“We’re celebrating Apache foodways in a kitchen that was built by Apaches for Apaches,” says White Mountain Apache chef Nephi Craig of Café Gozhóó in the documentary film “Gather.” (Gather)
“You want to attack a people and wipe them out?” White Mountain Apache chef Nephi Craig asks rhetorically in “Gather,” a recently released documentary by Sanjay Rawal. “Attack their food.”
“Gather” explores the growing movement amongst Indigenous peoples across North America to reclaim sovereignty over their ancestral food systems.
“It’s through food ways that we engage in a recovery from historical trauma and promote Indigenous healing and self-determination,” Craig continues.
The film contextualizes the genocide committed against Native Americans by attempting to obliterate their traditional foodways. Meanwhile, “Gather” highlights the pursuit of Native sovereignty and self-sufficiency through the return to traditional food systems. Through the process, the film reveals some professional and entrepreneurial pursuits available within the modern-day food industry — from forager, to farmer/rancher, to chef to restaurant owner.
Craig aims to combat food insecurity in his White Mountain Apache community through a restaurant, Café Gozhóó, which uses Apache-grown produce in innovative dishes. “We’re celebrating Apache foodways in a kitchen that was built by Apaches for Apaches,” he says.
“This was formerly a gas station, but we’re going to take it over, and this is the future site of Café Gozhóó,” Craig says in the documentary, filmed pre-COVID. Café Gozhóó’s construction was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, but plans are not derailed. “We chose the word Gozhóó, because that’s an Apache word that means beauty, harmony, love, happiness — a lot of good things that Café Gozhóó represents,” Craig says in the film.
When Apache people consume their ancestral foods, they reconnect with “ancestral and spiritual knowledge, prayer, time and place,” says Craig, who is the Program Coordinator and Executive Chef for the White Mountain Apache Tribe Rainbow Treatment Center’s Nutritional Recovery and its forthcoming Café Gozhóó. Craig is also the founder of the Native American Culinary Association, a network of Native cooks, chefs, scholars, farmers, and community members devoted to the development and preservation of Native American foodways.
Ndée Bíkíyáą, The People’s Farm, a sustainable farming project on the White Mountain Apache Nation in Arizona, will supply the ingredients to Café Gozhóó. Going on its ninth year of operation, Ndée Bíkíyáą serves to reinvigorate local farming practices and to foster entrepreneurship.
“We have committed 24 acres to the cultivation of fruits and vegetables in means of garden beds, orchards and cornfields,” the Ndée Bíkíyáą website states. “A shift away from agriculture among the White Mountain Apache has led to an erosion of cultural identity and epidemic health issues, especially diabetes and obesity. The farm is working on an ambitious goal to revitalize agriculture.”
Desecration of the Buffalo
Over 60 million buffalo were slaughtered by the U.S. government to starve the Plains Indians into submission, “Gather” states.
“We had a self-sufficient economy, and it was all centered around the buffalo. Our teepees were made from buffalo hides,” says Fred DuBray, owner and operator of DuBray Buffalo Ranch on the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation in South Dakota.
“We ate them; they were our food source. We dried the meat and carried it through the winter. And of course the government recognized that. So that’s why they decided: If we can destroy the buffalo, we can bring these people to their knees, and that’s what they set out to do,” DuBray says.
“It was complete devastation without the buffalo,” DuBray continues. “The kind of food the government gives out, the commodity food supply, is just terrible. But people have no choice. If they want to eat, that’s what they get. So the physical realities are hard, but the mental and spiritual part is even worse. Buffalo are basically in the same spot as we are. They were nearly wiped out, too. We need to grow back together, and we can help each other. That’s the way it’s been, since time immemorial.”
His daughter, Elsie DuBray, a then-17-year-old member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Tribe, receives attention in the documentary for channeling her passion for science into analyzing the benefits of a traditional buffalo-based diet as compared with a modern beef-based one.
“Gather” further underscores the impact of colonization and genocide on the Yurok Nation, which calls the Lower Klamath River in Northern California home. A large majority of the 6,200-plus Yurok citizens continue to reside there today. “Ten percent of our population survived genocide, and out of that 10%, we are direct descendants,” Samuel Gensaw, a Yurok Tribal member, says of his people.
“We’re salmon people, and our whole life revolves around the relationship that we have with these salmon. Because we believe, once these salmon disappear, our people follow,” says Gensaw, who leads a group of teenagers in the preservation of the Tribe’s salmon fishing traditions.
In addition to advocating for the preservation of salmon, the Yurok Tribe recently purchased a nursery that will be the home base for a burgeoning Tribal food security program.
Beyond Craig, the DuBray father and daughter, and Gensaw, “Gather” follows Twila Cassadore, a master forager of the San Carlos Apache, as she educates her community about ancestral medicinal and food practices.