Kunu’s dream is “The Science of Nutrition and First Foods: Cultivating Health Through Traditional Food Knowledge.”
He wants to use biomedical and nutrition science to highlight the health benefits of first foods in conjunction with Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). His plan is to lead a group of Native youth on a week-long summer science expedition out in nature to find and catalogue First Foods from around the Portland, Oregon area.
“Through cataloging the First Foods we will foster mathematical learning by having the youth add the content of specific nutrition and vitamins and multiply how many servings they would need to complete a healthy meal,” Kunu said.
Kunu’s Home and Community
Kunu, 28, Northern Cheyenne and Ho-Chunk Nation, lives in urban Portland. “I am happy to say that I have a supportive indigenous community that I was born into.” Kunu is a multimedia producer at Wisdom of the Elders, his mentor organization and a long-time partner of Running Strong.
He is connected to the music and art community of Portland and over the past few years has been able to connect his passion for music and art with his deeply ingrained need to fight for social and environmental justice.
“I have benefitted greatly from the services provided by community organizations and guided by community members in a positive way, so now I feel like it is my turn to return the favor and be a positive force in my community.”
What motivated Kunu to develop this dream?
Kunu is unaware of any summer science programs directed at middle school-aged Native Youth. With his Dreamstarter® idea he would like to provide this much-needed STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fortifying summer camp.
“My dream idea came from my desire to share my newfound knowledge of the food sovereignty movement in Indian County and my passion for environmental science, traditional ecological knowledge of our elders, and health.
“As time goes on I am seeing the urgency and need to have our Native people lead healthy lives based on education through STEM and the restoration and cultivation of traditional first foods.”
The Dream as a Solution
His First Foods expedition will start out with the pure glacier water from Mount Hood (Oregon’s highest mountain at more than 11,000 feet) and weave through their lands to include salmon, deer and elk, roots and berries, and other foraged foods and medicines.
“Through cataloging the First Foods we will foster ethno-mathematical learning by having the youth add the content of specific nutrition and vitamins and multiply how many servings they would need to complete a healthy meal,” says Kunu.
On the last day of the science camp, they will all gather together for a “potlach” (a Native American ceremonial feast) that will include all the First Foods they have gathered. At this meal he will hand out science kits that will include water and soil testing kits, as well as a First Foods cookbook.
“This kit will allow the youth to test the health of their soil and water at home and provide continuing science-based discoveries.”
Kunu's experience as a miltimedia producer will maximize the reach of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in his community and the impact of his food & social justice work. He and his team will film the excursion, and present the documentary to the community after the summer science camp ends.
The Potential Impact in the Future
“I can see a future where our next generations are fit and healthy like we used to be before our colonization through processed foods and the Standard American Diet (SAD). I believe that the connection to our first foods through TEK and understanding of the nutritional value of these foods with current science-based practices can strengthen our identity as Native people.
“This new strengthened identity can nurture positive resiliency factors in our youth, including cultural identity and self-esteem.”