The Sioux Chef Speaks in Westchester About Restoring Indigenous Foodways

Sioux Chef Sean Sherman with JHC Board member Lori Fontanes in our own outdoor classrooms at the Jay Estate Gardens

On November 5, Sean Sherman, the award-winning author and founder of North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NĀTIFS), gave a riveting presentation at the Jay Heritage Center in Rye, New York. He spoke about restoring Indigenous foodways in North America. As part of his talk to an audience of more than 90 people, Sherman reviewed the impact of colonialism on Native peoples in America over the centuries. Using maps and timelines, he referenced the myriad and chronic challenges to tribal autonomy and described the economic and health crises affecting Indigenous groups.

What are Indigenous foodways? They are customs and culinary practices. Sherman underscored how the occupants of Native Lands had been systematically deprived of more sustainable nutrition models for themselves and their families. What Indigenous foodways were erased, compromised or diluted by colonialism? Sherman gave numerous examples. Seed-saving, mycology, permaculture, use of wild foods, land stewardship, hunting and preservation of food are all skills which he hopes to help reintroduce to young people in both indoor and outdoor food classrooms.

Sherman’s message was sobering yet hopeful. He shared his vision for creating a new food system that generates wealth and improves diets in Native populations through food-related enterprises. He encouraged the audience to reimagine a nonprofit initiative to address past injustices. He suggests training youth in entrepreneurship, establishing satellite Indigenous eateries and expanding regional access to traditional resources. Sherman’s restaurant Owamni shines an especially bright light on the path forward. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation named it the best new restaurant in the United States.  “Every dish is made without wheat flour, dairy, cane sugar, black pepper, or any other ingredient introduced to this continent after Europeans arrived.”

Earlier in the afternoon, author and JHC Board member Lori Fontanes showed Chef Sherman new Jay Estate Gardens. The vegetable beds there are our own response to educating the community about the historic foodways that predated fast food and pre-packaged meals. Fontanes later moderated the Q&A session that followed the program. Chef Sherman also autographed copies of his best-selling book The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen for many appreciative attendees. With Sherman’s goal to create regional educational center points everywhere, one can only hope that a Hudson Valley or Westchester Indigenous Food Lab is in our future! Watch the full program here.

Sherman’s talk built upon several other recent JHC programs about Indigenous history presented by historian Heather Breugl and O’Neill Fellow Fenway Donegan.

More about Sean Sherman

In addition to all his many accolades, Sherman is the 2023 recipient of the Julia Child Award, recognizing those who have had an impact on the American culinary scene. “Through his travels, Chef Sherman has had the opportunity to build deep connections with tribal communities, academic institutions, culinary leaders, and thought leaders from local to international. He’s witnessed the varying degrees of Indigenous food knowledge across many communities and has seen the need for change apparent everywhere. Through speaking engagements, community dinners, and culinary classes, along with social media and his James Beard Award-winning cookbook—The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen—he’s been able to influence many of these communities directly to affect change. Along with co-founding a restaurant in Minneapolis, Owamni, that focuses on Indigenous foods, Chef Sherman has seen the need for infrastructure to support Indigenous foodways across the United States, North America and the globe. His nonprofit, NATIFS, and its Indigenous Food Lab, a professional Indigenous Kitchen and Training Center, are working to build and support an Indigenous infrastructure, create a center for Indigenous Education, and promote the creation and maintenance of healthy food access throughout Indigenous communities.”
Mr. Sherman is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He believes that incorporating authentic Indigenous recipes into our diets using native fruits, herbs and vegetables can provide both an education about our shared culinary heritage while also being more healthful and tasty. “Our ancestors understood how to live in balance with the natural world. Indigenous foods are the original foods of this continent. It’s important we recognize that and start celebrating those foods.”

Photos by Kim Crichlow