During Spring 2020, Dr. Courtney Lewis (Cherokee Nation) served as the Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor in Justice, Equality, and Community in Anthropology at Davidson College. In collaboration with Dr. Rose Stremlau in the Department of History, Lewis organized a series of panels featuring the work of Indigenous “food-preneurs” and the food sovereignty movement and cooking demonstrations spotlighting the talents of Indigenous chefs. Lewis and Stremlau conceptualized this residency and the surrounding programming “to create connections between campus and the broader community with the ultimate goal of enabling transformation of the student experience of the humanities, both within and outside of the curricula” at Davidson College and to do so with Native people centered.
As a Presbyterian institution that has supported missionization, Davidson College has been complicit in the logic of settler colonialism that assures non-Native people that they have a right to this land because Native peoples are no longer present here. Except that they are: North Carolinas has the largest Native population east of the Mississippi River; the reservation of the Catawba Indian Nation, on whose ancestral homeland Davidson sits, is just south of Charlotte; Charlotte is home to a thriving urban Indian community; and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is just a short drive west on Qualla Boundary. Honoring the presence of our Native neighbors, welcoming members of their communities to campus, and learning about their ongoing food sovereignty initiatives has been the goal of this semester’s work that has laid a foundation for future collaborations.
During the spring semester, factors beyond our control required us to reimagine components of this grant. After successfully hosting the first of three panels in the Food Sovereignty Series on campus, COVID-19 prompted us to pivot the second and third to a virtual format and host them online. The first panel (in-person/not recorded) highlighted the impacts of policy (federal, state, local) on food-preneurs and featured Blake Jackson (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma citizen; Policy Officer and a Staff Attorney for the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas) and Zena Wolfe, and Autumn Sunshine Tahquette, and Virginia Wolfe (all Eastern Band of Cherokee citizens) of the The Hungry Wolf Deli & Fresh Market. The second panel (online) brought three chefs together to discuss the complexities of running an Indigenous food business: Chef and Dr Lois Ellen Frank of Red Mesa Cuisine (Kiowa Nation descendant), Chef Taelor Barton (Cherokee Nation citizen), and cookbook author Johnnie Sue Myers (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizen) with husband Soney Myers (German-Irish descendant). The third and final panel (online) focused on the academic work on agricultural and harvesting food sovereignty, featuring: Dr Elizabeth Hoover (Mohawk/Mi’kmaq descendent; Associate Professor of American Studies at Brown University), Dr Clint Carroll (Cherokee Nation citizen; Associate Professor Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder), and “DeLesslin” “Roo” George-Warren (Catawba citizen; Consultant at Catawba Cultural Center).
After these panels had concluded, Lewis and Stremlau reconceptualized their grant to organize an additional series of seven cooking demonstrations aimed at a general audience and featuring a spectrum of North American Indigenous chefs. The Resilience Recipes Cooking Demonstrations brought together some of the most influential and cutting-edge Indigenous chefs in the United States and Canada. Each week, a featured chef introduced us to one of their favorite dishes. The series emphasized the variety of regional native foods and using food preparation techniques that range from those practiced for millennia to those that utilize state-of-the-art kitchen equipment. After each recipe demonstration video, the chefs joined us live to answer questions about their kitchen experiences and the latest updates in the Indigenous food sovereignty movement. Each chef discussed the impact that the global pandemic has had on their work, how they are helping their communities during this crisis, and what viewers can do to support Native nations.
By the end of the semester, twenty Native people participated in this initiative. As important, they belong to thirteen different Indigenous nations with homelands from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the Great Lakes to the Mesas.
We welcome your input. Please reach out rostremlau_at_ davidson.edu.
Special thanks to Ashley Ip, a Media Consultant, who helped design this web page!