Chef, educator, and cookbook
author Sean Sherman at the Quaking Bog inside of Theodore
Wirth Park in Minneapolis. (photo by Evan Frost | MPR News)
Throughout November, MPR News is featuring
Indigenous Minnesotans making history to celebrate Native American
Sean Sherman, 46, is a Minneapolis-based chef focusing on preserving
Indigenous food traditions and educating people about Indigenous
culture. Sherman leads the way in revitalizing traditional Native
cuisine and helping others re-learn their ancestral roots. His work
focuses on educating people about ancestral diets, culinary practices
and the understanding that food is medicine.
Sherman got his start in a kitchen in Rapid City, S.D., called
the Sluice. Now based in Minneapolis with his wife Dana Thompson,
they run the Sioux
Chef which Sherman officially launched in 2014 though
he says the concept had been decades in the making. They also run
the nonprofit Natifs,
and the newly-launched Indigenous
Food Lab, a "nonprofit kitchen focused on creating access to
Indigenous education and foods" located in the Minneapolis' Midtown
Global Market on Lake Street.
Sherman's focus on educating people about Indigenous cuisine and
diet is woven throughout his work. He recently hired an ethnobotanist
from Bolivia to be the education director for the Indigeous Food
Lab to teach people about foods traditional to Indigenous communities.
He also works with local farmers and forages on the outskirts of
their land, incorporating local ancestral foods like hyssops,
onions (or ramps) and ginger
in modern recipes. Sherman encourages others to forage responsibly
as well, highlighting the connection between global climate change
and the industrialization of food systems. Sherman points out that
globally, Indigenous people have long been stewards of the land,
able to maintain the ecological balance for tens of thousands of
Sherman says of Indigenous, pre-colonial tribes, "living so closely
to the earth around them, having thousands of years and generations
of knowledge to live sustainably with the world. We just really
want to be a center point for that knowledge and education. To be
stewards of that education while making it accessible."
Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length
What does it mean to be an Indigenous Minnesotan right now?
I think there's a lot of wonderful, unique history here. It's really
important to understand the stories of the Indigenous peoples, the
diversity of Indigenous peoples, the struggles that people went
through, and the factors of everything that's happened to us in
history. It's really important to address a lot of the ancestral
trauma that's been dealt to a lot of Indigenous communities and
continues to live on in those communities.
With the work that we're doing, it's really important that we take
time to observe and think about the land that we're on, the people
that have been and are still here, and how we can move forward in
a healthier fashion for the future.
What figures have shaped you as a person and your work or how
you see yourself, how you move about the world?
I've always been very curious, and I've read a lot. I enjoy poetry,
I enjoy art, I enjoy music. I have many different idols. And, you
know, I'm always open. When we're running these kitchens and you
give somebody a chance and they show their creativity, you're learning
from people that you're teaching at the same time. I think creativity
is all around you and you have to keep an eye out for it, because
we can learn from everybody, everybody around us, and everybody
has something to show everybody else.
It's been really fun with this program. We've been focused on trying
to understand more about Indigenous foods, learning more Indigenous
plants, and really taking the time to be outdoors, as a group
just being a kind of a collective. We had some people who were really
well trained on the names of the plants in the different languages
like Anishanaabe, or Dakota. We've had some people who could tell
stories from their grandparents, who still knew their native languages
really well, so we could learn a lot through them.
And you know, we kind of opened up the doors to limitless education,
and learning with what we're doing. We're trying to create a unique
environment in our kitchen, that's going to allow everybody involved
with our team to be a part of this as we grow to offer what
they have and have the opportunity to learn themselves.
What's your vision for future generations of Indigenous people
in Minnesota either Indigenous to Minnesota or Indigenous
people in Minnesota?
"We're trying to set up foundations and structure for future generations
to have access to their own education when it comes to Indigenous
food ways. And also just have access to Indigenous foods. It's insane
that we haven't had Native restaurants all over the place. We just
started doing everything we can to change that, so hopefully, in
50 years, there'll be numerous Indigenous run businesses featuring
this cool diversity even just within the state.
We just look at the tribes that have been here, the people and
the communities that have lived here for a long time. And we really
try to understand what they were eating, particularly right here,
and relearning a lot of those lessons. So we're not trying to replicate
necessarily recipes of the past, but we're trying to understand
a lot of this knowledge and bring it into today's world.
We're looking at the lessons of Indigenous agriculture what
kind of seeds people were growing here, if those seeds are still
alive, how do we keep them alive. Looking at those varietals of
corns and beans, squash and all those heirloom forms. Understanding
the use of all these plants around us and the different seasons
that we utilize to collect the different parts of the plants for
different pieces, whether it's food, medicine or crafting. There's
so much and it's just being in tune with all of that. When we're
looking at Indigenous foods, we're just thinking about what people
were surviving with for so long, bringing that knowledge into the
modern day and having fun by creating and evolving that knowledge
and creating something new for these new generations."