2022 Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter Mariah Gladstone, 28, (Blackfeet, Cherokee), of Babb, Montana, is fulfilling her dream of helping members of her Blackfeet Tribe to eat healthier a reality.
Mariah earned her bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in environmental engineering “because I have always been dedicated to serving my community through sustainability” and a master’s degree in environmental engineering at SUNY-ESF through the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment upon realizing “my passions lied in promoting food sovereignty.
“I loved the opportunity to study the intersections of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and research-based scientific knowledge,” she told us in her Dreamstarter application. “Indigenous Food Systems are at the core of both community nutrition and sustainable ecology. I am fortunate to build food sovereignty while still accomplishing my original goal of sustainability.”
This spring, Mariah, with her mentor organization, FAST (Food Access and Sustainability Team) Blackfeet, of which she is a board member, gained a cohort of 10 new gardeners for the 2022 gardening season from all across the Blackfeet Nation who grew traditional medicine tea plants such as Saksika-Kitsim (peppermint), Ninnai-Kaksimi (man sage), Kinii (woods rose/rosehips), Maanikapii (bergamot), Aoktoksoo’kii (yarrow) and Kipata Minii (elderberry).
In addition, they grew a variety of vegetables including squash, beets, tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, turnips, radishes, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes and more, with surplus purchased by Ō’yō’·ṗ’ food pantry for distribution.
“This season has been a big expansion on last year’s season,” reported Mariah in June. “Not only has the program grown in participants and plants but also in the classes we are offering!
“FAST Blackfeet is proud to have their returning tea growers from last season continuing to care for their plants and they will be taking ‘On-The-Land’ classes to learn about their tea plants in the wild as well as some pre-recorded video lessons. New participants have a collection of video workshops on gardening and tea as well.”
Mariah noted that “a lot of work and helpful hands have gone into the project so far” and thanked the many volunteers for all their hard work tilling, installing and constructing the beds and building fences.
In addition, FAST Blackfeet thanked its local friends who donated plants to the program such as Natural Warrior Farm and Herbs, strawberry plants as well the Browning High School biology classes which “started lots of beautiful tea plants for the gardeners, helping contribute to an abundance of baby plants to kick off the season.
“FAST Blackfeet is really excited to learn and grow with their gardeners who have already put in so much good work!”
In September, Mariah reported that “the harvest season has been full of wonderful donations from FAST Blackfeet Growing Health program participants. “Each week, lucky individuals using Ō’yō’·ṗ’ food pantry services have been able to bring home locally-grown produce from these gardens.”
Among the produce donated by Growing Health gardeners were beautiful yellow squashes and Huckleberry Gold potatoes, which she noted are “a Montana variety of potato which is low-glycemic and therefore better for diabetics than regular potatoes.”
Mariah said the program participants also received both video and “On-The-Land” lessons in growing, gathering and harvesting which “helped them identify and collect traditional Blackfeet plants and turn them into herbal tea blends.”
FAST Blackfeet was also able to share zucchini, asparagus, broccoli, yellow squash and peppers from the Blackfeet Community College Garden.
“We are so happy to be able to provide some locally-grown produce and support these gardeners,” she says, adding, “and extremely grateful that they want to share their harvest with the community!”
Mariah explained that she developed her dream idea because “Like many indigenous nations, the Blackfeet people have navigated the destruction of our traditional food systems. By forcing us to adopt rations and other subsidized foods, colonial governments sought to reduce our ability to resist colonization.
“Unfortunately, the foods distributed on in my community are neither healthy nor well suited for our climate. After generations of these products, the health of our bodies and ecosystems reflects our disconnection.
“Fortunately, the solutions to the epidemic of diet-related illnesses lies in the revitalization of our traditional foods.
“Since I have gardened my entire life, this provides an opportunity to revitalize indigenous plant knowledge with traditional foods.
“By working with food pantry participants, we reach out to the most disadvantaged families in our community and show them that healthy, traditional foods are accessible and delicious.”