Mariah Gladstone and Eva Burk are making some major impacts with their local Tribal communities while gathering global attention towards their efforts as Indigenous Communities Fellowship Finalists in the MIT Solve Challenge. The challenge is about applying community-based solutions to 20th Century problems.
“It’s about grounding our knowledge in the community we come from and basing solutions on things we see every day,” Gladstone explained. “It’s also about modern technology and examining ancestral technologies and the ways those can provide us with the solutions we need now.”
The team at the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) are beaming with pride to be associated with these powerful women, making a big difference. Gladstone is one of IAC's very own Native Youth Food Sovereignty Alliance (NYFSA) board members and Eva Burk is an IAC Inter-institutional Network for Food, Agriculture and Sustainability (INFAS) fellowship recipient.
Mariah Gladstone is a member of the Blackfeet and Cherokee Nation in Babb, Mont. She is the visionary behind Indigikitchen, an online cooking show dedicated to re-indigenizing diets using digital media.
“We have a diet related health crisis in Indian Country and I wanted to increase access to healthy, affordable foods given the history of disconnection from our food system and the intentional disruption of indigenous diets to control Native people,” Gladstone explained.
With the near elimination of the bison, burning of Native lands, damming of rivers that disrupted fish migration patterns and other cataclysmic, environmental disruptions and abuse, Gladstone said the timing is now to help Native people all across the continental U.S. who have had a, “severe dependence on subsidized food systems since the late 1800s. I also recognized that we have not been preparing our Traditional foods as much and that healthy, affordable foods have been hard to come by.”
Growing up, Gladstone said, “We were a family privileged enough to be in a food coop. I was also allowed to experiment a lot in the kitchen as a child. My mom taught me fractions by having me double or halve recipes.”
“I could dream up recipes and mom would say, ‘That’s fine, you can experiment, you just need to write down everything you put in the bowl.’ So, I have recipes written in marker with some major misspellings. But that was the freedom I had as a kid to get comfortable with building things in the kitchen and exploring flavors.”
Building and exploring set Gladstone on a course to earn her undergraduate degree in Environmental Engineering. Her graduate work is in Environmental Science and she continues her Indigenous food education efforts alongside her studies, “I started Indigikitchen in 2016 jokingly saying at the Native Food Conference, ‘I am going to have to start a cooking show.’’’
She started by making short, social media videos with information that was easy to digest, “I wanted to use our ancestral foods in traditional recipes. But I also wanted to take foods that Native people have cultivated and turn them into 21st Century dishes like making zucchini noodles, bell peppers, Indigenous seafood and adding peanuts to make Indigenous Pad Thai. I want to reimagine traditional foods in our modern kitchens while restoring health. I want to make food that Native moms can prepare for their kids when they get home from work.”
Gladstone said it’s all about focusing on Traditional foods along with ecological knowledge, “Knowing where our food comes from makes us more willing to take care of those spaces. Land management is so essential.”
Eva Dawn Burk is a member of the Denaakk’e and Lower Tanana Dene’ Athasbascan and is also Irish. Based out of Fairbanks, Alaska, Burk has a background in engineering and returned to her Native roots after working in the oil and gas industry. Her graduate work is in Natural Resources Management studying sustainable agriculture and rural development. Burk is investigating Healing through Food and Culture. She understands the health of the land, animals and people are connected.
“I grew up going to fish camp in Alaska. We have one of the last wild runs of King Salmon,” she explained that this is where she learned about dealing with regulations, climate extremes and poor fish runs. “You can see the writing on the wall. Climate change is impacting our traditional foods and our ability to harvest them. We have to adapt in Alaska. Agriculture is not in our main toolbox and we need a lot of education and awareness.”
Burk maintains her rural connection to the village by living what she calls, “A bit of a nomadic lifestyle. I travel with the seasons.”
“There are 229 tribes in villages across Alaska,” she went on to explain, noting they are all different with various approaches. “We need leadership, team structure, collaboration and to pool resources. My work is in the conceptual stage of putting this teamwork structure together. Each village in Alaska has a village corporation that owns land. So, as a shareholder, I own 200 acres and my village owns over 138,000 acres. We are not taking advantage of it.”
“You can have all these agricultural initiatives, but if the Tribe does not have the capacity to write grants and put a business plan together, they need someone to come in and help put together a prototype,” Burk admitted. “You also need people to champion the project and dedicate time and energy to keep it operating, even in tough times. The communities most successful with agriculture incorporate it into the local school curriculum.”
Among her many dreams for her Tribe are to work on greenhouse infrastructure and to collaborate with other tribes to share strategies and help improve food systems, “That is where I see my role – becoming that community champion, developing teamwork, structure and youth and Elder involvement. It takes a community to pull something like this off. It requires collective action.”
Burk closed the conversation with enthusiasm, “This is a movement and we’re beginning to add fire to the movement.”
How can you show your support and vote for Eva or Mariah’s presentations?
VOTE HERE by scrolling all the way down and finding their presentations: https://solve.mit.edu/finalists
“Solve is an initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a mission to solve world challenges. Solve is a marketplace for social impact innovation. Through open innovation challenges, Solve finds incredible tech-based social entrepreneurs all around the world. Solve then brings together MIT’s innovation ecosystem and a community of members to fund and support these entrepreneurs to help them drive lasting, transformational impact. Join Solve on this journey at solve.mit.edu.”
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