This week’s Resiliency in Action story feature’s Hillel Echo-Hawk, the visionary behind Birch Basket – an Indigenous foods catering company focusing on pre-colonial foods and education.
For Echo-Hawk, it’s all about the love of food and making it fun and inclusive, “I don’t see myself as a ‘chef.’ In Pawnee, we did not have that hierarchy . . . The way I grew up in kitchens was so loving. In my home, it was so loving and fun and so wonderful. Whenever we would go back to Pawnee it was so wonderful. That is where I got my love for cooking and that is why I wanted to become a cook.”
Echo-Hawk is a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and currently lives in Seattle, Wash. Her story is inspiring and fits well with the mission of the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) and IAC American Indian Foods (AIF) program. Echo-Hawk was also one of the original members of I-Collective, that stands for four principles – Indigenous, Inspired, Innovative and Independent. I-Collective is a group of unique Indigenous food enthusiasts, activists, herbalists, seed, and knowledge keepers.
Knowledge of pre-colonial foods and where she sources food products from are extremely important to Echo-Hawk and central to her efforts, “I use almost exclusively pre-colonial foods, Indigenous and Black-owned farm products when possible.”
Echo-Hawk is passionate about education, travels extensively with her catering and uses social media to express her story. She said many have asked her why we don’t see Native American restaurants throughout the United States, “I say, ‘well, our foods are everywhere. Our foods are in your house right now – 73 percent of the world’s food is from the United States. The Americas. So, you’re eating our foods every day.”
Elevating Indigenous foods is a process with ample barriers, she admitted. Still, they are barriers she is willing to face every day, “There have been many times when I have been designing a menu, whether it’s for a special event or a large catering event, or something of that nature, and I want to use a special kind of corn or a special kind of berry or something like that and I have to go to a Tribal producer. I have to ask an Auntie if I can use theirs. I say, ‘I’ll trade you such and such for such and such.’ It’s not easy, but in the end, it’s worth it.”
Hillel has so much more to say about why it’s so worth the effort to promote, prepare and love Indigenous foods. Listen to Hillel and Electa’s inspiring visit on this wonderful podcast:
Follow the IAC AIF program:
Be inspired by Birch Basket efforts:
Birch Basket in the News!