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2022 Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter Mariah Gladstone, 28, (Blackfeet, Cherokee), of Babb, Montana, dream is to create an “indigikitchen” recipe box using traditional indigenous ingredients from her community with easy to follow along video instructions.

“By combining this with in-person classes and food harvested from local vegetable gardens, I dream of shifting the way Blackfeet people think about our food system,” says Mariah. In preparation for her project, Mariah plans to finalize her recipes in April, begin filming videos for pantry participants, and scout out locations to host her cooking classes. In May, she plans to begin scheduling the cooking classes and working with her mentor organization, FAST (Food Access and Sustainability Team) Blackfeet, which is dedicated to identifying food insecurity in the community, developing effective solutions related to access to healthy food, and nutrition education. To ensure culturally relevant and affordable food for all, they also intend to start plants for vegetable gardens.

Throughout summer she will be conducting the cooking classes using local ingredients and, in the fall, will host a class on food preservation, bow hunting and will record a video of processing wild game. In the winter, she plans to go ice fishing and continue to make cooking videos including ones on fish smoking.

Mariah earned her bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in environmental engineering citing that she has always been dedicated to serving her community through sustainability. She also has a master’s degree in environmental engineering at SUNY-ESF through the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment upon realizing her passions lie 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.”

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.”

She describes Indigikitchen as “a combination of indigenous, digital and kitchen. “By using videos, my dream is to make indigenous food knowledge accessible to anyone with an interest in connecting with healthy foods, cultural wisdom and sustainable agriculture.” And by offering in-person classes as well as the online classes it allows community members the opportunity to learn together.

This year, FAST Blackfeet, of which Mariah is a board member, is interested in expanding its garden program which presently focuses on growing native plants to make traditional teas to include vegetables. “Since I have gardened my entire life, this provides an opportunity to revitalize indigenous plant knowledge with traditional foods,” said Mariah, adding that the gardens will provide the produce to be used in the cooking classes.

“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.”

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