Indigenous food technology

Submitted by:

Ruth Plenty Sweetgrass-She Kills, PhD

Food Sovereignty Director

Senior personnel on the NSF-funded Willow Project

Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College

Recently Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College partnered with College of Menominee to offer a series of train-the-trainer workshops on how to make wooden pounding mills or corn mortars (mi’ku in Nueta, maa ipi in Hidatsa, and bootaagan in Anishinabe) by pooling funding they had from the USDA’s Sustainable  Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Both tribal colleges are striving to grow agriculture in their area based on traditional concepts of sustainability, reciprocity, and respect. These mills are made of sustainably grown materials, they are traditional among tribal peoples who grew or harvested grains, nuts, and fruits in this region, and this is a skill of increasing interest among those working on Food Sovereignty. The goal of the training is that all participants will be ready to make and use these mills, and also ready to share this new knowledge.

The first workshop was hosted in Wisconsin at Ukwakhwa, a non-profit with the mission to “help the community learn about traditional Haudenosaunee agricultural methods of planting, growing, harvesting, seed keeping, food preparation, food storage, tool making, and crafting.” Ukwakhwa’s owners Becky and Steve Webster said, “Hosting these types of educational hands-on events are exactly why we set out on this wild adventure five short years ago.”

One NHSC student, Gerri Pearson was able to attend the workshop in Wisconsin. She reflected, “It was a seemingly simple process but if you didn’t know how to do it you, you wouldn’t know to do it. It really highlighted the intimate knowledge that indigenous people had. You were working and making something that had been learned utilizing western ideas of science; which wood to use: biology, metrology, a method to manipulate raw materials: material science; there’s physics unsolved etc. It was very humbling, and makes you really appreciate our ancestors’ knowledge.”

“I had the joy of participating in this workshop and getting to connect with community. I’ve been navigating with depression and was reminded though this gathering that, like we always say when talking about Indigenous foods, food is medicine. And I mean that in so many ways. Being able to be in the company of so many wonderful people really filled my heart. I’m ever grateful for being able to participate in our foodways and do the work,” says participant, Vanessa Besha Casillas.

Co-organizer, Dr. Frank Kutka, from the College of Menominee said, “From a purely administrative side of things, I am inspired by how the spirit of teamwork carried us through the pandemic complications to put on a delightful workshop.  SARE collaborated with two Tribal Colleges to fund a great training workshop that really helped to spread traditional skills across the region.  On the personal side, it was really an honor and a great deal of fun to take part in that training.  I learned so much!”

A second workshop will be held March 27-29 in New Town, which will be taught by Howard Kimewon and Jerry Jondreau. There is limited space. If you have questions or would like to register, you can contact Ruth Plenty Sweetgrass-She Kills at [email protected]