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Indigenous Food Lab revitalizes native foods and education

Dakota Machgan in front of Indigenous Vendor shelf (Jasmin McBride/Center fr Broadcast Journalism)

The Indigenous Food Lab is a project of North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS). NATIFS was founded by Sean Sherman, who won the 2022 James Beard award for Best Chef in the Midwest. Sherman is known locally as The Sioux Chef, and co-owns Owamni restaurant in Minneapolis.

Sherman’s commitment to disrupting the economic and health disparities faced by Native communities inspired him to develop tribally operated kitchens that reintegrate native foods into modern cooking and provide Indigenous-focused education. The Indigenous Food Lab Market, which opened June 1, does just that. The Market is located near Little Earth, an urban native community in Minneapolis.

“It's easy once in a while to find things, you know, wild rice at festivals and all of that. But being able to have everything in one place is so wonderful,” said NATIFS Communication Manager Em Matson.

The Indigenous Food Lab Market offers a variety of menu items with an Indigenous twist. The Market offers Native staples like Manoomin (wild rice), as well as fish, bison, herbs, and fresh fruits. The Market is intentional about sourcing products that reflect cultural traditions that have been all but wiped out.

“I love the bison birria,” said Assistant Kitchen Manager Dakota Machgan. “As someone who is of Dakota ancestry, people have been eating Bison forever, and the government tried to take that away.”

Bison once thrived on Minnesota land before the 1900s. But European settlers overhunted them and the American military nearly exterminated them as a strategic attack against tribes. Now, reintroduction and preservation efforts are underway, with bison herds at Blue Mounds State Park, Minneopa State Park and the Minnesota Zoo. And an increasing number of farms raise bison for their meat.

“We also are starting to offer classes for cooking demonstrations and cultural things like language courses, craft courses, so we're hoping to be like a hub for people to feel comfortable coming here, and just celebrate,” said Matson.

In addition, the market supports Indigenous vendors by stocking their products for the public to purchase.

“We aren't here to make profits. That's not our goal. Our goal is to uplift indigenous vendors–to uplift indigenous and BIPOC voices, who are creators, ” said Dakota. “I love the fact that this is an Indigenous space, but we need them for all. We should have places where we can all go and feel at home–in a place that for a really long time was not meant for us.”

The Indigenous Food Lab is open from 10am to 6pm, Monday through Saturday.

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