One-line solution summary:
Indigikitchen uses digital media to restore the knowledge associated with traditional Indigenous foods.
Pitch your solution.
Initially launched as a plan to address diet-related health problems in Indian Country, Indigikitchen uses an online platform to connect community members with knowledge about the preparation and harvest of traditional foods. However, on this journey, we have recognized that revitalizing Indigenous diets also promotes sustainable food systems and fosters an appreciation for the wisdom of our ancestors. Colonialism has intentionally disrupted our connections to our food; using the digital tools we have today has allowed us to begin to undo some of that damage. While our solutions are grounded in ancestral knowledge, this is not a step backward. Rather, we use traditional knowledge to guide our communities into the future, allowing wisdom and values to guide us. With the restoration of our food systems come improved physical, emotional, and environmental health.
What specific problem are you solving?
The health disparities experienced by Native people are staggering. Nationwide, 30% of Native toddlers are considered obese and 50% of Native youth are predicted to develop Type II Diabetes in their lifetimes. Malnutrition and other diet-related illnesses are common throughout Indian Country. In Montana, our life expectancies are 20 years less than non-Natives. A majority of the nutrition in our communities can be linked to the forced removal of our traditional foods and our placement on "food deserts".
Our traditional foods still exist, but much of the knowledge surrounding harvest and preparation is difficult to find. Despite living in rural locations, Indigenous people deserve access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food. Indigikitchen is determined to arm Natives with the educational tools they need to decolonize their diets. Though we work to combat food insecurity by revitalizing pre-contact foods, the social issues that it helps to remedy are threefold: diet related health issues in Indigenous communities, economic hardships caused by living in a food desert, and strengthening the capacity for Indigenous sovereignty.
What is your solution?
Indigikitchen records short cooking videos using Indigenous ingredients in order to empower Native people to learn more about their traditional foods. The recipes used range from thousands of years old to variations of modern meals using only pre-contact ingredients. These videos are distributed online, both through a website database and through social media. The short (1.5 minute) nature of the videos ensures that individuals are able to recognize their own ability to replicate the process. Empirical evidence also demonstrates this, as Indigikitchen's social media pages are regularly sent photos of the featured recipes.
Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit?
Indigikitchen's goal is to expand access to traditional cooking, foraging, and local food knowledge across Indian Country. It is through intertribal collaboration that we can restore our techniques and use them to serve our communities in the 21st century. All members of the core team are citizens of Indigenous nations (Blackfeet, Onondaga, Cherokee, Ojibwe, Gros Ventre, Crow) and have lived and worked in Indigenous nations for our entire lives. Our headquarters are located on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. Besides sharing our own teachings, we work with other knowledge keepers to provide tools for them to document and distribute their methods and techniques and ensure they are accessible to the larger Native community.
Which dimension of the Fellowship does your solution most closely address?
Provide healthy and sovereign food, sustainable energy, and safe water
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Fellowship and your selected dimension.
Indigikitchen's primary goal has always been to strengthen food sovereignty and our connections to our landscape. We recognize that knowing where our food comes from helps us feed ourselves, but also makes us more likely to take care of the land and water that helped bring it to us. We recognize food as a gift from the earth, rather than a commodity, and that helps instill a deeper sense of responsibility to the provider. We use digital media to foster these connections and help Indigenous community members recognize our resilience and ancestral wisdom.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Babb, MT, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?
Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth
Who is the primary delegate for your solution?
Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your primary delegate.
Is your primary delegate a member of the community in which your project is based?
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
A new application of an existing technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
We use modern technology like video software and digital media to revitalize ancestral wisdom. By meeting people where they are at, with the tools they know how to use, we empower them to create lasting change in their diets. Other organizations that teach this information have typically been limited by recipe books, a tool that is often unhelpful for those that are not familiar with them, or in-person classes, incredibly useful, but limited in reach.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
Video and social media shorts are the primary technology that drives our solution; we distribute these to our users and community through channels they already use and allow them the accessibility that comes with a digitized database of Indigenous foods.
Provide evidence that this technology works.
We have empirical evidence to show that our technology is reaching the community members, with our Indigenous followers in every state in the US, as well as province in Canada. When we post videos and recipes, we regularly receive feedback from Indigenous people with images of their own version of the food.
What is your theory of change?
Due to a combination of white supremacy and class assumptions, Native peoples’ existence has been shaped by paternalistic views of how we should behave. The changes that happened to our communities were the result of external forces controlling where we go, how we speak, and how we feed ourselves. More often than not, these shifts were driven by negative enforcement: telling us everything we were NOT allowed to do. While this has resulted in systemic changes, it has often resulted in trauma and internalized hatred for Indigenous identities.
My Theory of Change is radically different than the harsh changes that have been fired at us. Firstly, I believe that lasting and healthy change must originate internally; no matter how well intentioned, organizations that lack connections to Indian Country and community engagement will fail to manifest their ideals. My methodology is also unlike the carrot and (more often) stick approaches that have been used across recent history. Rather, I believe change can be enacted faster and more completely by simply revealing the path and allowing others to follow. While governments, NGOs, and churches have all tried to train us like dogs, my plan recognizes the inherent intelligence of Indigenous people and our desire to do what is best for our communities and families. Native people are astute and understand that colonial foods (including frybread) are not “healthy”; we do not need to be chastised. Rather, our communities need the tools to restore our traditional food systems and prepare the foods of our ancestors. Though I work with nutrition, my approach is unlike many of my contemporaries because I never tell people what not to eat. My experience with this work has demonstrated that having access to resources is enough to encourage positive change. Making the work exciting, affordable, and delicious ensures that community gardens, local foraging, and hunting will exist over the long term.
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
One year goal: 10,000
Five year goal: 50,000
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Our early projects have revolved around creating short videos that can be shared across social media platforms. Moving forward, Indigikitchen plans on producing seasonal eating guides, nutritional breakdowns of various Native foods, meal planning guides with cost breakdown, and a cookbook. We also plan on continuing to produce cooking videos, but including more work from other Native chefs and elders from tribes across the continent as an opportunity to showcase important Indigenous ingredients. Ultimately, this will result in an ever-growing database of Native foods that communities across North America can use to restore health, culture, and connection to land.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed much of our progress, in that we are not able to make the same in person connections within communities that we previously were. However, it has also enabled us to produce more digital media that can be used to strengthen our database. Ultimately, we would be able to serve more individuals if reached out to elders with the knowledge we are seeking to document and distribute. Until the danger of the pandemic is over, we will not be able to make those connections as we do not want to endanger any of our knowledge keepers.
Similarly, our income streams have pivoted to internet based learning, though there was a several month lull with slow earnings. As we work to recover in these times, we expect those numbers to gradually return to pre-pandemic levels.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
With the cultural knowledge that we are seeking, we can seek distance methods of connecting with elders and Indigenous cooks that will not endanger them under pandemic circumstances. As we move back to normal, we can resume our regular plan of visiting communities to help them generate materials. Though finances will gradually return to normal, we want to ensure that we are finding creative ways of funding the work that we are doing without burdening our target population. This has often been done through a combination of grants, institutional support, and contracting work.
How many people work on your solution team?
How many years have you worked on your solution?
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
We are a diverse group of Indigenous partners with an understanding of traditional foods and the communities we come from. Our Native communities range from Montana to the Great Lakes to New York to Oklahoma. This enables us to connect with a broad swath of Indian Country and ensure that we are utilizing information that can benefit a range of communities.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
We have a grant through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help assist knowledge keepers in the documentation of recipes that they would like to share. Fortunately, they have given us flexibility in how we are to use the funds in order to ensure the solution is Indigenous-led.
- Mariah Gladstone Founder, Indigikitchen