Like many Alaska Natives, Spring Alaska Shriner (Chugach Alaska Native Corporation/Valdez Native Tribe) grew up exercising her subsistence rights with her family—picking berries, digging clams with her mother, and catching and cleaning fish alongside her uncles. She remembers being surrounded by endless natural bounties throughout her childhood in Valdez, a waterfront town located near the head of a deep gorge in Prince William Sound. When she moved to Oregon in 2006, she noticed a paradoxical lack of access to culturally relevant foods, which was the driving force behind her decades-long work advocating for Indigenous food sovereignty through agriculture, advocacy, and activism.

At her 6-acre Sakari Farms outside Bend, Oregon, Schreiner uses traditional ecological knowledge to grow regional premier foods—foods that were consumed before European colonization—and passes that expertise on to young Native Americans.

“We have created a model of a tribal farm, which operates very differently than a standard non-Indigenous farm.”

The process began with an urban nursery to grow plants to manufacture salves, tinctures, oils and lotions through Shriner’s company, Sakari Botanicals. In 2018, the farm expanded and moved to the current high-desert property, which, in addition to growing crops such as peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic and herbs, also houses an indigenous seed bank and a new community kitchen called Niqi Native. kitchen.

“I’ve always been a nerd with my head in the soil trying to learn more,” she explains. “Many of the tribes in Alaska are very diverse, sharing similar foods and waterways. There aren’t a lot of highways to get there, and a lot of (travel) is by air and water, so we’re always sharing. And that’s what food sovereignty is about: achieving Being self-sufficient while also helping others feed themselves. I wanted to create that sense of community here in Oregon.

She has done just that, developing a hub for indigenous producers, chefs and other people to gather for education and inspiration. Today, Sakari offers hands-on farming and cooking classes, hosts potluck dinners, and provides free tribal food boxes containing nutritious and culturally relevant ingredients to those in need — a pandemic initiative to help combat food insecurity among the local Indigenous community that has persisted. The farm is not a nonprofit, so Schreiner relies largely on small, one-time grants, crowdfunding, and limited wholesale proceeds to fund Sakkari’s many efforts—all of which focus on traditional ecological knowledge.

Spring Alaska Shriner, owner of Sakari Farms outside Bend, Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Schreiner)

“We created a model of a tribal farm, which operates very differently than a standard non-Indigenous farm,” explains Schreiner, who has a background in natural resource management, soil science, and water conservation. “We only grow things once (a year), because the indigenous people always used the whole plant, including the seeds. We don’t want to destroy the soil by turning crops over all the time; we have volcanic ash here, which is like moon dust, with a little Of water or no water at all.We protect these traditional native plants that we grow for communities like the Hopi Nation and Oneida Nation in our seed bank.

As the kharif season arrives after a short growing season lasting about 58 days, Sakari donates most of the crop to regional tribes with distribution assistance from state agencies. What’s left is turned into teas, jams, sauces and other products that are sold wholesale to Native-owned businesses and bear the American Indian-made Intertribal Agriculture Council’s seal. “We are growing this for our people,” Schreiner emphasizes. “I don’t want anyone to eat from food centers anymore. We don’t just grow beans; we’ll show you how to take care of the seeds and plants, and then use the beans to be self-sufficient, so we’re not eating beans out of a can.”

That’s where a new 900-square-foot tribal commercial kitchen comes into play, modeled after chef Sean Sherman’s Indigenous Food Lab incubator. Two years in the making, Niqi Native Kitchen has become a culinary arena for area tribes, aspiring chefs and indigenous youth to train, develop recipes and participate in workshops. It’s also home to Sakari-based chefs like Pau Rodriguez, who prepare treats like buffalo empanadas, blueberry pie, and blue corn cakes to sell at farmers markets.

A scene from the new 900-square-foot tribal commercial kitchen, where Native chefs can experiment with traditional ingredients. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Spring Shriner)

“We teach young people how to do this from start to finish,” Schreiner says. “They can learn how to grow and harvest traditional foods, prepare their own recipes in the incubator’s kitchen, and market and sell their products. The farm is a safe place for Indigenous people to come together, honor their traditions, and learn how to become Indigenous again after experiences such as displacement, generational trauma, and other factors.” Beyond our control.To further elevate Indigenous producers, I also recently launched the Pacific Northwest Tribal Agriculture Guide, a free online resource that encourages consumers to buy from Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Schreiner’s extensive advocacy work often takes her off the farm to lobby for legislation that supports BIPOC farmers and combat climate challenges. For example, her testimony was instrumental in passing Oregon’s $100 million drought relief package in 2021. This year, she co-sponsored the state’s SB 530 Natural Climate Solutions bill (which was enacted in July as part of a larger for climate resiliency) and HB 2998, the Healthy Soils bill (which did not pass).

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