First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is excited to partner with the Henry Luce Foundation (Luce) for a third year of the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship. In 2020, First Nations and Luce awarded the inaugural 10 $50,000 fellowships to advance and support the work of Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers dedicated to creating positive community change. Beginning in 2021, we expanded the fellowship award to $75,000 over two years to support fellows committed to preserving and sharing Indigenous knowledge with future generations. In 2022, First Nations and Luce awarded 10 $75,000 fellowships.
MEET 2022 LUCE INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE FELLOW: MARIAH GLADSTONE
In 2016, Mariah Gladstone had some food for thought. The environmental engineer who had grown up tending her own garden and eating fresh foods from the lands of Northwest Montana switched gears from managing a steel gang on the railroad to cooking up Indigikitchen − an online digital cooking show dedicated to revitalizing Indigenous food systems, or “pre-contact” foods that once offered sustainable nutrition before colonization.
“My initial motivation for starting Indigikitchen was the epidemic of diet-related illnesses in Indian Country. But I discovered many more benefits along the way,” says Gladstone, explaining that teaching Natives about traditional foods is also good for their mental health and sense of belonging to the land. “From reintroducing bison to our kitchens, to sustainable planting methods, to honoring the animal and recognizing the gifts of the landscape, it is all connected to our traditional food systems.”
Over the last six years, Gladstone has grown the start-up culinary website into an in-demand enterprise and go-to source for how to reimagine and prepare Indigenous foods that everyone, including kids, will enjoy and that aren’t overly complicated to make.
“We are an online teaching tool expanding into a non-online world,” Gladstone describes the company’s impressive trajectory. Indigikitchen’s expertise has evolved from recording short cooking videos featuring Indigenous ingredients into information on traditional planting, harvesting, and preservation techniques, in-person cooking classes, food demonstrations, consulting, curriculum development, and lectures. In the last year, she has presented at Harvard, MIT, the Smithsonian NMAI, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and other Native organizations. She has also made two appearances on the “Today Show.”
Gladstone is a descendant of the Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation of Montana and an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She currently lives in Babb, Montana, on the Blackfeet Reservation, right next to Glacier National Park where she does a lot of hiking. Gladstone graduated from Columbia University with a degree in environmental engineering and earned a graduate degree from SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry, studying under Robin Wall Kimmerer, a Native botanist and the best-selling author of “Braiding Sweetgrass.”
First Nations chose Gladstone as one of 10 Luce Indigenous Knowledge fellows for the 2022 cohort. She says, “The Luce fellowship really aligns with the work that I am doing. The main reason I applied was not only to continue my own work, but also, for the opportunity to be a part of a cohort of other folks also working on the dissemination of Indigenous knowledge.”
What’s on her plate as a Luce fellow
The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship allowed Gladstone to continue teaching Native communities about Indigenous foods, both online and in-person. She expanded her library of traditional recipes and supplemented the website with information about sustainable gardening and farming techniques, food preservation, and whole animal utilization.
She planned to create a video playlist of processing an entire animal ─ from the field to butchering to natural hide tanning, teaching about the different cuts of meat, how to render fat, how to dehydrate meat to make jerky, and how to use bones for jewelry. She also planned to demonstrate methods of cleaning and filleting fish.
Gladstone values the teaching of elders and knowledge keepers. Through the fellowship, she also traveled to their home communities for interviews and to record their cooking demonstrations. She spent some fellowship funds on new filming equipment, such as an audio recorder, camera lenses, a small drone, and mobile lighting.
Lastly, the Luce fellow compensated teachers and elders with a small stipend. “Indigenous wisdom is valuable, and I want to ensure that I am respecting it while also letting those willing to share know that I value their time,” says Gladstone.
Her love for traditional foods is rooted in childhood
Gladstone considers herself blessed to have grown up eating Indigenous foods and being allowed to experiment in the kitchen. “My dad and grandpa fenced off a part of the yard from the dogs so I could have a garden. My mom is an enrolled Cherokee and told me that no ‘self-respecting Cherokee’ would grow a garden without corn. So, I had rows of corn, beans, and squash, and would alternate my tomatoes and broccoli, too.” She says she enjoyed seeing the “magic” of seeds turn into food.
The Luce fellow tells a humorous story about missing Indigenous foods while attending college in New York. “I could not find buffalo or wild rice or any foods I grew up with in a place that was supposed to have cuisine from all over the world.” Problem solved: On her flight back from winter break, she packed frozen moose meat from home into her carry-on bags. “If my bags got lost, I didn’t want to end up with spoiled, thawed meat.”
On the Indigikitchen website, visitors will find recipes for all types of Indigenous dishes, both savory and sweet, such as Mesquite Blue Cornbread, Pumpkin Lentil Soup, Sunflower Butter Popcorn, Wild Rice Omelet, and one of Gladstone’s favorite dishes – Butternut Bison Lasagna.
“This dish merges both my Blackfeet and Cherokee ancestry. And lasagna is the ultimate comfort food,” raves Gladstone. But instead of lasagna noodles, she uses butternut squash cut into rectangles. “You get this delicious, high-vegetable lasagna full of squash and bison and tomato sauce that you don’t have to feel guilty about eating.”
What the future is serving up
The Blackfeet/Cherokee Native has kept remarkably busy building website content and growing the Indigikitchen brand, which has amassed a following of more than 25,000 followers on social media.
And many people have taken notice.
Gladstone has been recognized as a “Champion for Change” through the Center for Native American Youth and a “Culture of Health Leader” through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She is also an MIT Solve “Indigenous Communities Fellow.”
What’s more, Gladstone serves on the board of the Native Youth Food Sovereignty Alliance training the next generation of Indigenous foragers, farmers, and chefs. And she is actively involved with FAST (Food Access Sustainability Team) Blackfeet, a nonprofit organization helping the Blackfeet Nation with food sovereignty.
Her mission to “revitalize, reimagine and recreate” Indigenous foods continues full Instapot steam ahead. She recently created a toolkit for food service directors to incorporate Native foods into school lunch programs. “While I am partnering with four reservation schools to roll out this material, it will become a template for all schools in Montana,” she further explains.
Also, she is in the process of writing a children’s cookbook. “I actually have enough content for about three different cookbooks.” But adds that she initially wants to focus on children because there is not enough material in the Native food space for them.
“I was incredibly lucky that I grew up learning to cook in my home, but not every kid gets that. People eat and therefore should learn to feed themselves. It’s basic, but also a challenge sometimes,” Gladstone says.
Her goal to make it easy to access and cook traditional foods is unflinching. “I want more and more people to use Native foods in their diets every day. And the simpler I can make things for everyone, the more we can return to traditional food systems ─ as long as we’re recognizing the stories and honoring those plants and animals that we’re able to eat.”