Here at Artful Living, we have long known that Native American chef Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota) is a Twin Cities trailblazer, helping revitalize Indigenous foodways through his acclaimed restaurant, Owamni; his nonprofit, NATIFS; and his Indigenous Food Lab, a professional kitchen and training center. Now, the rest of the world is taking notice and rightly recognizing his important work with accolades including TIME 100 honors and the Julia Child Award. He makes history as the first Native American recipient of this prestigious award presented in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. It’s accompanied by a $50,000 grant, which will support the Indigenous Food Lab’s efforts to expand access to Native American foodways.
Tuesday, October 24 | 6:30 to 10 p.m.
Sherman will be honored during a star-studded gala taking place on Tuesday, October 24, at the Depot Minneapolis. The festivities kick off with cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m. followed by the award ceremony at 7 p.m. Attendees will nosh on a delectable dinner featuring regional Indigenous fare prepared by the Owamni/NATIFS team while enjoying an evening steered by Minneapolis Foundation president/CEO and former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak and Megan O’Hara. Presenters include chef Andrew Zimmern, culinary journalist Toni Tipton-Martin, Native American chef Elena Terry of Wild Bearies, and more.
Gala net proceeds will support the ongoing care and preservation of Julia Child’s kitchen and the Smithsonian’s American Food History Project at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. To date, the Julia Child Foundation has awarded more than $3 million to culinary-focused nonprofits across the country. Here, we chat with Sherman about the award, the upcoming gala and the future of his work.
What does this honor mean to you?
This work has never been about winning awards or earning Michelin stars, but these accolades definitely help open up doors. It’s such an honor to be selected out of countless people who have so much amazing talent, and I hope I can continue to do the work of using culinary arts as a tool, much like Julia did, to get people to really think about where their food comes from.
I have a very specific focus: rethinking what we consider North American foods while also pushing back against some of the colonial values that have been forced upon us — including what foods we’re eating, who’s growing our foods, where we buy our foods and more. It’s looking at it all from an Indigenous, non-Eurocentric perspective to ask ourselves: How can we pull these Indigenous values into our lifestyles and develop a deeper relationship with the world around us? It’s an important message and vision, but it’s not just me. There’s a large group of us doing this work out there. I’m just happy that these doors are opening, because I’m hopeful others will also have these opportunities in the future.
How will the grant money support NATIFS and the Indigenous Food Lab?
We started NATIFS from scratch, and we have a very broad vision. We are really proud to have our model officially built here in Minneapolis. We have our marketplace at Midtown Global Market, where people can purchase Indigenous food products. We’re activating our classroom, where people can learn about all facets of Indigenous life, including food, medicine, language, arts and more; these teachings will also be available online. We’re building out our production kitchen to get more and more Indigenous food products out there and to really tackle the food access issue. On top of that, we were finally able to bring Owamni into the nonprofit family this year so that we can utilize the restaurant to create jobs within the community, support Native food producers and spark conversations about modern Indigenous foods.
This support really helps us as we’re building bandwidth to continue this important work. These funds will go toward our educational side, to help us build out our studio so we have even more capacity to steward Indigenous knowledge into the future and make it more accessible, especially for Indigenous people.
What can gala attendees expect to enjoy that evening?
I’m really excited that Toni Tipton-Martin will be here, along with all the other special guests. I’m thrilled that our team is making the dinner, so the gala will feature Indigenous foods. All the proceeds support the Julia Child Foundation to help celebrate Julia’s life and support other thought leaders in the culinary world in their missions and growth. Overall, it’s going to be a really interesting celebration that we don’t typically see here in Minnesota. I’m just so happy that our entire team can be a part of it.
What exciting developments are on the horizon for 2024?
We’re moving into a totally different phase with our organization, hopefully with our first expansion into Montana, which allows us to do this same work in a different community. This year, we solidified the model that we’ve been building, with the market, classroom and production kitchen. So after all these growth phases we’ve been through, we now have a concrete structure. I think 2024 is really going to help define how we grow outward beyond our own region to support Native communities and entrepreneurs all over the place.