Self-trained chef and host of Indigikitchen
Blackfeet Nation in Babb, Montana
I’m excited to invite you to my thoughtful and powerful conversation with Mariah Gladstone, the founder of Indigikitchen. Mariah is a community leader, food sovereignty activist, self-trained chef, and digital entrepreneur. She grew up on and off the Blackfeet Nation Reservation, located near Glacier National Park in Northern Montana. She moved to New York City to get a degree in Environmental Engineering from Columbia University and moved back to New York to attend the masters program at the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at Suny Syracuse. When the pandemic hit in the middle of her program, Mariah and her partner decided to return to the Blackfeet Nation and plant permanent roots. She completed her master’s degree remotely and built Indigikitchen all from her small community of 300.
Indigikitchen is an online cooking platform where Mariah shares both traditional and modern preparations of Indigenous foods. In her cooking presentations Mariah weaves history lessons and ancestral knowledge into the episodes - offering so much more than just cooking demos. Through this work she hopes to build community, help reestablish Native food sovereignty, and provide a library of recipes using traditional Indigenous ingredients that are easily accessible, searchable, and shareable online.
Mariah's passion for cooking was nurtured from an early age. Her mother was initially inspired to teach Mariah how to cook because she heard that kids who learn how to use recipes are better at fractions. However, cooking became an outlet for her creatively as well. She remembers as a kid having dreams at night about new recipes that she would then experiment with upon waking up.
At Columbia, Mariah decided to study alternative energy and environmental engineering due to the devastating effects of fracking she witnessed at home. Her studies were originally fueled by her desire to find a job that would bring her back to the reservation to do good in her community. She knew that she wanted to help make a difference and find solutions to fix the myriad of environmental problems caused by the oil and gas industry in Montana.
Despite New York's reputation as a cultural mecca of international cuisine, Mariah desperately missed the traditional foods she was accustomed to. None of which could be found in the city. She recalls once flying with frozen packs of wild game in her suitcase just to bring a little taste of home back with her.
After completing her degree, Mariah moved back to Montana to find work. However, many of the oil and gas leases had been canceled while she was away. So, she took work in engineering management, political organizing, and even did a stint working in the governor's office of Indian affairs.
One week, Mariah took some time off to attend a food sovereignty conference. The experience awoke a passion in her, and she recognized the tremendous need for Native people to rebuild their local food systems and regain access to and knowledge of traditional foods. Colonization intentionally wiped out access to culturally appropriate foods for Native communities and instead imposed government food programs and subsidies that incentivized eating harmful processed foods. With that shift, came a lesser reliance on natural food systems, which has had devastating health consequences. For example, in Mariah's home state of Montana, Native populations have a life expectancy 20 years less than the non-Native population, much of which can be tied to diet related disease and illness.
Mariah's new calling inspired her to start a cooking show. It didn't matter to her that she she didn’t have any professional media or cooking experience. Instead, she was guided by her desire to do good for her community, and collect and share rare and lost recipes from Indigenous communities across the globe. Mariah had a DSLR that she duct taped to a broken tripod and just got started. Even though the early videos had low production quality, she was energized by the fact that people responded really positively to her work. Through her ongoing efforts, she reached a point where she was able to sustain herself financially with her business, and left her employment to focus on Indigikitchen full time.
Mariah's homestead is very remote. She lives 35 miles away from the nearest grocery store. However, this has only been further incentive for her and her partner to establish productive food acquisition systems from home including growing, foraging, hunting, and fishing. Mariah and her partner grow and process a lot of their own food, and at this point are entirely meat/protein independent. They struggle with the short growing seasons, since where they live has frost danger pretty much year round. So a part of their build-out has been constructing a greenhouse on their property.
Despite living so remotely, the small community there is very tight-knit. They know they need to help one another, especially through the long and brutal winters. They have also have established a great joy from regular community events, a culture of spontaneous get-togethers, and regular communication. In a truly beautiful way, Mariah has crafted a purposeful life where she balances modern convenience and accessibility with the traditional values and practices of her ancestry.
In our conversation we speak about her work as an advocate for her community, how she built Indigikitchen with no prior media experience, moving from engineering to activism, her food and self-sufficiency practices on her homestead, and what it means for us to truly re-indiginize our diets. We also dive deep into the historical consequences of colonization on Native foodways in the US, and what food sovereignty truly looks like. We speak about the effects of climate change on access to wild foods, climate adaptation strategies, and Mariah's incredibly valuable work in preserving and sharing ancient Indigenous recipes from all over the world.
This is a story about reconnecting with cultural and ancestral wisdom, using art and food as a catalyst for positive change, and the importance of building strong local communities.