There are many things we are busy reclaiming as Native people. Whether it be our minds, homelands, children, language or history, there is always a noble fight to be fought every single day. The same holds true for our connection to food. Before colonization, food was treated as a sacred gift from the Earth. There has always been a deep spiritual component to ourselves, the landscape and what we eat. Everything we did, whether it was ceremony, celebration or our seasonal activities, food was always a main part of our lives.
Lakota chef, Sean Sherman is one of those in our community committed to reclaiming our ancient foods. It began with an interest in developing a Lakota cookbook modernizing Native foods. He found during his research that there was a tremendous lack of information about Indigenous foods. This prompted him to launch his own learning plan to rediscover many of the first foods. He found many resources; bookstores, history centers and online. “I had to dig deep into very old history books to find first account records,” he said. What he found was an abundance of traditional knowledge waiting to be awakened.
Sherman credits his ancestors for being connected to plant life, animals and the environment. He feels that Native people have rich history when it comes to ways of sustaining themselves for generations, “Our ancestors were incredibly intelligent. They understood ancient technology has been working for our people for thousands of years.” This is the knowledge Sherman is using as a foundation his work with Twin Cities Native community to revitalize these old ways of gathering, preparing, preserving and serving these sacred Indigenous staples.
Sherman is finalizing the family style restaurant, The Sioux Chef. He envisions the location to be easily accessible to the Native community, ideally along the American Indian Cultural Corridor on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, with hopes of opening this winter.
The restaurant is set to feature only pre-contact foods of this region. Diners will not find chicken, beef, pork, cheese, wheat or refined sugars at The Sioux Chef. There are restaurants that focus on the foods of the Americas, but this restaurant will be original in using only foods Native to the Minnesota region. Sherman hopes to draw in Natives and non-Natives to his establishment by using simple, natural flavors that are interesting. He strongly believes that the food will speak for itself, “These plants are old relatives, these dishes will bring back some old flavors.”
The Sioux Chef restaurant will be a great opportunity for the collective community to start to reclaim a healthy lifestyle. It may take a little practice to retrain our bodies to remember these foods. Current Native diets are bombarded with fat, sodium, sugar and refined wheat. Sherman recalls growing up with frybread as a main staple, “Frybread pride is ingrained in our community. It’s not healthy.”
He continues by offering a solution, “There’s a wealth of ancestral knowledge out there that’s worthwhile and a lot more healthy and interesting foods that identify with us way more than frybread does.” This restaurant will be a paradigm shift for the Twin Cities Native community.
He sees that elders are struggling with maintaining a healthy lifestyle and the colonized diet fuels many of the problematic health issues for them. Sherman hopes to help our elders reconnect with their traditional diet so they can begin healing their bodies and regaining strength. The realization of remembering our old foods can help our community on the path back to wellness. The Sioux Chef restaurant can provide a space to begin conversations about our people’s path back to wellness.
Sherman also is planning on focusing on the education the Native youth on the incredible gifts we have in our immediate environment. “Getting kids to identify some of these simple things; getting them out running around the woods and come back with a bunch of free food for their family.” He strongly believes that these old foods are a source for our culture as Native people.
By empowering Native youth, these teachings can be revitalized again, Sherman says, “Introducing these foods to our children so they can grow up with it, understand it and know it and know that it belongs to them.”
Rediscovering all the foods that surround the Twin Cities Native community will take a community effort. Sherman credits a couple of partners that he has been able to work with on this journey. Wozupi Tribal Gardens in the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community has been a great ally. Through education, ethical growing practices, and sustainable models, Wozupi produces locally grown whole foods to their community. Dream of Wild Health has also been another organization that Sherman works with his vision for the community. Through their seed collection, youth programming and work in the Twin Cities area, these organizations align perfectly with Sherman’s work.
Looking toward the future, Sherman hopes to spread education through our community. His goal is for people not to confuse colonized foods with our very own traditional foods, he says, “People aren’t going to be confused about what is Native foods.” He offers another traditional belief, “All our foods is medicine.”