Spotlight: The Native Seed Pod - Indigenous Food Warriors with Chef Crystal Wahpepah

November 22, 2023 Nia Tero Season 3
Spotlight: The Native Seed Pod - Indigenous Food Warriors with Chef Crystal Wahpepah
Show Notes Transcript

“If you want to talk about the Indigenous Food Warrior, that's what we all are.  We're here to protect. We're here to give. We're here to heal.” - Chef Crystal Wahpepah (Kickapoo) 

How Indigenous people show up in the kitchen is how they will show up for community, so the responsibility and care in creating food for others is taken very seriously, from the recipes created to the sourcing of ingredients. 

Our latest Spotlight comes from the amazing team behind The Native Seed Pod. In this episode, we get to hear a fast-moving conversation between guest host Sara Moncada (Yaqui) with Indigenous chef Crystal Wahpepah (Kickapoo), who is the owner of Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland, California. Crystal received the Indigenous Artist Activist Award and has been inducted into the Native American Almanac for being one of the first Native American women to own a catering business. In 2016, she was the first Native American Chef to compete in The Food Network’s show, Chopped, and in 2022, she was a finalist for a prestigious James Beard Award in the category of “Emerging Chef.” Crystal and Sara talk about Native foods, how they carry their shared work of educating the next generation on preserving Indigenous food systems, and what it means to be an Indigenous Food Warrior. In addition to hosting this episode of The Native Seed Pod, Sara is also the current CEO of The Cultural Conservancy, which is the home of The Native Seed Pod, as well as a grantee of Nia Tero. 

The Native Seed Pod has just started their fourth season, so catch up on their episodes on their website or on your favorite podcast platform. 

Special thanks to the vibrant team behind The Native Seed Pod: Mateo Hinojosa, Melissa K. Nelson, Sara Moncada, Raven K. Marshall, and more. 

Learn more:  

Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.

Enjoy the Seedcast podcast on the Nia Tero website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast platforms.

Keep up with Seedcast on Instagram and use the hashtag #Seedcast.

Crystal Wahpepah Spotlight
Season 3 Episode 14
November 2023

[Seedcast theme music plays in the background]

[00:00:00] Jessica Ramirez: Hi, I'm Jessica Ramirez. This is Seedcast. We, as Indigenous People, have a responsibility to our community through the foods we eat, and the foods we make—how we show up in the kitchen is how we will show up for our community. Today, we have a spotlight episode for you from a podcast called The Native Seed Pod.

[Seedcast theme music “Rooted” by Mia Kami] There is hope, there is strength, there is power, there  is change, in you and I (you and I). In you and I. There is hope, there is strength, there is power, there is change in you and I, you and I... 

[00:00:41] Jessica: The Native Seed Pod shares stories which centers Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge as it relates to foodways, health, and science; and how we can all be in better relationship with the Earth. You will hear from guest host Sara Moncada in conversation with Crystal Wahpepah. She is a seed keeper and educator, and she's also the owner and chef of Wahpepah's Kitchen, a restaurant located in Oakland, California on Ohlone territory. Crystal and Sara talk about Native foods, and how they are educating the next generation on preserving and proliferating Indigenous food systems.  

The Native Seed Pod is a project of the Cultural Conservancy. The Cultural Conservancy is a Native-led organization that seeks to restore Indigenous cultures and empower Indigenous Peoples on their ancestral lands in the direct application of traditional knowledge. Cultural Conservancy is a grantee of Nia Tero.

Special thanks to Mateo Hinojosa, Raven Marshall, and the rest of The Native Seed Pod team for sharing this beautiful episode. And thanks to Crystal Wahpepah for giving permission for us to share this interview as well. 

[the sound of a stream fades in and we hear the enchanting notes of a flute begin to play along with other musical instruments] 

[00:02:18] Crystal Wahpepah: To me, I see a big ol’ plate of healing, flavor, something that's from this land, and that connection. Even though I'm Kickapoo, we all have that connection.  

[we hear the sound of birds and the sound of melodic singing join the sounds of water and other instruments and then it fades out] 

[00:02:56] Melissa Nelson: [Introduction in Anishinaabe language] Greetings, relatives. My name is Melissa Nelson, and I'm your host and gardener.  

[a new song begins with Native singing and drumming] 

Welcome to The Native Seed Pod, a podcast aimed at celebrating the diversity and beauty of Native seeds, soils, and Indigenous foods. 

[music continues with singing, and the drumming speeds up and slows into a variable beat  that continues in the background] 

Mmmm, hello, good people. I hope you're well today! As we get near to the end of season three of The Native Seed Pod, a guest host is joining us today—that is our new Cultural Conservancy CEO, Sara Moncada—Yaqui artist, dancer, educator, leader; and she went to downtown Oakland to meet with Crystal Wahpepah, founder and leader of the Wahpepah Indigenous Kitchen. So be prepared to hear these two amazing Indigenous women share story about their experiences sharing Indigenous Native foods with community as medicine, and for healing. 

[00:04:13] Sara Moncada: [Introduction in Yaqui language] I'm very excited to be hanging out in this beautiful Native-owned restaurant with Native Chef Crystal, talking about your work, your journey, your story, your seed wall [shakes seeds], your incredible foods; and I'm just grateful that you're joining us today to talk on The Seed Pod. Welcome, sister! 

[00:04:42] Crystal: Well, thank you! My name is Chef Crystal Wahpepah. I'm the owner of Wahpepah's Kitchen. I am Kickapoo, and Sac, and Fox, from Oklahoma; and born and raised here in Oakland, California. And welcome to the Indigenous food journey.  

I come to work early, to get everything done. It's quiet, burn sage. 

[00:05:09] Sara: When you first arrive, it's only you, isn't it? 

[00:05:11] Crystal: Yeah, and then, from there, it’s chefs. I like when they're getting in there, I like just to kind of sage, say my prayers throughout the day. You know, let's just rock this.[laughs] 

[00:05:24] Sara: Set your tone! 

[00:05:24] Crystal: Let’s rock this. Because you know, just having this space, it's a lot to maneuver. Not just inside, but outside.  

[00:05:33] Sara: Yeah.  

[00.05:34:] Crystal: You know, there's a high school upstairs. 

[00:05:37] Sara: That's lovely. You have a high school above you and you have a Bart station outside your main window. You're very close to Bart.  

[00:05:43] Crystal: We have a clinic. Yeah, we have—  

[00:05:45] Sara: Oh, you have a health clinic! 

[00:05:47] Crystal: There's everything, there's a resource center over here. This is where they have a food bank right over here. It's...  

[00:05:52] Sara: Oh, look, there goes the Bart train. Yep.  

[00:05:56] Crystal: You know, the Bart's gonna be busy too with gas. [laughs] 

[00:05:59] Sara: Well, no, I mean, it's, it's, it says something about you though I think that you're also here in the center of it all. Right in the middle.  

[00:06:0] Crystal: In the mix.  

[00:06:09] Sara: Right in the mix, right in the center of community. 

[00:06:11] Crystal: The Fruitvale area means a lot to me. I went to elementary school over here at Lazear. My elementary school, when I was there, there was Ms. Rinehart. She always let me cook something and bring it to school and sell it.  

[00:06:25] Sara: You're kidding! You've been cooking and selling food ever since elementary school? I feel like I just learned something completely new.  

[00:06:33] Crystal: [laughs] Yeah, food is it! I always done something with food. It was my gateway, it was something I gravitated to, made me happy.  

[00:06:44] Sara: Wow, like, from the very beginning! Ms. Reinhart, what grade was that? 

[00:06:49] Crystal: Oh, Ms. Rinehart was fifth grade. I still remember, she said on Fridays, I want everybody to come. It was a all Spanish-speaking school. I was probably one out of two that knew, that spoke English.  

[00:07:02] Sara: Wow.  

[00:07:03] Crystal: Mm-hmm.  

[00:07:04] Sara: Wow. But there you were, the fifth grade Native Iron Chef Jr.  

[00:07:10] Crystal: [laughs] Yes, and I would make popcorn balls! [laughs harder] 

[00:07:13] Sara: Popcorn balls! 

[00:07:15] Crystal: I would make popcorn balls and we called them Crystal Balls on Friday, and sold ‘em for 50 cents [laughs again]. 

[00:07:23] Sara: That's incredible! Wow! So your Native chef entrepreneurship in the Fruitvale has been going for multiple decades here, wow! Well, here we are sitting in front of—I think it's impossible to visit you and not talk about the power of this wall that we're sitting in front of. Your, what did we call this? Is this your seed library?  

[00:07:48] Crystal: I always call it “Indigenous Food Pantry”, because this is actually from my home here in Oakland. I have my little secret cabinets and cupboards at home, and I'll just talk to them, and look at them, cook with them, and they're so beautiful. 

[00:08:07] Sara: Well, let's talk about some of the things that we see up here ‘cause I see a relative that I know and love. This beautiful…

[00:08:17] Crystal: Yes! 

[00:08:18] Sara: This beautiful friend here, the Seneca white corn.  

[00:08:22] Crystal: Yeah. So, with this, it was gifted to me. And when people come, I really want them to see what they're eating.  

[00:08:31] Sara: Do you source almost all of these seeds that you have up here? 

[00:08:34] Crystal: Yes. Some are gifted to me. And then look, we have the buffalo squash. 

[00:08:41] Sara: Also from our beautiful fields.  

[00:08:43] Crystal: Yeah, and so we saved the seeds from that. I have the elderberry. And then we have the chokecherries, which I have three different chokecherries, and I like to explain how—where they're from. The darker chokecherries, actually, that one's from Lower Butte, South Dakota; and then the other is from the Paiute Reservation—actually, it's Nixon, in the Nixon area. Then we have another one—where’d it go—is actually from Montana.  

[00:09:12] Sara: And they're all a little different. 

[00:09:13] Crystal: Mm-hmm. You could tell, in the colors. 

[00:09:15] Sara: In the colors. Do they have different flavors? 

[00:09:18] Crystal: No, the flavors are the same. Different colors. And that's where it goes, where, how I can tell the difference between corn—the texture, how they're shaped. They have their own little personalities.  

[00:09:33] Sara: Yeah, they do, they do. We feel that personality in the field. You see their first little green leaves come out, and then as they grow some of them grow fast, some grow slow, some kind of peek and wait for morning sun, you know, before they start their little song for the day; and everybody's a little different. That's great that it's fun, that you see that here on the wall. You know, you just kind of come in, and you get to eat food, and as you eat food you can glance to the wall of the restaurant and see the seeds. 

[00:10:08] Crystal: We have this seaweed over here, that one's actually from Westport. When a family member of mine, she harvests the seaweed, and when you get all these beautiful gifts—I call them gifts, cause that's what they are—they're more than what people see. Of course these are only just—these are not our final seeds that we have right here. For instance, we have the blue corn. I only put a little bit out. I guess in the Western world you would call me like a seed hoarder, I don’t know! [laughs]  

[00:10:41] Sara: Well, maybe in our worlds, that just calls you a seedkeeper. 

[00:10:43] Crystal: Okay, thank you!  

[00:10:45] Sara: Right? Or a seed sister.  

[00:10:48] Crystal: Or, like, what are these? Or sometimes the chefs will find bags of this and that, and they're like, “What, what?!” You know, “Oh! those are mine.” I take them home with me. I brought them here, so I can share. You know, like for instance, we have the sumac, which I really, I find quite fascinating, just because of how it's furry, but then how the seeds are in there. I find it—you can just grab that and you can actually boil it up [laughs]. I like that part. And then there's one—what else we got? Oh, I got a lot of stuff. The whole corn right there, that's [a] really good one.  

To me, I see a big ol’ plate of healing, flavor, something that's from this land, and that connection. Even though I'm Kickapoo, we all have that connection. And, especially where I'm at—I'm in the urban area, I'm here in the Fruitvale area—to have these medicine[s] here on the shelf, it's just a healing to the community right there, of just connection. It's priceless when you see somebody come in and they know exactly where those are from, and from their homeland. And it makes them feel, “Wow. We matter too.” Everybody matters, just like these seeds. 

You know, this is how we eat, how we feed. You know, I come and I talk to them. They're living, they're very much alive, and that's the beautiful part.  

[we hear the sound of Native singing, and thunder in the distance, and then a shaker and drumming as the sound of thunder continues and a wolf howls] 

[00:13:35] Sara: Well, and where you source them, I mean, it matters right? I know we are so honored to actually have worked with you for a number of years on the land—both at our partner garden in Novato, at IVC, but also now that we're land stewards ourself. I still get chills every time I say that! Now that, you know, we're responsible for this amazing connection, this amazing piece of land for connection. 

[00:14:06] Crystal: I like how you said that: responsible. Because it is a responsibility of how we take care, and how it's grown. And for me, I have that responsibility, quote/unquote, “Western world Chef”; but I have that responsibility. I like to call it more, I like feeding people medicine. And, but, when you feed people medicine, for me personally, who grows it, where's their hearts, what is their mission? What do they want? You can get food from anywhere and grown, but not these ones, and not with the hearts that grows these. So, to me, those are special gifts. So, each jar that I have up here, it was given to me by somebody with a beautiful heart. And their intentions are well, for it is me as I cook it. My intentions is, when we put it on the plate, what's to heal? To have that connection, and taste, and love, and have fun, after all at the same time, but at the end of the day is to recognize where these seeds come from, who grows it. It goes more and more and more, it's just not a food on a plate. It goes, if you look back more and more into it, of the history and where they come from, and that's how the connection revolves.  

[00:15:35] Sara: Yeah. Well, it’s on the other wall in this amazing restaurant. [laughs] I mean, this mural is, it's exceptional—Indigenous Food Warriors. I mean, you couldn't have called it any better. There it is, beautifully crafted, and shared, and storyscape right alongside, right? You walk in here, you order your food, you come to the seed wall, and you can see the many hands and hearts and voices that went into that food. But then you sit down and you have this amazing plate that is in front of you. And you look up at this artwork, and you see these traveling Indigenous bodies from across Turtle Island, carrying their sacred foods, and coming together to nourish one another. And at the center of it all, this amazing Kickapoo human being.  

[00:16:35] Crystal: Well, if you want to talk about the Indigenous Food Warriors, that's what we all are. We definitely are. We're here to protect, we're here to give, we're here to heal. There's so many reasons. But when we came up with the term of Indigenous Food Warriors, I was on the road traveling. I was a traveling chef. I traveled from the Greyhound, up to a plane, up to my own vehicle, up to Bart, up to everything. And one day, I was like, what am I doing? [laughs] This is something that I love and it's who I am. And me and my niece were driving, I think we were coming from LA. Indigenous food warriors, that's what we are. And every time somebody works with me, it's not a job. I hate when people say, “It's a job.” I don't know why I don't like that term, but it's because it's not a job. It's more than a job. It's providing good food to our people. It's knowing where the food comes from. But then you go through the part where, “Well, that's not my tribe,” or, “This is not…” But, we have a responsibility as being Indigenous chefs. And I always share that, even with my mentees, even with my chefs, and everyone. I share that. When we take on these seeds, we have a certain job, and that's to protect how we cook it, how we think. This is something that I was taught by my grandmother. Before you go into the kitchen, and before you stir that pot of corn, or you cut that potato—what is your intentions, what is your thoughts? And that’s the same. I took that with me ever since I've been young. I take it into this restaurant. I take it with every employee. What's your intention? 

[00:18:37] Sara: My grandma used to kick grumpy people out of the kitchen. She would, she would say, if you are not in a good mood, or you are in a bad space, then you are stuck inside you right now, and the kitchen is nowhere for you to be stuck in you. The kitchen is where we provide for the larger circle.  

[00:18:55] Crystal: Because that's where Indigenous Food Warriors is. If you look at the mural that comes from the South, to Central, to North. I look at them, and each character I look at, what's their story? And, I believe in my heart our ancestors are very proud. Just from the mural, where people can come in and make some—I want people to come in here, and stop, and make them think where the food comes from, and what land they come from, who grows it. It goes more and more. And how can you do that in a limited space and one picture. I want to execute it in one, and where they look at it, and then the stories are going to be told more onto the menu.

[00:19:47] Sara: Hmm. I experience that as food justice, I experience that as Native resiliency. I experience that as warrior. 

[00:19:58] Crystal: Mm-hmm. Some gets it, some don't, but maybe eventually they'll get it. It's just not a job. We have people coming in here, are sick, are dying, are wanting that connection, and haven’t had that connection, and wanting to know more. And that's what Indigenous Food Warriors is. How are we going to put this on the plate and present it? Yes, we're chefs. Yes, that's the fun part, you know? But the integrity we put into the food, all the way up onto the plate, when that person eats it, I want them to feel the healing.  

[the sound of Native drumming and singing begins and plays a while until the song ends] 

[the sound of the flute and birds begins again, with more nature sounds like frogs and insects throughout the background] 

[00:22:19] Sara: The Native Seed Pod is produced by The Cultural Conservancy with generous support by Tamalpais Trust. To contribute to our polyculture and to find out more information, please visit us at or

[00:22:36] Sara: Yeah the whole story inside of it. 

[00:22:39] Crystal: Mm-hmm. It's just not a corn soup.  

[00:22:43] Sara: Right.  

[00:22:45] Crystal: It takes a lot. Like for us to do traditional corns, for instance, I've been cooking ever since I've been young with my grandmother. We cooked it outside, inside, cooked it everywhere. [laughs] And it's something that is, you have to pre-think to do it, because that's how long it takes. But that's the beautiful part, because you can go add your prayers, come out, good thoughts, walk away. It's not ready yet. And that's the same thing I believe with Wahpepah's Kitchen—it wasn't ready yet.  

[00:23:24] Sara: Your traveling chef was in—was there…  

[00:23:28] Crystal: In training.  

[00:23:29] Sara: In training.  

[00:23:29] Crystal: Definitely in training, and meeting, greeting, knowing more about our community abroad. Going back to Oklahoma, knowing more about mine, where I come from, how come, cause I have a lot of answers. A lot of—some people don't like really talking about it, cause it's a touchy subject, but historical trauma. These foods healed me from historical trauma and I want to pass it on to heal other people, even if it's with a bite. 

[00:24:05] Sara: A single bite—power of a single bite.  

[00:24:07] Crystal: Mm-hmm, and that's why I'm really particular about what we're serving. So sometimes people come, and it's just not like I don't have the access. I mean, I can serve a whole bunch of stuff if I wanted to, but I'm very careful what I'm serving and how I'm putting it onto a plate. It's more than food. It's more how we come into season, for instance. And we're going into—of course we're in spring season, which is pretty much, you know a good opening when it comes to ceremonial—it's a new season, it's time for us to look around.  

[00:24:47] Sara:  Winter hibernation, we're shaking it off. We're getting ready for the newness of— 

[00:24:52] Crystal: And having people eat in season, because sometimes having a restaurant, especially a Native restaurant, is very—I'm not going to sugar coat it—I'm not going to say hard, because it's a beautiful hard, I guess you can say. It's something where you're embracing, and letting it become its own. That's all you can do. You have to.  

[00:25:15] Sara: I like beautiful hard. Beautiful. 

[00:25:17] Crystal: Beautiful. Yeah, it's beautiful hard. 

[00:25:19] Sara: Sacred hard! Rolling up the sleeves, getting to work, getting it done.  

[00:25:23] Crystal: Just for instance, when I get beautiful greens from you guys, what is available, this is what we have, and we create from there. Because I believe this is how we always created. For instance, my tribe is a lot of deer, but I choose to do buffalo. Why? Because it's something I grew up on, and I know just the medicinal and the health part of buffalo. It's something that I've learned all my life to embrace. And at the same time, it's one, we're not too far from a buffalo ranch, and I like to serve it and introduce our foods in that way. And it's very nutritionist, but then also it's very, it doesn't have that game. Where, I like to introduce Native foods in a good way, like in a part where let's transition this in a way.  

[00:26:22] Sara: Yeah. Well, and to it, you know, we are in a—I mean, the reality of where we are, you were just talking, right? You're like, I'm in Oakland. We're in the Fruitvale, this is the Bay Area. We are an intertribal space. Which means that we, that the communities here, are reflections of people from all over Turtle Island. And yeah, you guys are heavy deer people. So are we, as Yaqui people, deer is a huge part of our story. But, we are also a reflection of our current modern world. And our current modern world has us all hanging out in the San Francisco Bay Area and willing to see another Native walking down the street and be like, “Yo, hey, Native, what you got going on with you?” And I've got what's going on with me. And let's share that, let's exchange that, let's find a way to connect. And so, I see your menu also reflecting that, reflecting the diversity of the Indigenous population of the Bay Area, as you were just saying, you know?  

[00:27:24] Crystal: It's like, when I first started doing this, I stick real close to home. And then, also, everything that you see on the menu, it's something I grew up with. I've seen, I taste, I've been around. And, you know, here in the Bay Area, we have so many different Natives, and it's not just representing just the Bay, it's representing abroad. It’s representing every tribe that comes in here because of being lost, and displaced, not having that connection. And my vision for here is something where, at this time, it was a parking lot, but I used to walk through here from school. Oh my gosh, I would've loved to see a Native restaurant. Oh my goodness, I would have been the first one to apply.  

[00:28:12] Sara:  Oh my gosh, could you imagine? Having been [a] kid, what it would've been like? I can't, I would have floored to be walking around, you know, anywhere. And would've been like, “Oh, look, that's a reflection of things that are important to my culture, and my family, and those are foods that don't have ‘Kraft’ stamped on them, and, you know, were grown in a field somewhere with a good heart and tending hands who sang a song to reseed.” And, you know, that nourishment, that healing, as you keep saying so powerfully, like, that's part of what we all need. It's not just an Indigenous community need—I mean, it's a vital Indigenous community need. We have health disparities that are off the charts. We know how important it is to nourish with our original foods and seeds again. But it's honestly a human need, now. You look out into this world, and this world is not well. We need our seeds back in the hands of people who are willing to care for them and tend the land in good relationship. We all need it. 

[00:29:23] Crystal: And that's what I've been seeing. Like, out of all the years I've been doing this, probably in the last, I'ma say, five years? I've been seeing a lot of transformation, especially having a restaurant, first on hand, you see, and you get to meet, different people. I noticed there's a lot of elders that come here. Mm-hmm, and I walk around and we automatically—not just me, but my staff even notices it from all over—just different elders. A lot of elders. And, to me, personally, it says a lot. It says, all right, we're moving in the right direction. 

[Native drumming and singing begins] 

[00:30:26] Crystal: When you have different people—not just people, want to come, try your cuisine, or whatever they heard, you know, from the media, things like that—they're really coming for your food! [laughs] You know? And it says a lot. And it's almost like in the part where there goes another responsibility.  

[00:30:49] Sara: Mm-hmm, good responsibility, the right responsibility.  

[00:30:52] Crystal: Mm-hmm, exactly.  

[00:30:54] Sara: The right burden, right? 

[00:30:56] Crystal: Yeah. No, yeah. 

[00:30:56] Sara: The healthy burden.  

[00:30:57] Crystal: All the way. And it just seemed the direction that, for Wahpepah's Kitchen, as it's moving, as it goes, we have different people that come, and some non-Native—mostly not Native—and they want that connection. They want that even up to the [Kickapoo name] tea that we have. You know, we sourced that from Rapid City. They'll get this tea. That's why we have different teas. I feel that tea's very important. I'm a tea drinker. [laughs] I love tea!  

[00:31:30] Sara:  I love tea! 

[00:31:31] Crystal: But when we have those certain medicines, you know, like our elderberry tea, things like that; they come for that, and they know. And that's where we have the good responsibility of praying over it, adding good thoughts, you know? Because sometimes you can get caught up in the world of—we don't want to go through the motions, because that's how you get lost. You know. Open. Close. Serve. Everybody here adds something different. Everybody, all the way up to a server. Our servers are from different tribes. They get so excited when they get to serve somebody from their tribe, and they get to show and talk about the knowledge on that plate. And that's what it's about. 

[00:32:15] Sara: That's youth empowerment! Look at you.  

[00:32:18] Crystal: Yeah, we have a lot of young ones. [laughs] I have a lot of young ones here! 

[00:32:23] Sara: Well, this is what I mean when I say, you know, this is food justice, this is Native resiliency. Because for that one young person at the counter, you know, being able to share, “Oh, hey Auntie, we got those elderberries last week from so-and-so up north, and they just came in.”  

[00:32:44] Crystal: That's where we walk around and I'll say, “What's this tea, where's it come from?” You know, and they'll say “[Kickapoo name],” “But what's [Kickapoo name]?” “Oh, in Lakota, it's a wild mint.” “But where at, where actually, where's it grow? How's it grow?” You know, and this is our daily, before we begin.  

[00:33:06] Sara: You guys have morning foodways class, everyone [inaudible as they both laugh] to come to morning foodways class at Wahpepah's Kitchen. 

[00:33:13] Crystal: For instance, we'll talk about the blue corn. “Alright. What about this?” You know, “What about that?” And then, some of the girls are like, “Wait, wait, I know it, I know it!” And it's something that we do every morning, and we learn how to embrace. But if I'm not around, we have books—I have books in the back, where they can look it up. But at the same time, it's just not with the food. It's also with my staff. I have three of my daughters. They represent the Pomo Nation. Man, we have Ohlone, we have oh my gosh, we have Ojibwe. We have, oh my goodness, we have different tribes. But at the same time, what I see is, I've been catering to Native community for many, many years. And when you have a staff that's coming out of colonization, of them coming, from instance, working at Starbucks, or, working from a restaurant that doesn't practice Native foodways; that's something that we have to break, also. Not just with our food in the front lines, but it's also with our staff.  

[00:34:27] Sara: Well it’s the whole circle.  

[00:34:28] Crystal: It is. 

[00:34:29] Sara: Yeah. 

[00:34:30] Crystal: And it's a whole movement that's going around, here in the mornings. I feel that they learn more easily when I have it on the shelf. We'll grab it, and they'll touch it. I want them to touch it, and hold it, and to know exactly where it comes from. Instead of throwing a piece of paper in front of them, “Learn this”. It doesn't go that way.  

[00:34:55] Sara: No, that's a different model. It is.  

[00:34:58] Crystal: And especially with Native foodways.  

[00:35:01] Sara: It is. 

[00:35:02] Crystal: And that's where I would love just to hopefully soon bring them to the garden.  

[00:35:08] Sara: Come back out!  

[00:35:10] Crystal: And, because that's where you can see they're just so prideful and so excited, and they want to know more—even in my children, I see it. Everybody here, are on each other's strengths. Who's good at what? We have Josh for instance, he adds so much to our environment of the knowledge. And when somebody is doing expo and they want to know, where does this come from? And he'll say it. Or one of the girls run—one of their servers are outside, a customer's asking a question—they know to go to him if I'm not around.  

[00:35:47] Sara: It's beautiful. You guys are creating a family here. And you're creating, you're teaching the teachers. You're teaching the next generation of knowledge holders, and food knowledge holders. And you're right, we should work to connect that again, bringing the food. You, who take the foods and turn them into nourishing magic, come out to the land. And re-engage on the front end of that. 

[00:36:11] Crystal: I know that's a huge connection. And to me personally, it's a must, because now they have the fundamental part down. Okay, I said, “It's just not a customer, you're feeding that customer. You don't know what that customer can be going through.” What really touched my staff, especially the girls, we had somebody come, she had stage four cancer and she wanted to eat from a Native American chef. And, let me tell you her family brought her out. We got to feed her. And I told them, “You've done our job. That's our job.” And they—I can get emotional talking about it now—but a few of the girls cried in the back. And I said, “See? That's what an Indigenous Food Warrior is.” 

It's so much more. I'm learning how to run a restaurant, but then also put my Native foodways; my—what I've learned from my grandmother, what I've learned from our protocols. And it's very beautiful when it's done. But very—how can we do this without fighting the food system, for instance. It's been such a learning. Four months, you know, it's been such a rich four months on the 13th. And oh my goodness, it feels like two years. [laughs] 

[00:37:48] Sara: You open a brand new restaurant in the middle of pandemic. That's no small feat, my friend!  

[00:37:53] Crystal: No, it's not. And it's, I guess, how you roll your dice. Very scary, oh yeah! Where I was having panic attacks, but then I would have dreams. And when this opportunity had arised to me for the Fruitvale area, my first thing was, “Oh!” But I have these dreams at night. And, I come from people that, you know, we have dreams and there's telling us things. And no, you're gonna have to be in the Fruitvale area. Not just because I had an opportunity to open up a space, but also at the same time it's very much needed. And, when you're starting, that's why I'm an Indigenous chef, is because of community. That's why we do what we do, is because of community. How to go about it and how to run a restaurant, as a Native restaurant? It's very, very challenging because you have people coming in with that Western world attitude. You know, “Let's do this, let's do that.” But obviously it never works. [laughs] No. We're coming from a holistic or healing approach. It depends who we hire. I was very particular about that. They have to be on the same mission. And I encourage, and I very much tell my staff we're an Indigenous food movement, so it's going to be challenging. Because every day you see it's the same—it's the same way as how we see the community is so much at need and healing. How can we do it by doing it from somewhere else, where it's not connecting into the community? How can we heal without not being in the community? 

[00:39:56] Sara: Yeah, can't be away, can't be outside of it.  

[00:39:58] Crystal: I mean, I wish I was at Fisherman's Wharf, don't get me wrong. [laughs] My job would be so much easier! I wouldn't have to fight what we're fighting, but then the reality comes when we're fighting with the food system. I don't take the word being Indigenous Chef lightly. I take it very serious, because this is who I am, where I come from, and what I've been doing all these years. And yes, it's nice to have fun, but at the same time, when you see somebody from the community that doesn't have a home, doesn't have food; what better way is to “Here, here goes a cup of tea. And let me tell you about this tea.” Or “We have youth, we have a high school up here.” They come in, ask questions about our food. ‘Cause they'll come in and say, “Can we have a hot dog?” Oh, but guess what, but we don't have the hot dog. [laughs] 

[00:40:57] Sara: But here's this amazing buffalo meatball. And I'll tell story about it. 

[00:41:04] Crystal: Yep. And that's when, “Alright, we've done our job.” We have a lot of schools coming here, just to want to know more, but at the same time it's—I couldn't do this without my community. I could never do this without my community, without the people coming in here. I could never do it. Because this is by far the most hardest job I've ever done. And it's something that's very personal to me. 

[Native singing resumes and then fades] 

Because I know what it's like to struggle. I know what it's like to lose somebody from cancer. I know what it's like from historical trauma. I know what it's like not to have food. I know what it's like. And what better way is to start here, in the community? Yeah, but can you imagine, four months just to—we haven't even touched it, a surface of healing the foods. Can you imagine what five years can do? How many lives you can touch? Maybe 10 years? How many lives you can touch just by that one interaction? That's just not touching people coming in here as customers lives; but our staff, our farmers, our sources.  

We have a beautiful older lady that makes our acorn. I know where her heart comes from, you know? And when you get the text messages saying, “Crystal, okay, we gotta get this to last, this much amount.” That means her heart is into it just as much as mine. And that right there is, wow. Or you have the smoked salmon. We'll have Robert messages, me, “Hey sister, this is what we got.” And then you'll have all the beautiful people that, it's really nice to have it all come together where you just, so you meet them in your path of life. For instance, I just got some beautiful red hominy from Oklahoma, you know? And I'm just so excited about that. And going back to Oklahoma in a few weeks to actually cook with my tribe, and cook with my community out there. And that's what it's about, because bringing it back here, going to other communities and cook, and just cooking with all different communities from different tribes; that's healing, right there. Not just for me, but I'm bringing it to here, when people come and eat. It's amazing. It's a beautiful, amazing journey. I call it Indigenous food journey.  

[00:44:51] Sara: Beautiful, amazing Indigenous food journey. 

[00:44:53] Crystal: That's what it is. You know, you have—I'm telling you, the people that come here. Wow. And it's like you know, you get the kind of people that comes and think this is a restaurant. [laughs] That makes you stronger, though. “Let me go Yelp ya.” [laughs harder] I'm like, “Ah, I don't even pay attention to that!” Because I know the path that we're on, and I tell my staff that too. The path that we're on, this restaurant, is embracing all of us. And we have people come and say, “It feels like a family here!” You know? “Thank you. That's what it's about.” You know, everybody adds. Everybody!  

[00:45:39] Sara: Just like all the foods on the wall, talking about the power of this network that's rising in this community, and other communities—what it means for us as food growers, and food producers, and chefs, and food eaters. [laughs]

[00:46:01] Crystal: It's all of us coming together and supporting one another, because we're on that mission. And that's all in different ways, but we're all on that mission. And it's very vital for all of us to support each other, and believe in each other, because that's how the work is done—very much so. So, I'm very humble, grateful, to all the people; especially you guys growing, the beautiful hearts that grow the food. Just to acknowledge our food growers, our seed keepers. Without them, there's no me, definitely. To leave on that note about, come taste it, Indigenous Food Journey; because it's just not about Chef Crystal. It's about everyone—about our food system, our Native foodways. It's never been about Chef Crystal. I like to always say that. It's always been about how can we come together and do this, and heal, and pass it more, let it go more. And I see it. That's one thing I see it throughout Native country. It's happening, and I get to be around in this lifetime to see it, and participate in it. It's freaking happening!  

[00:47:31] Sara: It's pretty special. 

[00:47:32] Crystal: Yeah, it is. In this journey, it's about being humble, definitely being loving, kind to yourself as a human. So you can pass that on, and through your foods. 

[00:47:47] Sara: Indigenous Food Warrior.  

[00:47:48] Crystal: Mm-hmm. [laughs] Yeah!  

[00:47:51] Sara: Thank you so much for everything that you do. We say things in threes in our world. So from the bottom of my heart, [repeats phrase three times in Yaqui language]. It's an honor to dance in circle with you here.  

[00:48:09] Crystal: Thank you. 

[00:48:10] Sara: Foods from the field, to your amazing kitchen, to community. Thank you.  

[we hear the sounds of birds, and ethereal ambient music, and then a voice singing a melody in an Indigenous language begins singing while other instruments begin playing until the song fades]