In the 1800s, millions of buffalo were slaughtered in an effort to starve out Native American people, according to the film ‘Gather’.
From 30 million to just a few hundred, the bison were hunted in an effort to eradicate Indigenous peoples who lived deeply intertwined with the buffalo, utilizing their hides for teepees and sustaining themselves on their meat throughout the winter, among other uses.
“The buffalo were everything,” said producer Fred DuBray in Gather, a film on reclaiming identity through Indigenous food sovereignty and healing the trauma of genocide. “Of course the government recognized that, so that’s why they decided ‘if we destroy the buffalo we can bring these people to their knees,’” he said in the documentary. “And so that’s what they set out to do.”
Last week, Gather was screened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit by Allied Media Projects, a Detroit media group. The film follows four members of different tribes on their own journey to reclaim their traditions that were destroyed along with the buffalo. Included are Twila Cassadore, a forager and food educator, and Nephi Craig, a chef who opened a restaurant featuring Apache-grown foods.
Both Cassadore and Craig flew in for a panel discussion following the film and were joined by Kirsten Kirby-Shoote, a Detroit Indigenous food sovereignty activist and farmer. The panel was moderated by Shakara Tyler, a co-founder of the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund and board president of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.
“That film was just a small microcosm of what’s happening across communities,” Craig said during the panel.
Cassadore added that the film was an opportunity for them to speak for themselves. “It was us using our own voice for what we do in our communities,” she said. Gather was produced in consultation with the First Nations Development Institute and several Indigenous executive producers.
“We all came from people that survived something so tragic and to see the beauty of people today of them wanting to reconnect, wanting to learn, wanting to hear their songs, wanting to learn their prayers… is just amazing, especially through food,” Cassadore said.
Detroit activist Shoote said a lot of the content in the film is hard to grapple with because it’s so personal, especially in a public place.
“But I feel like Detroit is also the perfect place to screen it because people have such diverse backgrounds in the city that something, even if they’re not Indigenous, something’s bound to resonate,” said Shoote, who started a garden, Leilú, to provide free produce for Native and Black community members. There are approximately 2,500 Native Americans living in Detroit, according to the 2022 census.
Foodways, or the customs and practices related to the production and consumption of food, have been disrupted by colonialism in Black and Indigenous communities. Both share many of the same health burdens that grew from that trauma, from high diabetes rates to a lack of access to enough high quality food, or food insecurity.
“I’m glad to see people come out and be interested in Indigenous foodways,” Shoote said at the screening. “It’s definitely a hard conversation to have, but it’s becoming more normalized to acknowledge our histories and try to heal from all of our combined histories,” she said.
In Detroit, there have been new projects in recent years focused on these combined histories. One is the Rouge Park sugarbush project led by Detroiter Antonio Cosme as a way to build bridges between Detroit youth, Indigenous peoples, and local conservation organizations. Various community members gather to tap the maple trees at Rouge Park each year for sap and engage in ceremony.
The panelists gave advice to the audience for navigating their land and food journeys.
“Don’t do it for Instagram…do it for you, and do it for the people who’ve come before you,” Cassadore said. “Because that’s what’s gonna be able to honor the land and hold true generationally,” she said. “Instagram is gonna be out in a couple years, probably. Hold tight to the soil.”
Chef Craig’s similarly advised to do the deep emotional work and keep going when the romance wears off.
“As you’re navigating the different spheres and realms that you chose that you traveled through on a daily basis, colonialism is a shapeshifting monster. Colonialism is an equal opportunity destroyer, and it’s out for each and every one of us,” he said. “Dig deep and learn how to identify where it shows up in your life first, the principles we might embody of colonialism, that way we can detach,” he said.
“It could be in any type of work, it’s not just food related,” he added.
The film is 1 hour and 14 minutes long and is available for streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV.