“Historically, Indian women have always been the providers of the food,” said Katherine Minthorn, Intertribal Agriculture Council Technical Assistance Specialist and an owner of Rez Chicks Fresh Eggs Cooperative. “Feeding families— as the berry pickers, root diggers, when drying fruits, vegetables, and the meats even— that has always been in the hands or on the backs of the women.”
Rez Chicks is a women-owned and Native-owned business in Pendleton, OR, on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. As founding members, Deborah Harris, Katherine Minthorn, Rachelle “Shelley” Morrison, and Paula Wallis identified a need in their community during stock outages at the beginning of the pandemic. The founding members prioritized raising livestock for production to solve the food availability problem and strengthen food sovereignty.
In April 2020, Rachelle Morrison ordered 28 chicks online. Although they did not have a background in raising chickens, research taught them how to raise free-range chickens and process fresh eggs. Rez Chicks began purchasing the necessary equipment to ensure sanitary conditions and protection for the chickens. On building security following dog attacks on the coop, Minthorn chuckled and said, “It might as well be a prison.”
Locally, they made connections to sell eggs as they built their clientele through word-of-mouth marketing. Production increased at a scale that necessitated recognition as a formal cooperative. By the spring of 2021, Rez Chicks filed with the State of Oregon and received the proper licensure as an established business.
As women who tell our stories, Rez Chicks exemplifies the fortitude of Native women central to agricultural food production. They are dedicated to sharing this work with future generations, and their children assist with production. For strong matriarchs, the continuation of agriculture within their own Tribe and family is truly gratifying.
“It is uplifting to have that support and have someone come to help you,” said Minthorn.