I-Collective

Date: August 18, 2019
Interviewer: Matthew Hayashi, Headwater People
Interviewee: Hillel Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), Chef

Quick Stats about the I-Collective
The I-Collective stands for four principles: Indigenous, Inspired, Innovative, and Independent. An autonomous group of 18 Indigenous chefs, activists, herbalists, seed, and knowledge keepers, the I-Collective strives to open a dialogue and create a new narrative that highlights not only historical Indigenous contributions, but also promotes our community's resilience and innovations in gastronomy, agriculture, the arts, and society at large.

The I-Collective hosts and responds to invitations to create education opportunities through food.

Mission:
To increase visibility; own our foods and culture; promote Indigenous ingredients and histories in our modern world.

Key Considerations:
For the I-Collective, the way they represent themselves and their work to the non-Native public is very critical. Interrupting the patterns of Native people and Native foods being underappreciated or respected or instances where traditional foods are “discovered” by non-Native chefs and cooks are important.

The I-Collective are located throughout the US and Canada and have no central location. Each member is involved in their home communities as well as I-Collective events, and see both as essential.

The I-Collective have no full-time or paid staff. However, for events, for I-Collective members who travel to and do the work of cooking and hosting these events, they make sure they are compensated.

All decisions are made collectively.

Strengths, Keys for Success:
Educating people about Native people’s experience throughout history and how it corresponds to what happened to traditional food and medicine sources can be done powerfully through a plate of food. Food itself is knowledge and understanding.

The I-Collective is community driven. They prioritize being contributing members of their home communities, and were all active in food and art related service before they came together as the I-Collective.

Every event they do begins with a free meal they offer to the people in whatever community they find themselves. Feeding the people reflects their value of respecting the indigenous land they are on.

Autonomy and the freedom to share a totally honest message is very important for the I-Collective. As a result, they make partnerships, especially funding partnerships, very carefully. They often pass on opportunities because they may not be ethically or politically aligned with potential partners, or because of who those potential partners may be connected to. As a result, they are very free to convey their message and in do it in the way they feel is most appropriate.

The diversity within the I-Collective is also something they really appreciate. All 18 bring different views and different insights, and different education levels. The group worked beautifully together to create this and they remain in near constant contact, despite the various locations. It’s like a family.

Barriers and Challenges:
Their commitment to having the freedom to say and do things in a way without any non-Native pressure or influence limit their funding opportunities.

People often don’t have a clear idea of the work it takes and the costs to procure first foods. Events that feature a menu of traditional foods can be very time consuming and expensive.

The stories our food tells include the removal, suffering and exclusion our people and our foods have experienced in this country. The I-Collective is very clear about this and that message can be difficult for non-Native people.

Many people have built in ideas of people in the “service industry” and expect to have a relationship with the I-Collective that reflects a server-served paradigm. That can be difficult.

Insights for others:
Funders should consider being silent partners and participated by being financially supportive and refrain from trying to shape or control the work.