The association, “Wild Bearies,” has been cooking indigenous cuisines for community events around Wisconsin for almost a year now. The division that is Wild Bearies is made up of individuals from all walks of life. At the head of the operation is Elena Terry who aims to lend a helping hand to those whose lives have fallen into dissonance.
“That’s why I started Wild Bearies, everyone kind of stumbles sometimes in life and some people get incredibly disconnected from the community when that happens – for whatever reason, the stigma or personal feelings that they have about coming back to the community,” Terry explains.
“One thing that unifies us is food and being tied through indigenous food is a great way to have ownership again and to be a part of something bigger.
Terry works for the Intertribal Ag Council of the Great Lakes region and draws inspiration from working with her mentors Chef Sean Sherman and Chef Loretta Oden, and co-owner of the indigenous restaurant Tocabe, Ben Jocobs, as a part of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA).
“Wild Bearies came from my first trip out to a NAFSA summit in Tama and being able to see how excited everyone was about the food and to be able to see the pride that came and service made me think, what can I do for my community that will make it a little bit better for people?” Terry asked.
Currently, Wild Bearies has 12 community participants that regularly help with caterings. In order to participate in Wild Bearies, Terry asks of a commitment which includes recorded kitchen hours, food preservation hours, community outreach hours, and gardening and harvesting hours. Once participants have shown adherence to their given responsibilities, they will receive a chef’s coat symbolic of the discipline and dedication demonstrated.
Through Wild Bearies, Elena Terry teaches participants the knowledge she learned from her years of work in the culinary industry and from the lessons she learned from her grandmother.
“My grandma taught me how to process everything from muskrats to turtles,” Terry said.
“We dried squash, we did turtles, fish, and turkey,” she said. “She showed me how to do it. It’s just something that I’ve always enjoyed doing with her, so we kept it up over the years.”
Terry has high hopes for the Ho-Chunk Nation’s involvement with the food sovereignty movement, and what revisiting traditional Ho-Chunk foods can mean for its tribal members.
“We need to teach a little more on foraging and medicines, and food is medicine. We are in a little bit of a state of disarray where we are almost losing entire generations to dependency issues. Food is a great way to reconnect, not only that but the more that we invest into our food, like our heirloom corn that is Ho-Chunk corn or Ho-Chunk squash that had been grown centuries ago,” she said.
“The more life that food has. The more attention we pay to it, the more we use it, the more chance of sustainability it has,” Terry said.
Terry’s passion for food is reflective of the respect she has for her fellow tribal members and those that have come before her.
“It’s more than nourishing your body, its’s reconnecting to our ancestors, it’s nourishing your spirit and the love that you put into that food gets felt when people eat it,” she said.
In February, Elena Terry will be going to the Menomonee Nation to cook for the Winter Farmers and she will also be visiting Minnesota to prepare food with Chef Sean Sherman for another farmer’s gathering conference. Anyone interested in getting involved with Wild Bearies should speak with her at any of the events they are catering or contact her on the Wild Bearies Facebook page.