would not have been able to do if we had to fly everybody in to do the cooking demonstrations.”

Reflecting on her time at Davidson, Dr. Lewis emphasized that she received extensive support from students, as well as the faculty and administration. “That tells me that there’s a lot of potential at Davidson for things like a Native American Studies program,” she said. “I think we’ve been able to do a lot of really good work at Davidson for Native American Studies. And I think that even more can be done.” 

Dr. Stremlau shared a similar sentiment, expressing hope that Davidson builds on the panel series and recognizes the need to forge meaningful long-term relationships with its neighboring Native communities that nurture both the communities and the college. “I think we should start with the Catawba and the Eastern Band Cherokee and the urban Indian community of Charlotte. There are three Native communities within three hours of this college,” she said. “And right now, we have permanent relationships with none of them; that needs to change.”