23 Indigenous American Food Activists, Educators, and Other Figures to Know

by Leah Butz

November is National Native American Heritage Month, and in order to acknowledge and celebrate Native cultures we have compiled a list of indigenous American food activists, including chefs, writers, farmers, and more. (To learn more about indigenous foodways, see here). The traditional foodways of Native American tribes have been largely suppressed since the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, but the following people have worked hard to revitalize and promote indigenous food and agricultural practices. This list is by no means exhaustive: please email info@nycfoodpolicy.org if you know of any other figures who should be included.

M. Karlos Baca
Tribe(s) and Location: Baca is Tewa, Diné (or Navajo), and Nuche, and hails from the Southern Ute Nation in southwestern Colorado. 
Category: Chef, activist
Background: M. Karlos Baca is a chef and food activist who promotes pre-colonization indigenous foodways and tribal food sovereignty. In 2011 he founded Taste of Native Cuisine, a collective of indigenous chefs that is connected to the Southern Ute Cultural Center & Museum. And he is also the founder of 4th World Farm, which cultivates pre-colonization foods and utilizes traditional indigenous agricultural practices. Finally, he is a member of I-Collective, a group of indigenous chefs working to “promote [the indigenous] community’s resilience and innovations in gastronomy, agriculture, the arts, and society at large.”
Social Media: @tasteofn8vcuisine on Instagram
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Daniel & Meala Bishop
Tribe(s) and Location: Daniel and Meala are Native Hawaiian, having grown up on the island of O’ahu.
Category: Activists
Background: Daniel and Meala Bishop grew up in Hawaii when it was still a US territory, and have been indigenous activists for many years. Daniel is a member of Onipaʻa Na Hui Kalo, an organization that supports the cultivation of Hawaiian taro and promotes its reintroduction as a staple of the Hawaiian diet. Meala is an activist for Hawaiian water rights and an artist who explores native Hawaiian identity in her work.
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Ramona Button
Tribe(s) and Location: Button is Akimel O’odham (also known as Pima), and her farm is located in Sacaton, Arizona.
Category: Farmer
Background: Ramona Button grew up in the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona, speaking the native O’odham language and eating traditional foods such as the saguaro fruit, mesquite beans, and prickly pear. Since 1974, she and her husband, Terry Button, have owned and operated Ramona Farms where they grow a variety of native crops, including bavi, or tepary beans, an heirloom variety that has been grown in the Sonoran desert for hundreds of years. Button has been working to restore indigenous foodways, including revitalizing the use of tepary beans, for almost fifty years. 
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Twila Cassadore
Tribe(s) and Location: Cassadore is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe in southeastern Arizona.
Category: Educator, activist, forager
Background: Twila Cassadore has been a food educator for more than 25 years and her work has included efforts to incorporate traditional foods (such as acorn and desert woodrat) back into the Western Apache diet. She launched the Western Apache Diet Project in order to combat the epidemic of diet-related disease among native peoples. She learns about indigenous foodways through interviews with elders and exploration of the wildlands of southeastern Arizona. Cassadore is a member of I-Collective
Social Media: @twila_cassadore_ on Instagram
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Neftalí Durán
Tribe(s) and Location: Durán was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, of the Ñuu Savi indigenous people, but currently lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Category: Chef, activist, educator
Background: Neftalí Durán emigrated from Oaxaca when he was 18 years old, initially working as a line cook at a restaurant in Los Angeles before opening his own restaurant in Massachusetts. He is a founding member of I-Collective and works with various groups that promote food sovereignty and anti-racism in the food system. In Massachusetts, he founded the Holyoke Food & Equity Collective, which works to promote health, racial, and economic equity in the city of Holyoke. Furthermore, Durán teaches online classes to SNAP recipients about nutrition, budgeting, and cooking skills. 
Social Media: @neftaliduran_ on Instagram
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Kamuela Enos
Tribe(s) and Location: Enos is Native Hawaiian, from Wai’anae on the island of O’ahu. 
Category: Farmer, educator, activist
Background: Kamuela Enos is the Director of the Office of Indigenous Innovation for the University of Hawaii, and his work focuses on incorporating traditional Hawaiian knowledge into modern agricultural innovation. He co-leads the Center for Indigenous Innovation and Health Equity, an initiative started in 2021 to improve health equity in Hawai’i. He previously worked at MA’O Organic Farms, a teaching garden that provides compensated agricultural internships to teenagers and young adults in Wai’anae.
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Clayton Harvey
Tribe(s) and Location: Harvey is Western Apache, from the White Mountain Apache Tribe of the Fort Apache Reservation in northeastern Arizona.
Category: Farmer
Background: Clayton Harvey is a fifth-generation farmer who has worked with Ndée Bikíyaa, a farm and community food initiative, for more than ten years. The farm is entirely tended by hand, growing a variety of staple crops such as squash, potatoes, onions, peppers, and corn. Through farming, he has reconnected with his ancestry and spirituality, and today works to revitalize the Apache food system through sustainable agriculture. The farm works to help the Apache community relearn traditional farming and gathering practices while also providing fresh, healthy food to the community at affordable prices. 
Social Media: Ndée Bikíyaa, The Peoples’ Farm on Facebook
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Lilian Hill
Tribe(s) and Location: Hill is Hopi and lives in Kykotsmovi, a village on the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizona.
Category: Activist
Background: Lilian Hill is the Executive Director of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance and has been a strong promoter of indigenous self-determination and food sovereignty for more than 20 years. She has traveled to countries around the world advocating for the rights of indigenous populations beyond the United States. In 2004, she founded Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture, a community organization dedicated to revitalizing Hopi culture and traditions through engagement with the Hopi community and youth. She is also a recipient of a Castanea Fellowship, a program that supports people working to create a more racially just food system.
Social Media: @redfox_hill on Instagram
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Janie Simms Hipp
Tribe(s) and Location: Hipp is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, from Oklahoma. 
Category: Lawyer
Background: On July 30, 2021, Janie Simms Hipp was confirmed by the US Senate to be general counsel for the USDA, making her the first Native American woman to oversee agriculture law in the US. Prior to this post, she worked in law and policy for more than 35 years, and is a former CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund. She has been praised for her experience and depth of knowledge about equitable agriculture policy, food justice, and sustainable agriculture.
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Ben Jacobs
Tribe(s) and Location: Jacobs is a member of the Osage Nation, and his restaurant, Tocabe, has two locations in Denver, Colorado.
Category: Chef, restaurateur
Background: Ben Jacobs is the head chef and co-owner of Tocabe, an American Indian fast casual restaurant with two locations in Denver, Colorado. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he and Tocabe’s co-owner, Matt Chandra, opened Tocabe Indigenous Marketplace, an online store where customers can purchase traditional ingredients to cook indigenous food at home. They leveraged the relationships they already had with suppliers for the restaurant in order to make ingredients such as tepary beans and Pima corn more accessible, helping Native farmers and producers to provide their food to more people while promoting a robust and modernized ecosystem for indigenous food.
Social Media: @tocabe on Instagram, @tocabe on Twitter
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Winona LaDuke
Tribe(s) and Location: LaDuke, who is of Ojibwe descent, operates an industrial hemp farm on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota. 
Category: Activist, farmer, 
Background: Winona LaDuke is an environmentalist, writer, and former Vice Presidential candidate from the Green Party. She is a longtime leader in the fight to create sustainable agricultural and energy systems, and is a co-founder of the nonprofit Honor the Earth. She also owns Winona’s Hemp and Heritage Farm, which uses traditional Anishinaabe knowledge and restorative agricultural practices to grow industrial hemp and certain heritage food crops. She is also an outspoken critic of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Social Media: @winonaladuke on Instagram, @WinonaLaduke on Twitter
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Denisa Livingston
Tribe(s) and Location: Livingston is Diné (or Navajo) and from New Mexico.
Category: Activist
Background: Denisa Livingston is a community health advocate for the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance and the Indigenous Councilor of the Global North for Slow Food International. Her food justice activism is largely concerned with the diet-related disease epidemic that has infiltrated Native American communities, and she has worked to empower Navajo communities to take charge of food policy and avoid “fat, cheap and easy” foods. She holds a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Social Media: @princessedenisa on Instagram, @PrincesseDenisa on Twitter
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Chelsey Luger
Tribe(s) and Location: Luger is originally from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. 
Category: Writer
Background: Chelsey Luger is a journalist and wellness advocate who has written extensively about diet and lifestyle as it relates to her indigenous heritage. She is a co-founder of Well for Culture, a health initiative and media platform that promotes wellness among Native people to combat the diet-related disease epidemic. The initiative includes cooking lessons to help people use traditional indigenous ingredients and practices in their own kitchens. 
Social Media: @chelsey.moves on Instagram
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Shiloh Maples
Tribe(s) and Location: Maples is a citizen of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians based in Michigan.
Category: Educator, activist
Background: Shiloh Maples originally grew interested in indigenous food systems through a desire to help improve the health outcomes of the Native people in Michigan while also learning more about her own Ojibwe and Odawa heritage. She developed a program called Sacred Roots for the American Indian Health and Family Services in Detroit, where she taught cooking classes and promoted dishes using traditional, seasonal, and local ingredients in a way that improved participants’ health while reconnecting them with their culture.
Social Media: @littlenokomis on Instagram
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Devon A. Mihesuah
Tribe(s) and Location: Mihesuah is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation.
Category: Writer, educator
Background: Devon A. Mihesuah is a writer and professor at the University of Kansas. Her published work includes articles about indigenous food sovereignty and traditional recipes. She is a supporter of using pre-colonization crops and ingredients to change indigenous diets and improve public health. In addition to her food writing, Mihesuah has written about colonization, indigenous women, boarding schools, racism, and more. 
Social Media: @DMihesuah on Twitter, Indigenous Eating on Facebook
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Karli Moore
Tribe(s) and Location: Moore is a member of the Lumbee tribe and grew up in southeastern North Carolina.
Category: Researcher
Background: Karli Moore grew up on her family’s farm in North Carolina, but it wasn’t until she began studying chemistry in college that she became interested in agriculture. She is currently an associate program officer with the Native American Agriculture Fund, and holds two Masters degrees, in agricultural economics and international rural development. Furthermore, she is pursuing a PhD in environment and resources, and she believes in advancing indigenous food sovereignty and promoting environmentally sustainable agriculture through traditional indigenous ecological practices. 
Social Media: @_karlimoo on Twitter
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Andi Murphy
Tribe(s) and Location: Murphy is Navajo, from Crownpoint, a town on the Navajo Nation Reservation in New Mexico.
Category: Writer
Background: Andi Murphy is a multi-media journalist who has written about indigenous food for many years. She is the creator, producer, and host of the award-winning food podcast Toasted Sister and in June 2021 became Civil Eats’ first Indigenous Foodways fellow. Her food journalism covers topics including food sovereignty in the Navajo Nation as well as interviews with various Native chefs, farmers, and other food entrepreneurs. 
Social Media: @andimurphy on Twitter
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Brit Reed
Tribe(s) and Location: Reed is Choctaw, but was adopted by a white family and grew up in Dallas, Texas. 
Category: Chef, educator, activist
Background: Brit Reed is a chef, member of I-Collective, and a strong advocate for Native food sovereignty. Her culinary practice blends indigenous traditions and ingredients with modern cooking techniques. In 2015, she published an essay titled Food Sovereignty is Tribal Sovereignty and launched a social media campaign of the same name. She uses cooking and food to learn more about her Choctaw heritage, and has worked to share everything she has learned about Native American foodways with other indigenous people.
Social Media: @nitaohoyo on Instagram
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A-dae Romero-Briones
Tribe(s) and Location: Romero-Briones was born and raised in Cochiti, New Mexico, home of the Cochiti Pueblo people. She also has some family among the Kiowa people of Oklahoma.
Category: Activist, community organizer
Background: A-dae Romero-Briones is the Director of Programs for Native Agriculture and Food Systems at the First Nations Development Institute, a role she stepped into after working for many years with indigenous communities to further indigenous food sovereignty. She has spoken extensively about the relationship between indigenous rights and environmental justice, noting that indigenous voices are often left out of conversations about sustainable agriculture and environmental issues. 
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Cheryse Kaui Sana
Tribe(s) and Location: Sana is Native Hawaiian and lives on the island of O’ahu. 
Category: Farmer, educator
Background: Cheryse Kaui Sana is the farm manager of MA’O Organic Farms, where teenagers and young adults can participated in internships to learn about agriculture and gain leadership skills. She began working on the farm as an intern and now uses her role at the farm to help empower Hawaiian youth and help them understand the value of education. Furthermore, her work on the farm uses traditional agricultural practices so that indigenous knowledge will not be forgotten.
Social Media: @kauikeolani_ on Instagram
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Valerie Segrest
Tribe(s) and Location: Segrest is a member of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, one of the Coast Salish tribes located at the base of Mount Rainier in Washington.
Category: Educator, activist, writer
Background: Valerie Segrest is a Muckleshoot nutritionist who has worked to help educate the Coast Salish people about nutrition and food sovereignty, focusing on traditional foods from the Pacific Northwest. She is the Regional Director of Native Food and Knowledge Systems for the Native American Agriculture Fund and founded the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project. This community initiative holds educational workshops, builds partnerships, and facilitates the spread of knowledge about traditional food systems. 
Social Media: @ValerieSegrest on Twitter
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Sean Sherman
Tribe(s) and Location: Sherman is Oglala Lakota Sioux and grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Category: Chef
Background: Sean Sherman is the founder and CEO of The Sioux Chef, a team of indigenous chefs, farmers, foragers, and other food experts dedicated to revitalizing Native American cuisine. In 2017, he received a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award for his cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. He also founded the nonprofit North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS), an organization that uses traditional foodways to combat economic inequity and the epidemic of diet-related disease that affects Native American populations. 
Social Media: @the_sioux_chef on Instagram, @Chef_Sean on Twitter, The Sioux Chef on Facebook
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Matte Wilson
Tribe(s) and Location: Wilson is Sicangu Lakota Oyate and grew up on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.
Category: Activist
Background: Matte Wilson is the Director of the Sicangu Community Development Corporation’s Food Sovereignty Initiative. The initiative supports various programs run on the Rosebud Reservation, including a seasonal farmers’ market, a teaching garden/farm, cooking and health classes, and seed distribution. Wilson is also the host of Food Revolution, a biweekly podcast in which community members and tribal food producers tell their stories.
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