Current Projects

Youth Media
Native Youth
Guardians of
The Waters
Native Harvest
and Feast Day
Mino-Niibi Fund
The Salt Song Trail Project
Indigenous Forum at Bioneers
Media Productions
Cultural Media
California Indian
Basket Projects
"Guardians of the
Water" Canoe Project
Native Circle of Food
Traditional Foodways of Native America - Oral Histories of Native Food Revitalization
The Storyscape

Indigenous Languages Restoration

Indigenous Language
Repatriation Project
Mojave Creation Songs
The Storyscape
Project Ethnographic
Audio/Video Recording
Workshops (SPEAR)
Tibetan Cultural Preservation Project
Artist-In-Residence Program

The Cultural Conservancy - Indigenous Health/Native Circle of Food

native food buffet
Photo Credit: Melissa Nelson


TCC recognizes the strength and resilience of holistic indigenous health and healing models and the power of native foods in addressing the unbalanced state of American Indian health today. Contemporary native health problems are the results of historical injustices, imposed western diets and lifestyles, and a number of other major factors. To address these imbalances TCC is committed to developing, promoting, and disseminating a reintegrated vision and holistic practice of native health and healing for the 21st century.

Through our Indigenous Health Initiative we have developed our Native Circle of Food program area and the Renewing American Indian Nutrition, Food, and Ecological Diversity (RAIN FED) suite of projects. Through educational workshops, creating urban and rural native gardens, seed-saving, restoring traditional ecological knowledge and foodways, coalition-building, public education, and bringing native foods back into our daily diets, TCC is working to renew indigenous health from the inside out.

Food is Medicine

Native Americans’ genetic makeup has been largely determined by the foods and medicines our ancestors relied upon for thousands of years. After generations and generations of reliance on a particular food system, each tribe adapted to the plants and animals in their homelands.

Photo Credit: Melissa Nelson

In the last century, this intimate and deep relationship to the landscape has been violently disrupted due to colonization and globalization. Removed from their lands and forced to assimilate into Western culture, many native people no longer live in their traditional territories nor do they eat their traditional foods. Sugar, flour, cheese and domesticated meats have become the staple diet, and nutritional-related diseases such as Type II diabetes have become epidemics as native people become more and more dependent on foreign Western foods that our bodies were never meant to manage.

Despite the growing health crisis in Indian country, native communities are determined to regain our strength and well-being, and are turning back to our own foods and models of nutrition. The Cultural Conservancy is part of a growing network of native organizations working to revitalize native food systems as well as the rich cultural knowledge and practices that go with traditional food ways.

Our Native Circle of Food work has revolved around a number of exciting projects:

Renewing American Indian Nutrition, Food, and Ecological Diversity (RAIN FED)

The goal of TCC’s RAIN FED program is to restore the health and well-being of the native community by reinstituting American Indian food systems, native models of nutrition, indigenous land management and sustainable food production practices, and the rich cultural knowledge of stories, songs, recipes and practices that go with traditional food ways. Through our work, we aim to restore biodiversity within our food supply and to protect and enhance the biological diversity of our lands.

Photo Credit: Melissa Nelson

Friendship House Urban Garden

Seventy percent of Native Americans now reside in urban centers, and the San Francisco Bay Area happens to be home to one of the largest Indian communities in the country. The Bay Area must therefore have a strong role to play in the movement to revitalize native foods. In partnership with the Friendship House Association of American Indians in 2006 TCC created an urban Indian garden project in Oakland, California.
Adobe Acrobat Icon For more information please see this attached Report

Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT)

The Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) project of Slow Foods USA brought seven of the country’s most prominent education, conservation, and food organizations together to identify and restore America’s endangered heritage foods. With our expertise in cultural conservation and media, TCC partnered with RAFT from 2005 – 2008 to record and document the unique food traditions of Native American communities in the United States. Our focus has been to document, highlight, and honor the important work native peoples have been doing to maintain, restore, and revitalize traditional indigenous foods. We completed thirty interviews with traditional food practitioners from all around the country, including Hawaii, and two interviews with people from Mexico and two from Canada. Our goal is to make these recorded stories and teachings available to other indigenous communities, people involved in native food and food justice movements, and the general public so that lessons can be learned, models can be emulated, coalitions can be strengthened, and indigenous food sovereignty can be respected and implemented. Our intent is to demonstrate the strength and resilience of contemporary Native Americans despite major obstacles to the continuance of traditional foodways and food sovereignty.

boy with hat
Photo Credit: Nicola Wagenberg

“Traditional Foodways of Native America – Oral Histories of Native Food Revitalization” Audio Recording Project

Based on extensive oral history interviews with indigenous food practitioners, this project highlight the critically important work being done by Native leaders today. We have conducted over 30 oral history interviews with Native American elders, teachers, farmers, hunters, wild food foragers, fishermen, cooks and chefs, activists, and advocates. This audio journey features contemporary Native American community leaders and traditional food gatherers sharing diverse stories of native foodways, their cultural knowledge and practices of indigenous nutrition and health.

TCC compiled a CD collection of excerpts from interviews with eleven Native American food practitioners. Each speaker represents a unique Native nation, a different tribal territory and history, and distinct foodways.

Man gardening
Photo Credit: Melissa Nelson

TCC recognizes and honors the knowledge and stories of these leaders as their intellectual and cultural property. Approval to record and present these interviews was duly received. All participants signed consent and release forms to have their stories recorded and shared with you, the public, for educational purposes.

As you will hear in these profound testimonies of the changes in Native American diets and nutrition due to colonialism, many traditional foods are endangered and on the verge of extinction. Others are more abundant but due to tremendous land loss, are inaccessible to Indian communities. And yet other foods may be available but the traditional knowledge of how to utilize and prepare them has been severely diminished.

Even with the losses of native plants, animals, land, water, and traditional food knowledge, Native peoples are actively maintaining and revitalizing food sovereignties on reservations, on public land, in rural parks, and urban gardens.

Through eleven diverse voices, you will hear the pride of heritage, the sadness of loss, the solace of memory, the struggle to protect and renew, and the fierce spirit of justice and continuance of today’s indigenous peoples.

Go to our Media Gallery to enjoy this sonic journey of native food stories! May it inspire you to help protect indigenous foodways, food justice, and to remember and renew your own ancestral diets.

The Cultural Conservancy Native Foodways Program

Native Food Exhibition, Slow Food Nation ‘08

TCC sponsored and curated the Native Foods Exhibition for Slow Food Nation ‘08 in San Francisco, California. With leadership from Bernadette Zambrano and Lois Ellen Frank we provided native food tastings to thousands of people for the three-day food festival. Native chefs Lois Ellen Frank (Kiowa) and Walter Whitewater (Navajo) prepared bison chili stew and corn posole with red chile honey sauce. We also created an audio exhibit in a traditional California Indian Tule Hut made by Diana Almendariz (Maidu/Wintun) where people could listen to stories from our Traditional Foodways of Native America – Oral Histories Project.

Vending Native foods
Photo Credit: Melissa Nelson


With a donor advised grant from Claire Cummings and the Columbia Foundation, we were able to support the creation of a small seed bank, distribute Claire Cummings book, Uncertain Peril – Genetic Engineering and the Future of Agriculture to tribal communities, and support the Kashaya Pomo Tribe in the purchasing of seeds and soils for a garden project at the Stewarts Point Rancheria.

Terra Madre ‘06, Torino, Italy

In 2006, Melissa Nelson and former TCC Native Foods Coordinator Laura Baldez, along with TCC advisors Jacquelyn Ross and Lois Ellen Frank and 50 other Native delegates, participated in the Indigenous Delegation to the Terra Madre Food Festival in Turino, Italy.

Decolonizing Our Bodies/Nourishing Our Spirits Native Foods Think-Tank
at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center

The goal of this native foods gathering was to bring together Native American cultural practitioners, scholars, teachers, activists, and chefs to explore and understand the vital connection between Native American mental and community health and the restoration of traditional native foods. From planting traditional corn to harvesting local acorns and salmon—drying seaweed, singing to deer, cooking “three sisters” stew, and sitting with family and friends to eat the nourishment of the land in the form of plants, animals, fungi, and other life medicines—food is the essential nutrition of the body and mind.

Nicola Wagenberg with video camera
Photo Credit: Melissa Nelson

Twenty key Native American leaders were invited, 15 attended, plus we had active participation by four staff from the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC) and four TCC staff, for a total of 23 participants. The 15 Native American leaders consisted of five California Indian people from local tribes, plus two guests for one day, and 10 people from US, one from Canada, and one international indigenous representative, Aymara-Peruvian agricultural scholar/activist Tirso Gonzales, Ph.D. Local Kashaya Pomo Tribal Chair Eric Wilder (Kashaya Pomo) and Environmental Director Bradley Marshall (Hupa) attended for one day. Tribes represented were: Coastal and Sierra Miwok, Jenner and Kashaya Pomo, Ohlone, Hupa, Yurok, Karuk, Lakota, Cherokee, Oneida, Seminole, Navajo, Kiowa, Mandan/Hidatsa, Cree and Ojibwe.

The three-day think-tank was video recorded and four 30-minute interviews were conducted with Lois Ellen Frank, Howard and Terri Badhand, and Julia Parker. Conference high-lights included a hands-on, participatory cultural demonstration and meal preparation of Native California Indian foods with Coast Miwok/Pomo cultural bearers Julia and Lucy Parker and Hupa/Yurok/Karuk cultural bearer Clarence Hostler in the preparation of two different species of acorn (Black Oak [Quercus kellogii] and Tanbark Oak [Lithocarpus densiflora]). Jacquelyn Ross (Jenner Pomo/Coast Miwok) also discussed her tribe’s intimate relationship with abalone, it’s important role in their culture, threats to it’s habitat and population numbers, and coastal land use and gathering issues. Another highlight was a native feast of salmon, tepary bean, squash blossoms, fresh greens and kota tea prepared by Santa Fe chefs Lois Ellen Frank and Walter Whitewater.

On the last day we discussed creating and sustaining a Native Foods Network and developing a user-friendly, updated, interactive web site to continue to educate each other about key identified areas. These selected areas included: specific native food restoration efforts for endangered foods such as salmon and abalone; distributors of more accessible foods such as Winona LaDuke’s Native Harvest wild rice and maple syrup; access to seed distributors like Native Seeds/SEARCH, community gardens and kitchens around the country that support Native food practitioners such as the Taos County Economic Development Corporation in New Mexico, native chefs such as Lois Ellen Frank and Walter Whitewater, and funding opportunities through groups like the Christensen Fund and First Nations Development Institute.

Photo Credit: Melissa Nelson

Native Food Resources:

Esalen Institute Native Health Think-Tank

With co-sponsorship and partial funding from Dr. Leslie Gray, executive director of the Woodfish Institute we organized a Native American “think-tank” at Esalen Institute in May 2003. This gathering brought together indigenous North American scholars, doctors, ecologists, traditional healers, tribal elders and public health advocates in a retreat setting to envision solutions to seemingly intractable dilemmas in native communities.  We discussed internalized oppression, current research in alternative and complimentary medicine, traditional mid-wifery, Ojibwe concepts of healing, traditional plant medicines, and the importance of ceremony for community health. The immediate goal was to begin a dialogue about overcoming obstacles to health and wellness, starting with ourselves, and the ultimate long-term goal is to generate a working model of 21st century native healthcare. We created the following vision statement: “Recognizing the seriously unbalanced state of indigenous health, we resolve to promote and disseminate a reintegrated vision and holistic practice of Native health and healing for the 21st century.

Link to Traditional Foodways page with Gallery

Adobe Acrobat Icon Where to Purchase Native Foods Directory