Date: June 21, 2019
Interviewer: Sarah Ballew, Headwater People
Interviewee: Dana Thompson (Anishinaabe and lineal descendant Midwaka Dakota), Executive Director, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NāTIFS) ; Owner, The Sioux Chef and Indigenous Food Lab.
Quick Stats about North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems and the Sioux Chef
Umbrella of initiatives to open up showing the indigenous food systems, all the way from Mexico to Alaska. The first opening was in Minneapolis, with the Indigenous Food Lab.
The root of organization is to decolonize minds and spirit, from the kitchen and pantry, to the community.
The two primary focuses are indigenous food access and indigenous education.
NāTIFS removes the colonial ingredients, the 3 things that are the base of everything, wheat flour, dairy and sugar. They also recommend no beef, pork, or chicken because of factory farming and seek alternate forms of protein which is different throughout North America.
Our mission is to promote Indigenous foodways education and facilitate Indigenous food access.
Shawn Sherman and Dana Thompson have worked incredibly for the last 5 years to curate a brand that holds to their core principles. The company is envisioned around Shawn Sherman’s work.
Food sovereignty is at the root of NāTIFS and The Sioux Chef.
Shawn’s artistry and formal training has helped distinguish NāTIFS and The Sioux Chef. They also have a strong marketing background, and all their brands (Indigenous Food Lab, Tatanka Food Truck, and the Sioux Chef) are coordinated and presented at a high level.
Strengths, Keys for Success:
Shawn Sherman’s vision of reestablishing the basis of food systems as connecting spiritually, physically, and naturally with the world around us has been key to success. They’ve been presenting their philosophy around the nation, reaching tens of thousands of people a year.
Talking about how the about losses from genocide and forced assimilation can trigger shame, and having an approach that avoids protentional negative reactions has been very important.
NāTIFS and the Sioux Chef have been very intentional in designing their materials. Thinking through how the dimensions of the first cook book would impact the reader, and how people were physically going to interact with the book was an important aspect to the book’s success.
Their passion is about how food and food sovereignty effects ancestral trauma, and how it heals communities. For every community meal, they prepare teens for their job of sitting with elders and capturing ancestral memory as they enjoy the meal.
A traditional, decolonized meal is served, and as elders eat there is a lot of emotional healing that happens in different ways. It is very important for teens to witness this and to understand their own healing path it.
Barriers and Challenges:
Working with both a non-profit and a for-profit bring distinct challenges.
As a for-profit:
It is hard to be a small business owner and keeping legal requirements for doing business. Keeping employees happy while making sure not be spread too thin. There is a large payroll to meet every two weeks and that can be a tremendous challenge.
As a non-profit:
establishing the legal status has taken nearly 2 years.
The goal is to have a bigger team, but to develop the resources to build that team has been difficult because getting funding to scale up isn’t easy.
On the for-profit there are a few revenue sources: the catering organization, Sean’s speaking engagements, and book royalties.
For the nonprofit, there have been about 10 private funders that have got us to this point and we’ve also partnered with the Knight Foundation.
Insights for others:
Nonnatives: It is really important that funders not use the colonial lens. We have to reduce barriers if we’re going to change the dialogue.
For funding in tribal communities, you can’t look at the USDA nutritional chart. The wild foods are nutrient dense, and rather than eating the canned foods there should be access to wild foods. You need to look at it through this different lens.
Listen to native people, and understand truly what their needs are to move the dial quickly.
If you’re thinking about seeing change in one lifetime... You probably won’t see the fruits of labor.
Funders will increase impact if they can look at the long game.