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Gather: The truth and struggle behind Native American food culture

by Stephanie Phelan
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As part of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, there was a screening of the film “Gather” on Saturday, January 9th 2021.

Gather shows the Native American struggle to remain sovereign. This documentary wonderfully weaves personal stories with archival footage that exposes the continued violence against these Native Americans.

The historical struggle

For food, the Native American culture once relied on buffalo. They would remain sustainable with their practices; using all parts of the buffalo. Meat for food, skins for tepees, fur for robes, and anything else was for tools and things needed for everyday life…bones and horns were used to make hoes, digging sticks, hide working tools, cups, and spoons. By the end of the 19th century, the military had slaughtered roughly 60 million buffalo in an overbearing, and brutal attempt towards Native Americans in order to get them to submit to governmental policies. 

Only 10% of Native Americans have survived the genocide they are still facing. 

Food sovereignty means freedom for many people. Unfortunately, many of these Native American tribes now live in “food deserts”. They were stripped of their original food sources and now are forced to eat heavily processed foods, the only food available in these areas. There is a great amount of research showing how prevalent diabetes is in the western diet and how our youth is suffering.

The documentary follows members of four different tribes as they use their individual interests to work with community members to reclaim or preserve their cultural traditions.

  • Nephi Craig, a White Mountain Apache chef, is trying to combat food insecurity in his community by opening a restaurant that uses Apache-grown produce in innovative dishes.
  • Elsie Dubray, a 17-year-old member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, uses her passion for science to analyze the benefits of a traditional buffalo-based diet as compared with a modern beef-based one.
  • Sam Gensaw, a Yurok Tribe member, leads a group of teenagers in the preservation of the salmon fishing traditions of their tribe
  • Twila Cassadore, a master forager of the San Carlos Apache, works to introduce ancient medicinal and food practices to the youth in her community.

There are tangible losses associated with colonization and urban sprawling — land, homes and people. And there are also the intangible losses — language, designs and cultural practices.

Indigenous people have rights to the practices in which they have always cherished. The documentary shows how Native Americans have even struggled with preserving their culture and native artifacts. Museums have captured these artifacts and preserved them with chemicals, making them unhealthy for humans to even touch. For a culture enriched by spirituality, traditions, and connection – this is devastating.

These types of documentaries are a great way to get an inside look on how specific cultures live, so we can build empathy and understand the issues. Another great film included with Amazon prime is What Was Ours. It tells the story of a young journalist and powwow princess of the Arapaho tribe.

Watch – Gather. Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes. Rent or buy on iTunes or Amazon. Director: Sanjay Rawal



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