A Native foods summit brought tribal leaders, advocates, and educators together in Billings Monday to talk about access to traditional indigenous foods.
Chef Mariah Gladstone stood in front of almost 250 attendees for a live cooking demonstration.
She blended together a pesto made from a wild green, Lamb’s Quarters, and a member of the audience stepped in as a taste-tester.
“It’s delicious,” the attendee said. “It’s kinda grassy. There’s a crunch when I bite, which is different in pesto.”
Gladstone used the pesto to season trout.
“I breaded it - or corned it - in the blue corn,” she said. “I’m just gonna use a little bit of sunflower oil to pan fry this.”
She and fellow chef, Sean Sherman, answered questions while the trout fried.
This demonstration was part of what’s officially known as the Flavors of Home Native Food Sovereignty Summit, which national nonprofit Share Our Strength put together with local partners as part of their No Kid Hungry campaign.
Gladstone, who’s Cherokee and Blackfoot, defines food sovereignty as the right of people to control their own food systems and to have access to healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate, and sustainable foods.
Gladstone is trying to further that mission with IndigiKitchen, a multimedia cooking show that educates people about indigenous foods and recipes.
“Native people in Montana and across the country have faced a disconnection from our traditional food systems,” she said. “And a lot of this has been a systematic erasure and erosion of our ability to obtain traditional foods and then, over time, a generational forgetfulness of what qualifies as traditional food and how to prepare those.”
Gladstone said she strives to re-teach the information around traditional foods on
IndigiKitchen, and she gets creative, like with the trout and pesto recipe she demonstrated at the summit.
Many members of the audience were there to learn and take back new knowledge to their communities.
Brian Jones is an organizer of the event as part of the Montana No Kid Hungry campaign.
He also food service director at St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana.
“We serve a lot of buffalo,” he said. “So, by learning here of the things that I can add to it naturally, that are natural seasonings that’ll help season and bring out those flavors, is a huge bonus here.”
He said, in his school, they try to stick to simple and nutritious ingredients, and he said education is vital in moving away from dependence on commodities and processed foods.
“The more we can educate in our school systems that you can go out and forage these things in our backyards, basically, and in other areas, and how to incorporate them into foods that we have, I think we can slowly move back to being able to take care of ourselves in a healthier way,” he said.
The Flavors of Home Native Food Sovereignty Summit isn’t the only such event this summer in Billings.
The Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council will hold its second annual food sovereignty summit, Roots of a Sovereign Nation, in August.
Wild Greens Pesto Recipe, Courtesy of Mariah Gladstone
½ cup nut or seed (preferably soaked and dried); some good choices are sunflower seeds, green pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, pecans, and pine nuts
1-2 cloves garlic or wild garlic
3 cups packed wild greens of choice (lambs quarter, dandelion, sorrel, wild mustard, wild mint, purslane, etc.)
1/3-3/4 cup cold-pressed sunflower oil, avocado oil, or olive oil
Add nut or seed, garlic, and wild greens and process until mixture is well-minced.
Add oil slowly until the desired consistency is reached: 1/3 cup oil produces a thicker consistency—nice for spreading on bread, crackers, etc. For a thinner, looser sauce add another ¼-1/2 cup of oil.
Taste first, then add salt if desired.