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A movement is occurring to bring back the nutritional foods that were eaten years ago.

It’s called food sovereignty and it’s an effort being conducted by the Ho-Chunk Nation.

As a part of that effort, an “Indigenous Banquet” was served on Friday, Nov. 30, at the House of Wellness in Baraboo.

World-renowned Chef Sean Sherman and Chef Dana Thompson were at the center of the event, providing direction and catering the meal. After the meal, Chef Sherman, also known as the Sioux Chef, provided a talk on natural foods and its benefits. After the meal, he signed copies of his book, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.”

The meal was called “Moon When the Deer Lose Their Antlers Feast.”

On the menu were venison and wild rice, smoked turkey and sweet potato, hominy and dandelion pesto, wild rice and cranberry, roasted squash and pepitas, ancient grain and green salad, vegetable platters, blue corn maple pudding bites, sunflower cookie, and cedar maple tea.

The day was filled with native heritage activities, with Levi and Verna Blackdeer providing a display of their naturally-tanned deer hides and Heritage Preservation Director Jon Greendeer offering demonstrations outside on deer hide scraping, smoking, and curing. The deer butchering portion was canceled because a deer the presenter was not able to harvest a deer in time for the event.

Rebecca Davis was in charge of the “Appetizer Challenge,” a competition of small samplings of foods created by tribal members.
“It was about food sovereignty, food security, food systems, how these things can benefit our Ho-Chunk people,” said event organizer Melanie Stacy, grants assistant with Ho-Chunk Housing and Community Development Agency (HHCDA).

“That’s where we came up with a theme to get everyone on the same page or to send a unified message. That message is ‘To launch a unified vision – creating a roadmap for the purpose of promoting and living an indigenous lifestyle.’”

Stacy has known Chef Sean since 2014 when he was going to food summits all over the Great Lakes area.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the food sovereignty movement and he’s one of them. We’ve always talked about him coming to Ho-Chunk Nation,” she said. They made an agreement in September 2017 for him to come to the Ho-Chunk Nation.

“In organizing an event like this, I wanted to be sure that it involved community members and the departments that HHCDA works a lot with when it comes to the organic community gardens,” Stacy said.

“So the idea of trying to bring the chef to the Ho-Chunk Nation was talked about by the different community members who participated in the organic community gardens. It was something they wanted. When people in the community request things, I try to make them happen,” she said.

The Appetizer Challenge resulted in eight entries with many using venison and/or wild rice as indigenous ingredients, according to Davis.

Third place was taken by Albert Hindsley, who made an appetizer called “Creator’s Creation.” It consisted of deer meat, spring water, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, honey, and Indian corn. It was a team of not only Albert, but also his father Charlie Hindsley, and brother Calddale Hindsley.

Second place went to Glen DeCora and his appetizer was called “Venison Wild Rice Meatballs” called Venison Wild Rice Meatballs with honey candied cranberries.

First place went to Bow Lucero with wild rice hominy cake and tamales. They each won an apron that was designed by Eliza Green. In addition, the first-place winner received a signed Sioux Chef cookbook by Chef Sean Sherman.

“It was to allow the community tribal members the opportunity to show their talent in cooking with Indigenous ingredients,” Davis said. “We have many excellent cooks in our various communities that are gifted and talented in the kitchen.”

To prove that point, Stacy recruited tribal community members to join Chef Sean as volunteers. They included Rachel Greendeer, C-Ann Cleveland, and Amber Rose. Another local person who helped in the kitchen is Elena Terry, who has cooked for several indigenous food banquets in the area.

The Indigenous Banquet on Nov. 30 is part of a larger program in an effort to increase tribal members’ sovereignty, maintain their cultural backgrounds, and to improve their health.

“What I do with the organic garden project is to train our tribal members to be more sustainable, to gain skills that will help them in their lives,” Stacy said.

If there are any resources within the tribe, she will use those resources, she said. If they are not, then she will go outside of the tribe for funding like from UW-Extension and the People’s Food Co-op in La Crosse.

The People’s Food Co-op, La Crosse, WI, donated $2,000 towards the event. The funds were used to pay for Chef Sean’s meal and presentation.

“HHCDA has worked with the People’s Food Coop on other projects whereas they granted an additional $1,000.00 directly to the HHCDA organic garden projects use,” she said.

The Indigenous meals are connected to a food sovereignty assessment that was conducted Sept. 16, 2017, at General Council.

The first organic community garden was started in 2014, with more developed in Ho-Chuck communities in 2015 and 2016.

“Everything that we do is educating and training our people. From that food sovereignty assessment, it helps to guide us,” Stacy said. “We have strong collaborative relationships with Heritage Preservation and the Health Department.”

Food sovereignty overlays and intertwines with what other departments are doing, such as the Health Department wants to concentrate on the nutritional value and Heritage Preservation wants to concentrate on the cultural aspect.

“The event was important because we needed to get the message to as many Ho-Chunk people as possible in one room, so Chef Sean can do his presentation,” Stacy said

At his presentation, his speech went hand-in-hand with the fact that tribal people were removed from their homes.

“Everybody needs food to live and part of history is the trauma of being removed where normally the people are getting food, either from wild animals or foraging the vegetation. We need to reclaim our food system,” she said. “The Ho-Chunk Nation needs to invest more into agriculture, which promotes an indigenous lifestyle.”

An important message about the food sovereignty lifestyle movement Stacy wants people to know is that they don’t need to be necessarily digging in the dirt and planting seeds. There are plenty of other activities to support such a lifestyle. People who are good with computers can maintain records, create PowerPoint presentations and make web pages. Cooks can prepare the food. Mechanics are needed to maintain the machinery.

“Everyone has talent and gift they can bring to the table. Someone knows how to butcher a deer and tan a hide – those are all things that are going to be needed. Someone who knows the nutritional value of the food and can educate people on policies of food handling is needed,” she said.

She plans to continue to work with the Sioux Chef and the nonprofit NATIF organization that will open in a couple of weeks, equipped with a food laboratory.

“I want to give a huge thank you to HHCDA Board of Commissioners for its support, the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature, and the Health Department, which purchased the cookbooks and the reusable bamboo utensils,” Stacy said.

Written by Ken Luchterhand

Ken Luchterhand is a reporter for Hocak Worak, the newspaper of the Ho Chunk Nation.

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