Exploring Indigenous Foodways

What did food sovereignty look like in Virginia prior to the arrival of Europeans?  Why have Native American foodways changed so dramatically? And how are Indigenous communities building healthy, just, food systems today?

In October, our Food & Community project set out to explore these questions through a series of workshops with leaders in Indigenous Food Sovereignty from tribes around Virginia and beyond. The workshops culminated in a feast of precolonial foods for 200 people attending the 2-day food symposium Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty, which our Food & Community Project was a partner in designing and hosting at the University of Virginia.

Heritage O’odham beans simmer in the pot while Seminole Pumpkins begin to roast on the coals.
Foraging workshop participants gather to learn about the wild, native plants and nuts they’ll be harvesting.

Workshop participants gathered and harvested native foods and prepared them over fire, using traditional methods. Together, they created a meal based on ancestral foodways that showcased what food sovereignty can look – and taste – like.

David Perry (far left) a local forager and David Rico (far right) a member of the I-Collective and Indigenous chef, lead one of the many small groups into the forest to forage.

As participants foraged hickory nuts, wild persimmons, wild onion, violet leaves, dock, they  rocked back on their heels and about identity, indigeneity, naturalization, the human impact on ecological evolution, social constructs around food, and what “food sovereignty” means. At the first global forum on food sovereignty in Mali, in 2007, the Declaration of Nyéléni was written, stating, “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”

During the meal, the chefs spoke about their work in food sovereignty while a photo essay of the foraging, gathering, processing, and cooking of the food being served was displayed. (See gallery below.)

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.

View these photos and more on Flickr »

  • Wild persimmons harvested during the foraging workshop. The persimmons were made into a sweet/tart gravy for the fire-smoked turkey. One of the last fruits available in the fall, persimmon cannot be successfully harvested until a very heavy frost. 

11/16/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    Wild persimmons harvested during the foraging workshop. The persimmons were made into a sweet/tart gravy for the fire-smoked turkey. One of the last fruits available in the fall, persimmon cannot be successfully harvested until a very heavy frost. 11/16/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • This Hen of the Woods - a mushroom found at the base of oak trees - was wild-harvested in North Garden, VA and fire-cooked during the Indigenous Foodways Workshops. Also known as "Maitake", the mushroom can grow to be up to 50 lbs.

11/17/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    This Hen of the Woods - a mushroom found at the base of oak trees - was wild-harvested in North Garden, VA and fire-cooked during the Indigenous Foodways Workshops. Also known as "Maitake", the mushroom can grow to be up to 50 lbs. 11/17/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • Workshop participant harvests wild violet leaves for a dish of sautéed greens. The Foraging for Indigenous Wild Edibles Workshop focused exclusively on forest, field, and stream foods that are native to North America. Wild violet leaves are rich in Vitamins A and C, and rutin.  

11/16/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    Workshop participant harvests wild violet leaves for a dish of sautéed greens. The Foraging for Indigenous Wild Edibles Workshop focused exclusively on forest, field, and stream foods that are native to North America. Wild violet leaves are rich in Vitamins A and C, and rutin. 11/16/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • M. Karlos Baca of the I-Collective explains why participants in the Wild Foraging for Indigenous Wild Edibles Workshop would focus exclusively on native foods. The discussion of indigeneity opened up beyond the human impact on ecological evolution, to  address genocide, food warfare, racism, ecocide, historical trauma, and healing community through food and foodways.

11/16/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    M. Karlos Baca of the I-Collective explains why participants in the Wild Foraging for Indigenous Wild Edibles Workshop would focus exclusively on native foods. The discussion of indigeneity opened up beyond the human impact on ecological evolution, to address genocide, food warfare, racism, ecocide, historical trauma, and healing community through food and foodways. 11/16/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • Workshop participants prepare to process hickory nuts gathered on site. Hickory nuts are a traditionally important source of fat and protein over the winter. Afton, VA

11/17/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    Workshop participants prepare to process hickory nuts gathered on site. Hickory nuts are a traditionally important source of fat and protein over the winter. Afton, VA 11/17/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • Hillel Echo-Hawk (Pawnee/Athabaskan) introduces her perspective on foraging for wild edibles. Workshop participants gathered food for the feast that would feed 200 guests at the UVA symposium on food sovereignty.

Afton, VA
11/16/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    Hillel Echo-Hawk (Pawnee/Athabaskan) introduces her perspective on foraging for wild edibles. Workshop participants gathered food for the feast that would feed 200 guests at the UVA symposium on food sovereignty. Afton, VA 11/16/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • A group of foragers heads off in search of hickory nuts, to make a traditional hickory nut milk. Notoriously difficult to shell, hickory nuts are hulled, cracked open, and boiled to make the nut milk. According to Monacan Foodways tradition keeper, Victoria Ferguson, "The nuts were roasted on the flat stones to help keep the oils from going rancid so fast during long periods of storage.  The hickory nuts would be cracked open and boiled in water in clay vessels.  The boiled nuts milk would become thicker and creamier as the fat cooked out of the nuts.  The warm nut milk provided important fat calories."

Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    A group of foragers heads off in search of hickory nuts, to make a traditional hickory nut milk. Notoriously difficult to shell, hickory nuts are hulled, cracked open, and boiled to make the nut milk. According to Monacan Foodways tradition keeper, Victoria Ferguson, "The nuts were roasted on the flat stones to help keep the oils from going rancid so fast during long periods of storage. The hickory nuts would be cracked open and boiled in water in clay vessels. The boiled nuts milk would become thicker and creamier as the fat cooked out of the nuts. The warm nut milk provided important fat calories." Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • Hillel Echo-Hawk (Pawnee/Athabaskan), David Rico (Choctaw), Martin Saniga (Sappony), Diana Gates (Nottoway), Rufus Elliot (Monacan), M. Karlos Baca (Tewa/Diné/Nuche) discussing Indigenous foodways

11/17/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    Hillel Echo-Hawk (Pawnee/Athabaskan), David Rico (Choctaw), Martin Saniga (Sappony), Diana Gates (Nottoway), Rufus Elliot (Monacan), M. Karlos Baca (Tewa/Diné/Nuche) discussing Indigenous foodways 11/17/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • Yigal Deutscher of Farfields Farm welcomes Indigenous Foodways Workshop participants to the land, recognizing that the farm is located on Monacan Territory. 

11/16/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    Yigal Deutscher of Farfields Farm welcomes Indigenous Foodways Workshop participants to the land, recognizing that the farm is located on Monacan Territory. 11/16/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • Seminole Pumpkins contributed by Rufus Elliot (Monacan) from the Monacan Tribal Garden. The pumpkins were coal-roasted and then added to the corn soup.

11/17/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    Seminole Pumpkins contributed by Rufus Elliot (Monacan) from the Monacan Tribal Garden. The pumpkins were coal-roasted and then added to the corn soup. 11/17/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • I-Collective Chef M. Karlos Baca adjusts the fire around a pot of slow-cooking heritage Tepary beans.

The day-long outdoor cooking workshop was led by members of the I-Collective - an autonomous group of 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 the Indigenous community's resilience and innovations in gastronomy, agriculture, the arts, and society at large. 

11/17/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    I-Collective Chef M. Karlos Baca adjusts the fire around a pot of slow-cooking heritage Tepary beans. The day-long outdoor cooking workshop was led by members of the I-Collective - an autonomous group of 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 the Indigenous community's resilience and innovations in gastronomy, agriculture, the arts, and society at large. 11/17/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • The corn nixtamalization workshop was led by Hillel Echo-Hawk (Pawnee/Athabaskan) of the I-Collective. 

Hardwood ash was used to process Pueblo hominy for corn soup. Nixtamalized corn increases its nutritional value and improves flavor, aroma and texture. The alkaline processing also makes niacin bio-available, helping to prevent pellagra. When corn became a staple crop cultivated by non-Indigenous people, the nixtamalization process was often skipped, and pellagra became an epidemic - especially in the southern United States.

11/17/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    The corn nixtamalization workshop was led by Hillel Echo-Hawk (Pawnee/Athabaskan) of the I-Collective. Hardwood ash was used to process Pueblo hominy for corn soup. Nixtamalized corn increases its nutritional value and improves flavor, aroma and texture. The alkaline processing also makes niacin bio-available, helping to prevent pellagra. When corn became a staple crop cultivated by non-Indigenous people, the nixtamalization process was often skipped, and pellagra became an epidemic - especially in the southern United States. 11/17/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • Slow cooking heritage white Tepary beans from the Akimel O’Odham (River People, Pima), with spice bush twigs wild harvested in Afton, VA for seasoning. 

Selected from the wild species growing in the Sonoran Desert and cultivated for at least a thousand years by the Natives of the Sonoran desert, the Akimel O'odham and Tohono O'odham - who continue to grow them on their reservation lands with summer rainfall in arroyos and limited irrigation along the Gila River - the Tepary bean is believed to be the world's most drought tolerant bean, and higher in fiber and protein than most other beans with a low glycemic index and superior taste.

11/17/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    Slow cooking heritage white Tepary beans from the Akimel O’Odham (River People, Pima), with spice bush twigs wild harvested in Afton, VA for seasoning. Selected from the wild species growing in the Sonoran Desert and cultivated for at least a thousand years by the Natives of the Sonoran desert, the Akimel O'odham and Tohono O'odham - who continue to grow them on their reservation lands with summer rainfall in arroyos and limited irrigation along the Gila River - the Tepary bean is believed to be the world's most drought tolerant bean, and higher in fiber and protein than most other beans with a low glycemic index and superior taste. 11/17/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • Mountainside outdoor kitchen at the Indigenous Foodways Workshop. Smoking local heritage turkeys, cooking Pueblo hominy and Akimel O'odham Tepary beans, coal-roasting Seminole pumpkins, pit filled with coals for slow-roasting 65 lbs of local wild-caught rockfish.

11/17/2018 
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    Mountainside outdoor kitchen at the Indigenous Foodways Workshop. Smoking local heritage turkeys, cooking Pueblo hominy and Akimel O'odham Tepary beans, coal-roasting Seminole pumpkins, pit filled with coals for slow-roasting 65 lbs of local wild-caught rockfish. 11/17/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • 200 guests gathered for a free, public feast of precolonial foods prepared by the I-Collective and participants in the Indigenous Foodways Workshops. 

University of Virginia Food Symposium, Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty

11/18/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    200 guests gathered for a free, public feast of precolonial foods prepared by the I-Collective and participants in the Indigenous Foodways Workshops. University of Virginia Food Symposium, Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty 11/18/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • Hand harvested wild rice (Fond du Lac Reservation), wild harvested chickweed, cranberries, and vinaigrette made with local maple syrup.

University of Virginia Food Symposium, Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty

11/18/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    Hand harvested wild rice (Fond du Lac Reservation), wild harvested chickweed, cranberries, and vinaigrette made with local maple syrup. University of Virginia Food Symposium, Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty 11/18/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • Volunteers at the food symposium served the meal of precolonial foods based on ancestral foodways for 200 guests at the University of Virginia Food Symposium, Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty.


11/18/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    Volunteers at the food symposium served the meal of precolonial foods based on ancestral foodways for 200 guests at the University of Virginia Food Symposium, Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty. 11/18/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • The menu consisted of only foods that are native to North America... foods that were staples in the diets of Indigenous peoples before the arrival of colonialism.

*Corn soup with heritage white Tepary beans from the Akimel O'odham, Seminole pumpkins from the Monacan Tribal Garden, Pueblo hominy, Hen of the Woods mushroom wild-harvested in North Garden, VA, garlic chives wild harvested in Afton, VA

*Fire-smoked local heritage turkey with wild persimmon gravy

*Ground roasted, locally wild-caught rockfish with wood sorrel

*Hopi blue corn mush with local, wild-harvested pawpaw and blueberries


University of Virginia Food Symposium, Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty

11/18/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    The menu consisted of only foods that are native to North America... foods that were staples in the diets of Indigenous peoples before the arrival of colonialism. *Corn soup with heritage white Tepary beans from the Akimel O'odham, Seminole pumpkins from the Monacan Tribal Garden, Pueblo hominy, Hen of the Woods mushroom wild-harvested in North Garden, VA, garlic chives wild harvested in Afton, VA *Fire-smoked local heritage turkey with wild persimmon gravy *Ground roasted, locally wild-caught rockfish with wood sorrel *Hopi blue corn mush with local, wild-harvested pawpaw and blueberries University of Virginia Food Symposium, Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty 11/18/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos
  • M. Karlos Baca (Tewa/Diné/Nuche), Rufus Elliot (Monacan), Hillel Echo-Hawk (Pawnee/Athabaskan) and David Rico (Choctaw) share an Indigenous perspective on food sovereignty at the University of Virginia Food Symposium, Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty.

11/18/2018
Photo credit: Ézé Amos
    M. Karlos Baca (Tewa/Diné/Nuche), Rufus Elliot (Monacan), Hillel Echo-Hawk (Pawnee/Athabaskan) and David Rico (Choctaw) share an Indigenous perspective on food sovereignty at the University of Virginia Food Symposium, Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty. 11/18/2018 Photo credit: Ézé Amos