Native Youth Leadership Alliance

(Mariana Harvey) We are All Uplifted by the Power of our Native Foods!

NYLA Food and Community Collage

My Leadership Path:

Discovering the Power of Our Native Foods


(Recipes Below :))

For the last four years I have been on a journey into the great vastness of health and wellness.

I discovered this passion and a way of life at Fort Lewis College, in Durango, CO. In 2009 I connected with the newly emerged, student run organization, Buffalo Council (BC). Our mission statement at that time was: ‘The empowerment of sustainable, subsistence cultures, through traditional foods, health and education.’ Accurate to our namesake we networked with our local and Native communities and brought buffalo to the people. The idea was simple.

My involvement in the Buffalo Council broadened my understanding of activism. Prior to BC, my concept of an activist was to be a ‘fighter’ on the front lines at all times.  Through my work with BC I first handedly experienced that this previous thought process was inaccurate. I saw what positive impacts can occur by feeding and engaging community in sustainable, Native, traditional, healthy foods. I learned that the ‘front lines’ of a movement look different for each one; I didn’t have to have a blow horn and a picket sign to be an activist. I just needed the passion to butcher, cook, learn and share. BC was the movement I have been waiting to be a part of and didn’t even know how much I needed it.

Four years later, I am back home in Washington state and proud to say I am still on my ‘health kick’; cooking, harvesting, learning, growing and creating change through Native foods and wellness practices.

In 2011 I was awarded a fellowship with the Native Youth Leadership Alliance (NYLA), which among many things has strengthened and advanced my knowledge and passion for Native health and wellness.

This past April, I was given the incredibly unique opportunity to cook and design the menu for the NYLA National Retreat held in Estes Park, CO. A core value of NYLA is health and wellness, which is represented by our focus on traditional, Native foods. Steadfast to NYLA values; I got to cook a bunch of yummy, wild, Native, nutritious, healthy foods for some of the most amazing people.

As a NYLA fellow, I have a whole team advocating for me and offering challenges and opportunities for me to learn and grow with. Upon taking the offer to cook for the retreat; I became extremely excited with a bit of anxiety creeping in. I realized that I needed a mentor in the kitchen, helping me and guiding me through this new experience. Proving that intention and sharing one’s vision is powerful; I met Lisa Monger. Lisa has worked as a Tribal Cook for Tulalip for the past 15 years and has a degree integrative nutrition. We got connected to Lisa by way of two NYLA fellows; Winona Bearchum and Paul Cline who are also leaders serving and preserving our Native foods. Lisa was an amazing pillar for me as my mentor and co-chef; sharing her knowledge in the kitchen, her wisdom of our Native foods and their nutritional benefits.

A central teaching I carried with me to the retreat was reciprocity. When I was first learning healing modalities, my teacher shared, ‘though you are using your energy to heal/help your patient; remember at the same time you are also receiving that healing as a blessing for the work you’re doing.’ I have many times given so much of myself to my work, friends and community that I have often felt ‘drained.’ The intention of reciprocity kept me going while preparing, cooking and designing the menu for the retreat.

During the NYLA retreat, I was able to really receive all the gratitude and beauty streaming from everyone. All of us without definitions and specifications, created a remarkably reciprocal place. So much kindness and generosity were continually filtered into each and every one of us.

With each meal mindsets were shifted and smiles contagious. It was empowering to hear fellows share what positive impacts they gained from each meal, many stating, ‘I am going to make some changes when I get home.’ All the participants at the NYLA retreat came with open minds many trying things for the first time. Participants experienced: ‘green water’ (water with chlorophyll added), hippie tacos (quinoa, any veggie you want, in a cabbage ‘taco’), kale smoothies and many native foods – Jerusalem artichokes, wild turnips, hazelnuts, huckleberries, dandelions, salmon, deer, buffalo, blue corn and much more. We were all uplifted by the power of our Native foods.

The impact of our Native, traditional foods remain monumental in my life and their absolute ability to promote positivity. It was a great honor to cook and create with the NYLA community, thank you for giving me this opportunity.


See Mariana’s NYLA Profile