A foundational American myth is that the first Thanksgiving was a feast that symbolized an abiding pact between European colonists and Indigenous people to share the abundance of the land. But the reality of both historical and ongoing colonization, says Nephi Craig, White Mountain Apache, is that if you “want to attack a people and wipe them out—attack their food.”
Consider the buffalo. The slaughter of 60 million buffalo was an intentional strategy to conquer tribes through starvation, says Fred DuBray, Cheyenne River Lakota. The government commodity foods supplied to replace the buffalo-based diet and culture that were destroyed by genocide is a physical hardship. But, he says, the “mental and the spiritual part is even worse.” DuBray is a buffalo rancher who wants to bring buffalo herds back to the Plains. His daughter Elsie is a scientist-in-training whose work demonstrates the superior nutritional value of buffalo as a food source.
We’re celebrating Apache foodways in a kitchen that was built by Apaches, for Apaches. The cafe is a living example of food sovereignty in action.
Craig and the DuBrays are some of the Indigenous food advocates and producers highlighted in Gather, a film by Sanjay Rawal about current efforts for Native food sovereignty. Like the movement it documents, Gather is wide-ranging, addressing both systemic issues and small-scale solutions. On the Klamath River in Northern California, Sammy Gensaw and the Yurok youth of the Ancestral Guard advocate for local salmon habitat restoration—and network with Indigenous groups around the world. Back in Arizona, San Carlos Apache elder and medicine woman Twila Cassadore teaches the younger generation about traditional food foraging, while Clayton Harvey finds healing in growing food crops for the White Mountain Apache Tribe on The People’s Farm.
Gather culminates in what you might call a decolonizing feast, as classically trained chef Craig serves a debut meal in Café Gozhóó. It’s a light-filled space created on the site of what was once a gas station selling junk food in a designated food desert. Foods with Indigenous roots—acorn stew, steak and green chile, Apache cornbread, and exquisitely plated fritters with agave and berries—are on the menu, along with Craig’s support of community agriculture. “Check out what the ancestors are thinking,” he says. “We’re celebrating Apache foodways in a kitchen that was built by Apaches, for Apaches. The cafe is a living example of food sovereignty in action.”
Watch Gather on iTunes, Amazon, or Vimeo.
Valerie Schloredt is the books editor at YES!, where she leads print and online coverage of literature, media, and film, with a focus on social change movements. Valerie worked for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies in London for seven years, has followed the police reform process in Seattle as a citizen activist since 2010, and continues to monitor developments in both London and Seattle. She lives in Seattle, and speaks English.