This past month has had a spectrum of challenges and accomplishments when it comes to my own personal development and leadership style. I am just back from a week of events in Chicago surrounding my James Beard Foundation Leadership Award, which I shared with some amazing people doing amazing work around agriculture and food systems. It was amazing to meet these leaders, especially Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farms and Cornelius Blanding from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, they were such an inspiration to witness their passion and drive to help others while bringing awareness to culturally relevant issues in the food world. It was great to get to know and also talk about the work me and my team are working on with our non-profit and find all the commonalities and parallel paths we walk as we strive for a better and more equitable future with access to healthy foods and education. It was also great to see my friend and colleague Michael Twitty who was able to present me and my award at our award show. To be able to stand out as a chef and leader in the culinary world on a National and International scale is huge for us, and the doors that are opening for us we do not take for granted. I am beyond honored to accept the James Beard Leadership Award along side other recipients like Michelle Obama, Michale Pollen, and others.
The other event this past month that energized me and my team so much was called the Great Lakes Intertribal Food Summit which happened on the tribal lands of the Pokagen Band of Potawatomi. This was the 4th annual gathering of this event and it brought in close to 700 people from across North America with many communities being represented. It also brought in almost 60 Native Chefs from Mexico through Alaska. My role at this event is a leader, mentor, friend and fellow chef, and it was great to work alongside and help guide so many aspiring culinary people who are also leaders in their own communities as they explore the impact indigenous foods can and will have, and helping to develop their skills with our experiences and guidance. The influence we’ve had in just a few years and how fast the indigenous food movement is growing could really be seen at this gathering. We processed a full bison, a full elk, 16 beavers, 6 geese, 10 ducks, 8 squirrels, on top of hundreds of pounds of native corns, hickory nuts, acorns, berries, and all of the foraged items that are just now in season like wild ramps, cattails, cedar, pine, wintergreen, garlic chives, etc. It was a full three full days of non stop indigenous food knowledge being shared amongst seed keepers, farmers, ethnobotanists, chefs, academics, tribal leaders, non profit leaders, authors, poets, and friends. I was happy to focus on culinary development and mentorship, working with people from age ranges of 11-80, and myself learning so much from all of the traditions, techniques, stories, flavors, and styles being shared. My team has been leaders in this event since its inception 4 years ago, molding and challenging others to strive for creativity and pushing the limits on what we can do with our Indigenous Foods and have seen the summit double in size almost every year. So much of this type of education is what I strive to creat for The Indigenous Food Lab with its education focus. There is such an immense need for Indigenous focussed education on a global scale to help us reconnect and revitalize our environments and practices creating healthy accessible foods to all peoples. I still have 22+ travel events before December which will take me to many different communities that I will be able to reach out to, teach, and learn from. The passion of connecting all of these amazing diverse networks and making our vision a reality along with all of the partners and supporters we will encounter helps motivate and drive us set the tone for those to come after us.