Elena Terry, Wisconsin Dells-based chef, was a founding member of Ho-Chunk Nation. Wild BeariesAn organization which helps Indigenous peoples heal and learn through their ancestral foods. She’s a seed-to-table chef, which means she grows her own food. “I can’t go to the grocery store and buy everything I need,” Terry told HuffPost. “It’s the definition, and then some, of slow food.” Before becoming a chef, Terry studied political science and philosophy and worked as a tribal legislator. But one day she decided, “This is not me.” She started working in restaurants, and then created her own business.
In the past year, she’s helped chef friends like Sean Sherman(The Sioux Chef). Crystal WahpepahOpen their Indigenous restaurants in Minneapolis or Oakland. With Thanksgiving coming up, she said she doesn’t acknowledge the holiday anymore but she celebrates the day after, known as Ho-Chunk Day, a time for reclamation of Indigenous history, heritage and space. For HuffPost’s Voices In FoodReiheTerry spoke to Garin PirniaAbout Indigenous restaurants and how environmental decisions can affect agriculture.
Food as medicine is something that is trendy, but for me, it isn’t like that at all. It is the act of creating, acquiring and maintaining relationships within my community that I believe is the medicine. We have suffered a lot of loss because of addiction and substance-abuse issues, and Wild Bearies is a mentorship program for people overcoming substance abuse issues or emotional trauma, and with that umbrella in the community, it’s something that’s relatable to anybody, on some level. We’re just here to cook together and to share meals with our community and support each other.
[Indigenous people]There are a few ingredients that you can use. These ingredients must be foraged, grown, or made by only a few people with the necessary knowledge. That’s one of the reasons we do as much work as we do, to support the growers and the ranchers and foragers and [show that] we can’t do our work without them. I love knowing where my corn comes from or who harvested my wild rice, and it’s building relationships with those individuals and saying, “I see the work you do. I’m willing to compensate you because there’s nobody who does it the same.” When you cook with them, you can’t help but think of your friends who made that product and how much care they put into it, whether it was planting seeds or canoeing out in the waters and then processing it. It’s all contributing to the nourishment that meal gives you, and for me that healing and nourishment comes in the preparation and processing. I’m blessed to be able to be the last person to come in contact with those ingredients, and hopefully in that bite you can appreciate all of the intention and mindfulness that went into not only acquiring or producing each ingredient, but in representing it as a collective bite from everyone contributing.
[At the Indigenous restaurant] OwamniI had the opportunity to join Sean’s team as a prep cook and support the other staff members. [Sherman]they had put in place and that I was available to help with recipe development and give some advice. He could always count on me to help him with whatever problem he had. His vision and his ideology, when it comes to food, are different from mine, as they should be ― we should have different views on the way we approach food. It is an amazing learning opportunity to be able take a decolonized view of food. It is amazing to witness how different people approach the same ingredient in different ways. We want the word to spread. [through restaurants]That we’re still around and that our food is good. Oklahoma City’s First Americans Museum has an Indigenous caféThere are many. Albuquerque’s Indian Pueblo Cultural Center has an Indigenous caféIt is. I know we are trying to get exposed a little bit more and be a little bit more accessible, but also with respect to being able to provide for our communities that we live in and make sure those foods are accessible to them ― because it’s really about sustainability and continuity in our food sources.
The weather was terrible. wild rice yearIt is. That was partly because many of these lakes were used for pipelining. They were valuable resources for people for hundreds of generations to sustain themselves. We have to battle people who don’t have good intentions just to preserve that ― not even to say, “What you are doing is wrong and you can’t do it.” But to say “leave us our lakes” is hard. On one hand, we’re making small progress in very visible small areas, but in other areas we’re not making any progress at all, and people are still deeply affected by the environmental issues and will be significantly [affected]You will be able to do this for many more years. The small things make a big difference. We hope that people see the importance of changing the way they live and the value of the land.
I’m incredibly blessed to be doing this. You can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t get the opportunity to visit all over the country and make delicious meals with close friends. It’s a space for healing and it makes my heart feel good to be doing this work and supporting others doing it in the same way. If you can appreciate your traditional food systems ― whether it’s Italian or Greek ― a little bit more because of the work I do and the connections I have, then we are all working to be healthier and stronger.