Dandelion Effect Podcast - Reclaiming Indigenous Food Systems

Reclaiming Indigenous Food Systems with Danielle Antelope

Danielle Antelope is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and Eastern Shoshone (shu-show-nee) Nation. Born and raised in Browning, MT, she graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Food & Bioenergy Systems, where she deeply studied indigenous food systems relating to her own people as well as other communities around the country.

While in college, she served on the board of Food Access and Sustainability Team Blackfeet, known as FAST Blackfeet, and at only 26 years old, is now the organization’s Executive Director. FAST Blackfeet provides access to healthy and culturally relevant foods, nutrition education, and gardening/wild harvesting opportunities within the Blackfeet Nation.

In this conversation, we dive into Native American history through the lens of the different generations of her family, beginning with her great grandmother, who was the last generation to be born in tipis, live off the land and eat a traditional diet. Her grandmother was the generation of strict reservation boundaries, when ceremonies and gardens were made illegal, and the government introduced commodity rations after killing off their main food source: the buffalo.

Her mother’s generation is what she calls the “survival foods” era, when the diet shifts to dishes like fry bread and other recipes made from colonial ingredients like wheat, oil and sugar. And now Danielle’s generation, the ones who have inherited food insecurity, chronic disease and generational trauma—but who also have a unique opportunity to heal, to reclaim indigenous knowledge and wisdom, and grow from what’s been done to their communities.

FAST Blackfeet programs like the Food Pantry, Food Pharmacy, and Growing Health Program are reclaiming traditional Blackfeet foods like organ meats, wild berries, loose leaf teas, and bone broths, while inviting tribal members to reconnect with their ancestral roots and build back stronger than ever.


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Episode Transcript

Danielle Antelope (00:00):

Traditional ecological knowledge that’s passed down through our families, that’s passed down through oral tradition is just as valid and is in the end going to save the food system. The future of the food system is indigenous. The future of everything that I say is indigenous.

Andy Vantrease (00:33):

Welcome to the Dandelion Effect Podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that help them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community, and empowerment.


Danielle Antelope is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and Eastern Shoshone Nation. Born and raised in Browning, Montana, she graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s in Sustainable Food and Bio-energy Systems, where she deeply studied indigenous food relating to her own people as well as other communities around the country. While she was in college, she served on the Board of Food Access and Sustainability Team Blackfeet, known as FAST Blackfeet. And at 26 years old, she’s the organization’s executive director. In short, FAST Blackfeet provides access to healthy and culturally relevant foods, nutrition education, and gardening and wild harvesting opportunities within the Blackfeet Nation. In this conversation, we dive into Native American history through the lens of the different generations of her own family. Beginning with her great-grandmother, who was the last generation to be born in a tipi, live off the land, and eat a traditional diet.


Her grandmother was the generation of strict reservation boundaries, when ceremonies and gardens were made illegal, and the government introduced commodity rations after killing off their main food source: the buffalo. Then her mother’s generation is what she calls the survival foods era. When the diet shifts to dishes like fry bread and other recipes made from colonial ingredients like wheat, oil and sugar. And now Danielle’s generation, the ones who have inherited food insecurity, chronic disease and generational trauma, but the generation who also has a unique opportunity to heal, to reclaim indigenous knowledge and wisdom and grow from what’s been done to their communities. And she’s really doing that, through FAST Blackfeet programs like the Food Pantry, the Food Pharmacy, and the Growing Health Program. They’re resurrecting traditional Blackfeet foods like organ meats, wild berries, loose leaf teas and bone broths. And they’re inviting tribal members to reconnect with their ancestral roots and build back a stronger community than ever.


This is an incredibly inspiring conversation, and I love Danielle’s fierce activism and passion for regenerating not only her own health, but helping to regenerate the health of her own community through land and food. I’m honored to introduce you to this young change maker, and I invite you to get involved with her work if you feel lit up after listening to her story. I’m Andy Vantrease, and you’re listening to the Dandelion Effect podcast season three, episode four, with my new friend, Danielle Antelope, of Fast Blackfeet.


I’ve been wanting to do this since I heard you speak at Claudia’s Lentil Table in July in Bozeman, and I just remember like sitting in the audience of that community event and my friends and I were just crying our eyes out as you were crying on stage and telling your story. I mean, it was like that moment that I was like, I really want to have her on the podcast because I just so admire what you’re doing. And it was really inspiring and had a level of emotional depth to the story and was also really educational and informative. So I just wanna say thank you first and foremost, and I’d love you to just introduce yourself to our listeners and we’ll dive in from there, Danielle.

Danielle Antelope (04:32):

Thank you for having me. [Blackfeet introduction]. Hello, my name is Comes-in-Singing. I am called Danielle Antelope. I am from Browning, at the foot of the Rockies and I am Piikuni, which is misnamed Blackfeet.

Andy Vantrease (04:54):

Thank you so much. We’re gonna be talking all about FAST Blackfeet. We’re gonna be talking about food systems and traditional food ways, and I can’t wait to hear a bit about your personal story and then really how FAST Blackfeet came to be. But where I think would be a really fun place to start this is to ask you: What are the foods that remind you of your childhood? And I’ve asked this to certain people along the way, like usually chefs and people who, you know, the theme of the podcast is around food, and I’m always so struck by how that question really brings people back to the heart.

Danielle Antelope (05:35):

The foods that are very cinched in my brain, and in my memory, is picnic food. So on our picnics in my family all summer long, as you know, living next to Glacier Park in the beautiful area that we live, we go on a lot of picnics. And our picnics are not complete without kidney and sweet bread. Everybody grabs a pack of kidney and sweet bread just so that in case nobody grabs a pack and there’s none. I grew up eating raw kidney with salt with my grandpa and you were one of the cool grandkids if you could eat it raw. And then, uh, even today it’s kidney and sweet bread. My partner eats it now, my son eats it. And that’s just because it’s always been there. It’s always been at the picnic and present. And I’m really thankful for my grandpa for making sure those foods are there because it keeps us connected with organ foods.


We tend to, as society tells us not to eat organs, we eat a lot of steaks and ground meat. And so, I like having those foods that are special to my family. We also do a lot of berry picking, um, throughout the summertime. And so Service berries, they’re also called June berries and Saskatoon berries, but we call them Service berries and that flavor and that taste, you can’t get anywhere else. Service berries and doing berry picking is one of my favorite things too because you can go to other parts of the country or other parts of the world and you can’t find that food, which is very important to my people and has been ate by all of the women before me.

Andy Vantrease (07:22):

So when you first were saying kidney, I was thinking kidney beans, but you’re talking about animal kidney organs. What animal is it typically kidney from?

Danielle Antelope (07:32):

Yeah, the kidney that’s sold in the grocery stores here on the reservation is beef kidney. So it is always beef kidney except for recently, at FAST Blackfeet we’ve been doing more buffalo harvests and we gift the organs to the elders. And so my grandpa has been receiving the kidney. So the kidney that we’ve had more recently in this last year was also Buffalo kidney, which is introducing my family to buffalo, the original kidney that we would eat anyways. And so now it is beef and buffalo kidney and then the sweet bread is like a gland that is in the throat. It’s not very healthy to eat, but it helps us stay connected to those foods that our grandparents ate. And also it’s still a whole food for us.

Andy Vantrease (08:21):

Okay. I’m glad you said that with the sweet bread too, cuz I was thinking bread <laugh>.

Danielle Antelope (08:27):

I forget that it’s not… this is also a good part of indigenous food systems. It’s like each family is losing more and more of the foods that were originally ate and my family happens to only keep kidney, sweet bread and tongue. So those are the three main foods that we still eat that are indigenous parts of the animal. Uh, and it’s a really big part of sustainability and eating the whole animal. The whole process that indigenous people utilize.

Andy Vantrease (08:57):

Definitely. And there’s, to me it seems like there’s really a movement back to traditional food ways, kind of in the regenerative space or in some of the agriculture spaces that I’m in. There’s really like a push for whole foods and whole animal and you’re learning/remembering how to use different parts of the animal that aren’t typically things that are just sold in mainstream grocery stores. Like you said, like things that are beyond the muscle meats and the steaks and things like that. There’s a big push towards eating more organs and then also utilizing bones. And there’s been this like bone broth craze, I feel like the past, I don’t know, six or seven years. Do you do a lot of bone broths?

Danielle Antelope (09:43):

When we do our buffalo harvests for FAST Blackfeet, we request all of the animal and I make bone broths at home. Like if I cook a whole chicken, I’ll save the chicken carcass and make the bone broth out of it. That originated in Bozeman because they have dog beers and their dog beers are basically just bone broths. And then I started to make ’em for my dog, and then I was like, oh, I’m gonna start drinking these too. Then when I started to look more into indigenous foods and what were the indigenous beverages, it was really a lot of teas and bone broth as the morning drink. I started to make it more for my family. And then at FAST Blackfeet, we request the bones back from the meat processor and we bake some of them to get the marrow out of the middle and we teach marrow recipes. And then we also make bone broth with some of the bones in the instant pots, but also just for like, taste testing, so introducing it to people’s palates too.

Andy Vantrease (10:40):

Oh, okay. Yeah. That’s interesting cuz it does just create such a mild, beautiful taste. I like organ meats, and I actually kind of came back to that way of eating when I was dealing with some health issues, and I really kind of got on the train of starting to eat liver again and starting to eat heart and like experiment with all these different things as a way of getting vitamins and nutrients that we don’t get in other cuts and other foods. It seems like bone broth is a really good kind of ease in to some of these more traditional foods, especially if people aren’t really keen on the idea of like the texture of liver or really willing to try heart or kidney or some of these other organs. Bone broth seems to be like step one and like you said, kind of introducing people’s palate to that. I’m curious from your standpoint, because of course utilizing the whole animal really introduces a whole other level of nutrition, but what I find is that the preparation of using whole animal cooking, or at least more of the parts than are sold in just regular grocery stores, the preparation and the slow cooking and the allowing the flavors to come out and like putting the time and energy and effort into some of these methods, is part of the medicine.

Danielle Antelope (12:17):

No, I completely agree that the cooking process is medicine just as much as the food is medicine. I’ve noticed that in how much patience I have to have in cooking wild rice versus minute rice <laugh>. How long it takes me to cut up a squash rather than just grabbing French fries. We’ve done dry meat classes and that is such a great learning experience for people in our community to take the time to learn the process of dry meat and recognizing that teaching people those skills is helping them make connections with food. And that’s one of our big things at FAST Blackfeet too—we can’t just provide buffalo meat to people, right? We can’t just provide foods to people. We need to also help them make that connection to those foods and understand why those foods are good for them. So, we do things like our cooking classes and our food demos because it’s important to not assume that everybody knows the same information, right. I didn’t know half of the stuff that I know now. And it’s really due to exploring and practicing and learning and asking. I really enjoy cooking dinner now more than I did when it felt like it was just a everyday task. Now I feel like it’s for nourishing my family. I always try to incorporate at least one indigenous ingredient in the meal. I believe that the preparation and the procurement of foods is also part of the medicine.

Andy Vantrease (13:50):

Yeah, absolutely. And you just mentioned that you know so much more now than you did when you started this exploration, and I want to see if we can share the part of the story of your community that will help people understand where we are today and why you have gone through this process of rediscovering your family and your community’s food ways. Because, you know, me living in Montana, you living in Montana, like I have an understanding of what has been done to Native American communities because I see it every single day, and I’m talking to people and I’m working within these communities, but I think for the greater United States, unfortunately people don’t really understand where your community is now and how you got here. Even to the point of having to really consciously say like, part of my life is going to be to bring back these indigenous food ways because they have been intentionally wiped out.

Danielle Antelope (15:02):

Yeah. While I was at MSU, I did a lot of these presentations of the indigenous food system and how it drastically changed and how that reflects on the health of the people now. Uh, and there would just be some of my classmates just bawling their eyes out because nobody ever taught them this and they felt lied to and they felt like, I don’t know, sometimes there tends to be some guilt. But the point of the information that I share is really for people to understand that the health and the food insecurity and the poverty did not just happen. We have not always been poverished people. We have not always been food insecure people. I also like to tell the story in the terms of my grandmothers right. If we start to think about it as in generations of our own family, we start to see it in a more personal way of how the food system change affected our own families. And so I started to do my investigating and my own family and how I ended up linking up with FAST Blackfeet.

Andy Vantrease (16:06):

Can you tell us that story of your investigation through your grandmothers?

Danielle Antelope (16:11):

I start with the traditional diet. So as we know, this land has not always been portion-ized the way that it is. Our first generation is my great-grandmother Annie Wall. She was the last of the Tipi days. Um, she was born that way in a, she was born in a lodge and she was raised traditional way of life. So she was our first generation that was taken from her grandmother and she was put into boarding school. She was forced to learn the language and one thing that she did practice because she could do it without being punished, was practicing the plants. She would study the plants without speaking of them so that she didn’t get in trouble, but being able to go out to recess and look at which plants were ready and when they were ready and studying them in her head. And this also caused the change of culture of traditional practices in my family. When she came out of boarding school, she spoke English and we have a family portrait of her and her grandmother, and it’s when she returned from boarding school and her hair is cut and she’s wearing a button up shirt and she has skirt and tights and flats, while her grandmother standing next to her is still in traditional regalia and moccasins. It’s a reminder of this change that happened in our family and where we started to lose who we are as Piikani

Andy Vantrease (17:40):

I think for some people they regard this as like long ago history—and it’s not.

Danielle Antelope (17:48):

Yeah. Not at all. My great-grandmother was born 1914 and she came back from boarding school in 1930. So as people are reflecting on their own families, they can identify which generation in their family was in the 1930s. Um, that’s when my great-grandma got to go back home and then she returned to the boarding schools to be a teacher so that she could protect and look out for the other Indian students who were having to go there. Her generation represents the last of relying on the land and utilizing the land and being connected to the land. My grandmother, Teresa Wall is the second generation, and her generation represents the introduction of rations from the government. And during this time in the indigenous food system history is when the buffalo are being massacred, right, as a US order to massacre the buffalo, to starve the Indian tribes so that they comply with reservation boundaries.


And as tribes begin to starve, they started to get visions and dreams from the elders telling them to comply now, otherwise, there will not be anymore buffalo and there will not be anymore indigenous peoples. And if they comply now, then later there will be generations who bring it back. But first we’ll survive in order for it to ever come back. And so these rations from the government were not traditional foods. They gave us rotten beef and flour with worms in it, and they gave us the bad food that they didn’t want. And it made a lot of our people sick. And it was also at a time where our indigenous ways, our ceremonial ways, our harvesting ways were considered illegal. We were not allowed to go hunting and gathering. We were not allowed to pray for food security anymore. In this generation, it became the survival foods.


They tried to figure out how to cook those foods, which is really where the birth of fry bread comes from, right? In those commodity boxes was flour, was fat, which eventually those ladies put together to make fry bread as a survival food. These foods are highly processed, they’re high in sugar, high in salt, and the only place that I could ever find corn syrup, right? Growing up, all my aunts had corn syrup for their pancakes. This reflected on the health of the people when we’re going into the next generation. So my grandmother’s generation was the generation of thinking, oh, it’s poor to eat buffalo and go harvesting, but it’s rich to be able to go into the grocery store and buy all these new foods that are being introduced.

Andy Vantrease (20:37):

Isn’t that interesting too, because when a switch like this happens, when kind of a power dynamic like this is introduced where people are forced into reservations, the main food source is taken away, the lifestyle is made illegal, and then the government comes in and says, here, we’re gonna give you this food. So psychologically not only was it survival to have to take it because there was nothing else, but this really strange thing happens in the psyche that’s like, oh, these people are giving us something and this potentially means that we can assimilate better or we can be whiter or richer or a couple of things that you just said just based on the foods that you are eating. And at the same time, those foods are the ones that are directly linked to the declining health of the community. So there’s like so many things going on within this greater moment in history that has actually carried on until today, which is why you have been inspired to do the work that you do. But I just wanna name that because I think that the dynamic of how this all happened, how things were taken away and how new things were introduced, and then those new pieces are actually detrimental to not only the physical health of a community, but also like the spiritual and social health of a community as well.

Danielle Antelope (22:14):

Yeah, for sure. So just to summarize too, so far where we’re at in the timeline, my grandmother’s generation is the introduction of commodities, the loss of land, loss of knowledge, right? This is the time that reservations are being created and enforced, and just for people that don’t know was illegal for a large portion of time to leave the reservation. These boundaries, we were not allowed to leave because going into the cities or going into the new places that were being built were not spaces that were created for us. If you left then you would not get rations or any kind of government assistance. And because we’re a tribal people, right? We’re a tribe, we’re all together. Being displaced from the tribe was the biggest concern there. Um, so we stayed, we stayed all together, we came to the reservation, we live in the windiest part of the country so that we can be together.


And so the next generation is my mom’s generation. This is the generation of survival recipes. So they are learning how to make everything with beef, everything with flour, everything with cream of mushroom soup. They’re not learning how to make liver and onions. They’re not learning how to clean out intestines and make sausages out of them. My mom and my aunts and my uncles, they associate their childhoods with commodities was when they were rich, when they could eat the big brick of cheese and they could eat a lot of beef and get processed cereals, right? It’s at the time that our palates are changing, where we’re preferring this beef taste over a buffalo taste, where we’re starting to see these frozen foods that just transform when you throw ’em in the oven. When I talk to my mom and she sees, you know, that I’m bringing back these foods into my household and that I’m teaching community members about traditional foods and how to make bone broth and stuff, she’s able to share with me how she’s proud for me for doing that.


And then she tells me how that, how it feels for her, how traditional foods relate to poverty for her. And that’s very similar to my grandpa’s story about having gardens For him, having a garden is poor because when he was growing up, you only got vegetables from the garden and you needed the garden to survive. And now, we have grocery stores, right? And so what we’re trying to get to now today is the definition of poor to our elders because we didn’t learn about how it affects our health until later generations. You know, you asked me about foods that remind me of growing up, and I shared foods that remind me of family get togethers where we’re all together. But the foods that remind me of my home growing up with my mom is, um, chicken patties and chicken nuggets.


Um, my mom’s a single parent and there’s four of us. So of course she bought cheaper food so that she could buy more food so that we could be full. She also didn’t have the nutrition education that I have now, right? She didn’t know what carbs and fats and fiber is. When we’re passing down survival recipes, we’re not able to tell, oh, this is really high in fat, this is super processed, this has a load of carbs. She passed down what she knew, right? And this is where I really start to see the parent guilt. My mom had that parent guilt. Um, once I started to find out all these different things and change the way that I ate, she started to take blame onto herself. But it’s really recognizing what was happening in each generation. And so for me, I’m able to recognize that traditional foods at her time was poor, eating frozen pizza was in <laugh> and, um…

Andy Vantrease (26:12):

Yeah. Trendy.

Danielle Antelope (26:13):

Yeah. And so that’s my mom’s generation of survival recipes. And then it goes into my generation, which is food insecurity.

Andy Vantrease (26:22):

What defines food insecurity? When you say that phrase?

Danielle Antelope (26:28):

I like defining food security rather than food insecurity. And food security is having access to healthy and culturally relevant foods on a daily basis. For me, graduating high school obese with mental health problems and just not knowing why. You know, like, why do I feel this way? Why do I think this way? And, um, it wasn’t until I went to Blackfeet Community College right after high school that it started to all click for me. I was taking nutrition classes there, I was taking plant and medicine classes, and in the plant medicine classes, I was like, wow! These are the medicines we used and the foods that we used for medicine. BCC really helped establish and encourage this rebellion in me of starting to recognize like, this is the system. Like this is exactly what they want. They want us to be sick, they want us to be depressed, they want us to be food insecure.

Andy Vantrease (27:29):

You have less power in that. Living in that state of being when you’re depressed, when you’re obese, when you’re with diabetes, when you have these chronic illnesses, disabled or like unable to work, it really is a source of having power over people.

Danielle Antelope (27:47):

Yeah, definitely. And having indigenous professors teach me at Blackfeet Community College made a huge difference too, because whatever we were learning, whether it was biochemistry or nutrition or plant classes, they related it to the Blackfeet to where we are and who we are. Um, and that made it so much easier for me to learn. And then when I was at BCC, my mom was diagnosed with diabetes and that’s what hit me. I was just like, no, no way am I having diabetes next. Because my grandmother, she had both of her legs amputated due to diabetes. So, you know, she was pissed. She was like, they put us here, they provided these sausages and these cheeses and this oil. And now they’re telling me that all these foods are the bad foods, that I can’t eat these foods, but these are the foods that are available in my commodity box.

Andy Vantrease (28:39):

Hmm. So a combination of you seeing this happen in your own family and in your own life, and then really saying like, this pattern stops here with me. I will not go down this route with my life.

Danielle Antelope (28:56):

Breaking those generational traumas is very important. And, um, after having a son, I was attending Blackfeet Community College as well, when I got pregnant with my son. I realized how much responsibility that is to be a parent and to be responsible for the foods that your child eats and the information that they’re exposed to. My grandma had nine children and my mom, she’s the baby of the nine children. Out of those nine children, eight have diabetes. So I always tell people…

Andy Vantrease (29:27):


Danielle Antelope (29:28):

In my family, that’s the statistic and it’s so very relevant across Indian country. I had an instructor at BCC and she was also a relative, her name was Mary Jo Bolshu. She was teaching me about plant medicines in the class, but she was also telling me, she was like, you know that you’re great grandma. She said, Annie is one of the last Blackfeet ethnobotanists that we had.


She knew all the plants, she said, and when my family would go out gathering, she said we would always gather her medicine for her and bring it to her. And it started making me reflect. And I was like, yeah, we would go on plant gathering trips every summer and like we all carpool and we pick plants. And at Memorial Day we start checking plants and when they’re gonna be ready and we do it all the way from spring to fall, these plant harvesting trips. And she really helped inspire me to be like, who is going to continue on that knowledge and that information? Who’s gonna keep practicing it and who’s gonna recognize what she had to go through to continue that information?

Andy Vantrease (30:32):

Hmm. Not only are you recognizing that yes, there’s a historical and a generational trauma piece, but there’s also this knowledge and this wisdom that lives within your lineage as well. Like, it’s not just that one-sided story of trauma, it’s actually that deep within you and deep within your ancestry line, you have the knowledge and the wisdom and the capacity to actually change the cycle. Past generations saying like, let’s get through these next couple generations. We just have to survive this. And then, you know, there will be a time where our children or our grandchildren or our great-grandchildren even, have the opportunity to start to thrive again and to really build our community and our people back up. That opportunity will come and it really seems like you and what you’re doing and your generation is taking hold of that opportunity.

Danielle Antelope (31:35):

What you’re recognizing about these predictions that are made in our communities, um, are also made within families. And I’ve only really experienced that. When I got my Indian name, my name that I was given was Comes-in-Singing. And my grandma Annie, she gave my siblings their Indian names, and then she told me, you gotta come back tomorrow. And I remember my siblings teasing me and being like, ha ha, she ran outta names before she got to you. And the next day my mom brought me back over and I went to go get my Indian name and she said, I know your name now. And I was like, okay. And she told me, you’re Comes-in-Singing, she said. And your name comes from my grandmother Hollering-in-the-Air. I looked at her very disappointed, and I was like, grandma, I don’t sing. I was like, I’m not good at singing. She was laughing and she was like, that’s not what it means. She said, it has nothing to do with singing. She said, but you’ll know, you’ll grow into it. And so now, now I know that the way that I’m able to receive information and the way that I’m able to relay information is the way that I sing. She knew that I was going to utilize my voice one day and she was able to tell that when I was 10 <laugh>.

Andy Vantrease (32:50):

Wow. <laugh>. I love that so much. Just the foresight that our elders can have sometimes, and not only foresight, but really just planting this seed of belief in someone’s potential. You know, like that’s so important for us when we’re young.

Danielle Antelope (33:07):

Yeah. When I went to Montana State University, did my degree in sustainable food and bio-energy systems and related it throughout the entire four years that I was there, all to indigenous food systems. And at the same time was really opening the eyes of the major sustainable food and bio energy systems to start being like, that’s the direction we need to go is indigenous food systems, indigenous knowledge, what kind of foods were grown here before industrial agriculture. And so bringing it into the university space where they start to recognize that traditional ecological knowledge that’s passed down through our families, that’s passed down through oral tradition is just as valid and is in the end going to save the food system. The future of the food system is indigenous. The future of everything, I say, is indigenous. Because if we can learn from the people who have been here the longest and the people who ha who sustained this land is only gonna benefit all of us in every race, if we can start taking practices in a more sustainable way with indigenous people leading those.

Andy Vantrease (34:11):

If we want a future that is thriving, if we as a human species want to continue on and live well, we really have to start to think about food in the ways that our ancestors did because of the health crises that we’re starting to see with chronic illnesses and all types of inflammation that are caused by food and lifestyle. And so it’s not just that your community will benefit from remembering traditional food ways, it’s that all of us, our entire country, and I would say the entire world will benefit from remembering and adopting more indigenous food systems, ways of preparing, ways of relating to food and the earth and where it comes from. I think this is a really good segue into talking about FAST Blackfeet. Why don’t you just give us a really brief intro at the beginning of like what the organization does, what the acronym FAST stands for and how it got started. And then I really would love to hear about the different programs and how it’s growing so quickly.

Danielle Antelope (35:22):

I always tell people that food sovereignty to me is that we can close down our borders and feed ourselves within that reservation. And, um, it is something that most tribal communities are working on. And then also recognizing that land access is food access. The Blackfeet Reservation, the territory was a mass piece of land, um, from the Saskatchewan River all the way to the Yellowstone River, so most of Montana. When we lost land, we lost food access. And so for FAST Blackfeet, FAST stands for Food Access Sustainability Team, and what we do is we fill these gaps that are created by the shift in our food system, but as well as government entities. So FAST Blackfeet has started as a community group in 2016, um, and these people were retired dieticians, retired teachers, parents and people that knew that there’s a problem.


And so what they started with the Community Food Sovereignty Assessment, and that was conducted 2016 and 2017. And so the first thing that this community group recognized was that data is the starting point. And so that helped us be able to identify that the food insecurity rate on the Blackfeet reservation is 4.5 times the national rate. I joined FAST Blackfeet right at this point, which was 2018 when we were becoming a nonprofit organization, and then we created a board. So I served as the co-chair on that board from 2018 to 2022. And in 2019, we opened our first program. So the Oyop Food Pantry, Oyop in Blackfeet means “we are eating” and the food pantry was our first program because we recognize that there’s a high food insecurity rate because of the government assistance programs being income based. And it wasn’t until I joined the group and I shared my mom’s story that everybody was like, okay, food pantry is where we’re starting. As I shared my mom as a bus driver and she had four children and she’s a single mom, but she missed the food stamp income line by $6.

Andy Vantrease (37:47):

Oh my gosh.

Danielle Antelope (37:48):

With her missing that it resulted in a lot more cheaper food in our household and then that resulted in me and my siblings being overweight and unhealthy, at no fault of my mom, but it helped us recognize where the gap fell. We live in a community where grandparents raise grandchildren and even if that grandparent has a full-time job, they have five grandchildren at home. Recognizing that a need-based food assistance program was what was needed to help fill this gap.

Andy Vantrease (38:20):

What did you then do as far as like addressing what types of foods were going to be in that food pantry?

Danielle Antelope (38:29):

Healthy and culturally relevant foods based off the survey. The survey had questions about like, Do you have access to food? Yes. Do you have access to healthy food? No. Do you have access to culturally relevant food? No. So people have access to food, but they’re not splitting them into those categories and they’re recognizing that the foods that they have in their homes are not healthy and are not culturally relevant. And this was before buffalo meat was even available in the grocery stores. So FAST Blackfeet also helped make that available here on the reservation. So through that survey we were like, wow, people want traditional foods. But one of the other questions is, do you have access to sourcing those foods? And people say no. And then you say, do you have knowledge to harvest those foods yourself? And people say no. And people really wanted to learn more about buffalo, and they wanted to learn more about produce and um, berries and teas.


And so, the survey really was a food sovereignty assessment, which meant we were not only trying to measure the food insecurity, but we also wanted to know when we’re aiding in this problem, what does our community need and want? And what they needed and wanted was healthy foods and culturally relevant foods. And right now we’re picking up four buffalo that are processed for us that were harvested by the tribe at Yellowstone. And so where we are right now is so much further than we were when we got started. Um, and we’ve made so much impact within the grocery stores, within the tribe’s food procurement, within the commodity system.

Andy Vantrease (40:05):

What is a common food pantry box that you’re giving out or that people can come in to get? Like what are people able to find in the FAST Blackfeet food pantry versus a traditional food pantry?

Danielle Antelope (40:24):

Right now in the food pantry, we have canned salmon. We have frozen buffalo meat, we have carrots, onions, potatoes. We have staple products too that are not indigenous like oatmeal, but they fall underneath the healthy category. Nuts and dried fruit, dried sweet cherries, loose leaf tea right now in the pantry that is from a Blackfeet tea producer. Our registered dietician helps identify which ones you would like to pick more often and least often. So they’re also labeled throughout the food pantry to help people make smart choices. We don’t fix the boxes for people, we let people come through with shopping carts and then they pick their own foods because we know that part of food sustainability is not giving everybody the same box because not everyone’s gonna use it. And so that causes food waste when you assume people are gonna eat the same things.

Andy Vantrease (41:20):

Mm-hmm. Referring a little bit to the Fast Blackfeet year in review newsletter that I read, in the past 11 months, you’ve served 13,400 families and distributed over 370,000 pounds of healthy and culturally relevant foods. And I just loved being able to see those numbers to see like what type of scale you’re actually working at. And I think there was a piece of it too that I remember about hearing that you had started the out-of-town deliveries, like in addition to the people who yes, they can come in and do the client choice shopping so that not everybody has to get the same box. You can choose what foods, but then if they can’t come in or if you know something happened and they need a delivery straight to their home, then you are doing those twice a week now as well.

Danielle Antelope (42:19):

Yeah. That really stemmed out of COVID. Um, during COVID we were having the stay at home orders. And elders were taking that very seriously because as you know, COVID hit indigenous communities harder because of our high health disparities, right. Diabetes, obesity makes you more at risk for harder complications and that’s definitely what was happening, um, on reservations. What happened is we started having a lot of community members call us and they’re like, I am not leaving home. I haven’t left home for two weeks and I’m running low on food and we really need somebody to bring us some food out. We partnered with another organization and they did the deliveries and then we provided the food, but we realized that this is part of being inclusive in a tribal community. On reservations, people always funnel the resources into the main community. Altogether on the deliveries, we have about 300 families on the deliveries, so about 150 door-to-door deliveries a week. And so, that allows us to serve those communities. And then the people that are on the delivery lists, they either have no transportation or disabled or elders.

Andy Vantrease (43:32):

Okay. Okay. Um, I wanna give you a chance to talk about some of the other programs too. Even just kind of summarizing some of the highlights of them. So you started with the Food Pantry being your primary program and then you’ve really expanded out into Food Pharmacy, nutrition program. I was reading about this Growing Health Program and then I’m even curious to hear about this thing that you had all posted on Instagram, the Hunters Against Hunger where people could actually donate their game meat to FAST Blackfeet.

Danielle Antelope (44:12):

Yeah, so altogether we have three programs. The Food Pantry is our biggest program and then our other two programs, they complement the Food Pantry. Our second program that we created in 2021 was the nutrition education program. In this program, they cover cooking classes. Um, we’re able to offer medical nutrition therapy with our registered dietician and able to bill Medicaid for those. We provide produce vouchers into the community. So, there’s $10 on a produce voucher and if you have four kids, you get a produce voucher per kid as well. And this is our effort to get more fresh produce into the households, but also to support the local grocery stores on the reservation. And one of the newest services that the nutrition education program started was the food demos in the food pantry. Yesterday they demoed mixed the nuts.


So we have almonds and walnuts in the pantry this week, and they made some different seasonings and blends of those nuts. And it’s like Costco, you get to come through and taste something and then you’re more likely to pick those foods. So our nutrition education always tries to do the hardest ingredient. I think last week they had salmon cakes with the canned salmon and next week is chicken noodle soup with the canned chicken. Our third program and our most recent program is the Growing Health Program. There was a grandmother who wanted tea and asked us if we would ever offer tea through the pantry. And she said, you know, it’s so expensive at the grocery store, I feel too guilty to buy myself tea and instead I just buy hamburger for dinner for the kids. Then we did a survey and found out that 97% of our food pantry participants would like to receive traditional Blackfeet teas and that they would use them for their health and wellness.


We recognize that teas are a traditional food and also a way to reconnect people to land. We provide tea and vegetable gardens. We do wild harvesting workshops to teach people how to do it the right way, how to do it the Piikani way, with saying a prayer before, not taking more than you need, not pulling roots of different plants so that you’re doing it in a sustainable way. We also have tea blending classes where we teach people how to blend teas. The Growing Health Program is really our effort of connecting people back to the land for food and medicine. And we’ve seen some very transformational stories from the people that participated in the Growing Health Program and the produce and the tea that come from the Growing Health Program is donated or sold to the Oyop Food Pantry. And so it’s really exciting when the pantry participants see, oh, this zucchini was grown in Heart Butte and then they’re super excited and they grab it <laugh>.

Andy Vantrease (47:06):

Yeah. I’d love to hear from you about what you see happening with the people who are in the FAST Blackfeet programs. It’s not just that their physical health is improving. I mean, I’m sure it is and I hope it is, but there’s such a bigger picture transformation happening here that I would think encompasses connection to self, connection to community, connection to land, connection to ancestors and spirit. How do you see these transformations happening in people and kind of on which different levels are you watching it take place?

Danielle Antelope (47:48):

Yeah, that’s a great question. I see FAST Blackfeet inspiring, this pride of being Piikani and that the things that we do, we indigenize the way that we do it and our community is gravitating towards that. Whether they’re taking examples of it and utilizing it in their own organizations or doing it within their homes. FAST Blackfeet is my job, but the way that my job has reflected on my family makes it not feel like a job at all. My family was like, man, Danny, you’re doing all these harvesting trips with your FAST Blackfeet people and you’re doing cooking classes with buffalo meat and stuff, and they’re like, let’s start doing this stuff within our family. Like, let’s start bringing traditional recipes to the picnics. Let’s start going on more plant gathering trips and adding plants to the plants that we already gathered, the roots that we already go after, let’s add to our family library.


Then I start having more and more cousins that were like, yeah, I wanna go too and I wanna go too. And one thing that my family is setting up this year is the responsibilities, like, who is going to be responsible for harvesting this plant and this plant? And then when the family needs that plant, they know that they go to this person. And that’s the transformation that I’ve seen in my own family. But we’re a little bit more advanced on the scale because we already had that connection to plants thanks to my great grandma. And other families, I have a participant in the growing health program and she refuses to sell her tea to us. She will only donate her tea and she said, while she’s growing the tea and while she’s harvesting the tea, that she feels this sense of pride for providing medicine for her community members, that this is going to people who need it in the community, people who can’t buy tea for themselves in the community.


We’ve seen some of our garden participants grieve with their garden due to losing somebody to COVID. I did not expect the gardens to play that spiritual role that they did of closure and grief, um, rebirth. That’s been really amazing. It’s giving people the opportunity to make those changes. And you know, my mom always tells me, and it’s what makes me feel <laugh>, make me feel good. This is something that I would’ve needed when you guys were kids. This would’ve really helped me out. And so recognizing that, um, my childhood, um, reflects in the work that I do and why I do it.

Andy Vantrease (50:21):

Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s beautiful. And I’m sure that personal stories and that excitement that you’re getting from your friends and family and community members, I imagine that that really is fuel to the passion and the fire that you have for helping. I really view it as such an opportunity for empowerment. As we covered in this conversation, there’s all of this history of disempowerment and kind of being at the mercy of the power of others and this just feels like a total 180 of teaching people, like, Yes, you actually do have it within your capacities to make big change in your life and to make these small steps that reconnect you with what is nourishing the land under your feet and nourishing your body. And what are the ways that you can then turn around and grow that food for other community members and either donate it or sell it. I mean it really, this whole thing to me, Danielle, just builds this beautiful web or this circle, which leads to that food sovereignty that you’ve been speaking of.

Danielle Antelope (51:37):

I grew up in this community being an, “It is what it is,” community. “It is what it is, my girl,” is what I heard a lot. And so once I became a parent, I was like, no, I’m not going to tell my son that. I’m going to go find answers and I’m gonna make sure that there’s change happening for when he is growing and for when he’s asking questions. And so that he could see that mom’s trying to do something about it.

Andy Vantrease (52:04):

Hmm. So given that and what you just said and having the opportunity to tell your personal story and how it weaves in with FAST Blackfeet, what would you say is the biggest gift that you are receiving from being involved with this work?

Danielle Antelope (52:21):

My biggest gift for doing this work is my health. I know that when I started to prioritize my health, it made a big difference in where my future was projected. I really try to tell native people, you know, like when I’m trying to communicate with them it’s different than off the reservation, but you know, I tell them like, we’re the real bougie eaters. We are the original bougie eaters, right? When I went to Bozeman, everybody wanted a buffalo steak or buffalo burger and everybody was eating plant-based diets, but that’s us. That’s indigenous ways of eating, indigenous ways of being. And so for me it’s taking back the health, taking back the land, and all of that just really fuels me. And when I see other people’s light bulbs turn on, that’s it. Like I know that there’s going to be change and that supporting indigenous producers, eating indigenous foods, harvesting indigenous foods, being on the land, those are all the gifts that was given to me from doing this work, which is heavy work to go back into your family’s timeline and and identify which traumas were inflicted on them in each one of these generations.


What work do I need to do to make sure that I’m not passing these down to my son? The brighter future that I’m setting for Jace is what’s going to continue on. You know, I know that my grandkids are going to see a timeline that’s different than the timeline that I laid out.

Andy Vantrease (53:55):

Mm, mm-hmm. And how old are you Danielle?

Danielle Antelope (53:59):

I am 26.

Andy Vantrease (54:01):

Okay. I remember, I don’t know if you said that during the lentil table, but I remember listening to you and going like, oh my gosh, this woman is so young. You know, in the grand scheme of life, just so young and so determined. I just felt, and I feel in this conversation just such a fierce dedication, but in a way that is really heart-led. I mean, I’m not much older, I’m 34, but this generation of people is just like not putting up with shit <laugh> anymore and is really dedicated to changing what they want to see changed. And so I feel really emotional even just thinking about how much of an impact you’re making, and I just wanna say like a direct thank you for who you are and for the work that you’re doing.

Danielle Antelope (54:56):

Thank you, Andy. I appreciate that. And sometimes I speak and people tell me that I have an old soul and I always have to give credit to grandmothers. I believe that you carry those generations with you. And I know, and I remind myself every day that my grandmothers and my mom walk with me. Sometimes when I’m not expecting to say something and it just comes out and people are like, man, when she said this, it really made me think. And sometimes those are just the grandmothers, that credit to them for me being here, but also for them just giving me such a strong voice.

Andy Vantrease (55:32):

It’s not surprising to me at all that your grandmother was really confident that you would grow into your name and that you would understand it one day. Do you feel like that time has come, that you are understanding why you were given the name that you were?

Danielle Antelope (55:48):

Yeah, for sure. And it really hit me when I was at MSU and I did a presentation for an AERO conference, and I got a standing ovation, and it was all about telling the food system change with my generations. And in that moment, I was like, yeah, I’m definitely who my grandmother said I am. And then after that have just never feared anything that comes out of my mouth.

Andy Vantrease (56:14):

I love that so much <laugh> and that we all have our own unique song, right? I mean, I think it’s so interesting how you were like, but I don’t even sing. And she’s like, you sing in your own way, you’re using your voice in your way. And so I think that that’s something that everybody can resonate with and relate to, just in the ways that we navigate what matters to us and how do we let that come up and out of our beings and share it with the world.

Danielle Antelope (56:44):

The things that FAST Blackfeet are doing are not just for the indigenous population. It’s to make people think about health differently, to make you think about land differently and to really respect the traumas that indigenous people have come through. And recognizing that paving our own way back to health and back to culture is, uh, something that needs to be supported by all peoples. I encourage people also to learn about the people whose land you live on. Wherever you live is the homeland to a tribe. And when people come through and visit Glacier Park, I really try to remind them that this is our home. Please respect it as our home. And that’s for all indigenous land across the nation.

Andy Vantrease (57:44):

Danielle Antelope. What a powerhouse, right? As you can tell by my gushing directly to her in this conversation, I’m kind of a fangirl of her and her work, the courage she has to speak the truth about United States history and the way she has stepped up to change her own life, turn around and help so many others do the same, has me really lit up. I could feel the complexity of her emotions in her voice as she spoke about where the Blackfeet Nation is today in terms of health challenges. And I really felt like it was this sacred anger that can lead to genuine change when it’s channeled in the right direction. And then the softness and the stories of personal transformation that she gets to witness each day during this work. How people are excited to learn new recipes, show up to cooking classes, grieve with their gardens, and trust their friends and community members to be doing what’s best for them. Really shedding that old story of “it is what it is” and re-imagining a new way of doing life. To learn more about FAST Blackfeet, visit fastblackfeet.org where you can donate, volunteer, and get involved in Montana.


A big shout out to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how ideas and people move through the world.


This podcast is a production of the Feather Pipe Foundation. You can donate to this project specifically or the foundation at large by visiting featheredpipe.com/gratitude. Please also take two minutes to help by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts, and you can now rate us on Spotify, give us those five stars. Be sure to tune in to our next episode in two weeks. I can’t wait to share another amazing conversation with you. Until then, adios.

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