Mariah Gladstone has found a recipe for success in her online cooking show Indigikitchen. Its name blends the words “Indigenous,” “digital,” and “kitchen,” and her weekly recipes, tips, and social media videos aim to re-Indigenize the diets of Native Americans while tempting all viewers to opt for healthier diets. Her Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube posts have won her thousands of followers and interest from book agents and publishers.
“I want to get Native and non-Native people excited about Indigenous foods,” says Gladstone, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and descendant of the Blackfeet Nation. “Our bodies fare better physically when we switch to an Indigenous-based diet. There’s a spiritual aspect when Native peoples eat foods of their ancestors. It recognizes the wisdom of our elders and strengthens our ties to Mother Earth.”
Gladstone earned her degree in environmental engineering from Columbia University, and she is completing her master’s in environmental science at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She has also delivered a TEDx talk, done cooking demonstrations for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, testified before a Senate committee on a farm bill, and is currently writing a toolkit for Montana No Kid Hungry to incorporate Indigenous foods into schools.
She credits her parents with planting the seeds of her culinary curiosity. Her mother let her experiment in the kitchen when she was a girl. “I had the freedom to fail, to totally mess up. The worst-case scenario was we lost a bit of flour, sugar, and butter,” says Gladstone.
“Our bodies fare better physically when we switch to an Indigenous-based diet. There’s a spiritual aspect when Native peoples eat foods of their ancestors. It recognizes the wisdom of our elders and strengthens our ties to Mother Earth.”
When she was in elementary school, her father and grandfather set out a garden for her. Gladstone sketched planting diagrams on graph paper, laid out soaker hoses, and fretted over plant pests. “I got to pull up carrots and tomatoes and shuck corn. It gave me the pride that comes with seeing things turn from seeds into food. I still think it’s absolutely magical,” she says. When she trekked to Manhattan for college from her Kalispell, Mont., home near the Blackfeet Reservation, she stuffed her carry-on bag with frozen packages of moose and elk.
Gladstone’s passion for cooking unites her tribal heritage with her scientific training. “It’s not engineering, per se, but in graduate school I’m finding the intersection of culinary arts, Indigenous sustainability, land management, and diet and nutrition in ways that fall under the same umbrella and aren’t sectioned off, and I use digital media to share that information with people,” she says.
Her website serves up treats like Squash Nested Elk, Blue Cornmeal Pancakes, Potawatomi Berry Rice, Blue Corn–Crusted Whitefish, Sweet Potato Breakfast Scramble, and even Indigenous Pad Thai with Cucumber Noodles.
Besides pleasing palates, Gladstone has a deeper mission — to improve the health of Native Americans. Life expectancies of Indigenous people in Montana are 20 years less than those of non-Natives, according to that state’s health department, because of high rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Nationwide, 79 percent of Native children say their communities lack access to healthy food, according to a report by the Center for Native American Youth.
Gladstone tailors her recipes to the needs of modern families. She knows 21st-century Indigenous Americans live hectic lives, like everyone else. “I have to make recipes fun, delicious, and approachable,” she says. Her dishes emphasize Indigenous staples like wild game, berries, wild rice, corn, and squash.
“I want to promote healthy, fresh foods people can feed their families using the modern kitchen,” Gladstone says. “We have to build community excitement because if I’m making super-complicated recipes that take a lot of time or don’t taste good, it doesn’t restore food systems.”
Her favorite recipe? Bison Butternut Lasagna. “It’s so much better than regular lasagna. It’s sweet, because it has butternut squash noodles,” she says. “You feel guilty while you’re eating it, because you’re, like, ‘I should be eating a vegetable,’ but it is a vegetable!”
—Ann S. Boor
At more than 17,000 members the Blackfeet Nation is among the 10 largest tribes in the U.S. The Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwest Montana is home to several enterprises, including a hotel and casino and cable television, communication, and internet services.
Completing one bachelor’s degree is impressive, but Joseph Lance Casila completed three in four and a half years while at the University of Guam — a BS each in math, chemistry, and biology. Casila is resourceful. He left high school wanting to pursue his interest in engineering, but the University of Guam didn’t have a full engineering program. So he created a course of study to meet his needs. “My initial plan was to major in math and chemistry at the University of Guam and use those courses to fulfill some requirements in an online engineering program I was looking into,” he says.
Casila intended to pursue both programs at the same time, making use of the generous aid package his university had awarded him. “I was a little uneasy because there wasn’t a full engineering program at that time,” he explains. “But I didn’t feel hopeless because I knew I could make something out of the opportunity that was given to me.”
In the end, Casila decided against the online engineering program. After reading articles about regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, he tried a notoriously difficult intro to biology class with his friends. He did well in the class, so he applied for and landed a summer internship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Phoenix, Ariz., where his work with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines sparked his interest in molecular biology. “That experience was also very special to me because the research used DNA samples of people from my island who I actually worked with during community service events,” Casila says. “I realized that I could apply my engineering skills in a field that focuses on helping treat people.”
After that summer program Casila became a triple major in math, chemistry, and biology, intending to approach biology from an engineering perspective. “I didn’t know there were schools in the United States offering programs called bioengineering and that I was mimicking their coursework,” he says. His recent acceptance into a bioengineering PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania confirmed for him that the triple-major route didn’t get in the way of pursuing his goals.
Casila grew up on the island of Guam, a 212-square-mile U.S. territory in the western Pacific, with his parents and two older siblings. He didn’t worry about schoolwork until he began to apply himself in high school. He always knew that he was going to go to college, but he didn’t have a clear picture of what he was going to focus on once he got there.
Casila’s parents trusted him to follow his passions when it came to higher education. “I had no pressure to do well in school because they already knew that I understood how important education is,” he says. As he looks toward the future, he says it’s important to give back to them for all they have given him. “My goal to pursue a career in science and engineering is part of giving back,” he explains.
Casila recalls that his teachers believed in him more than he believed in himself. Mrs. DeVera, one of his middle school teachers, believed that he was going to change the world. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but when he learned that he placed top five in his middle school despite not trying his best, her confidence in him began to resonate. As Casila moved into high school, her words inspired him to do his best. With his teachers’ support and his new resolve, he graduated at the top of his class.
The University of Guam awarded him the Merit Scholarship, which covered tuition for four years, with stipends for books and living expenses. That generous offer persuaded him to stay on the island for university, where he could live with his parents and where many of his fellow students had grown up in a similar culture.
His double, then triple, major came with an extensive workload. “My average courseload was about 22 credits per semester compared to our university’s regular 12-credit full-time student status,” Casila says. “I had to give up a lot of things and it was difficult to accept.” He had been active in his community during high school, and so it was hard to watch others participate in community organizations knowing he couldn’t join them due to classes.
Even after he learned to manage his time more efficiently, Casila was unable to participate in the way he wanted. “I had motivation, leadership experience, and ideas to lead student organizations,” he says. “I just didn’t have the time to fully commit. It was difficult imagining the things I could have done, but I had to let go.” Instead, Casila found some satisfaction in taking on mentorship and training roles, many of which would help lead him to where he is now.
In order to stay on track with classwork, Casila joined forces with his friends. Those who knew the topics best would take the lead to share their strengths with the group. When someone in the group fell behind, someone else would help them catch up. Their teamwork honed their weaknesses and maximized their strengths. He recalls, “I couldn’t have accomplished what I did if it weren’t for their help and support.”
For four summers in a row, Casila participated in research opportunities that took him off-island, including internships at the NIH and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as well as national conferences with the American Chemical Society (ACS), the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). His cumulative research opportunities allowed him to represent his island in many cities across the country: Bethesda, Md.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Long Beach, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; Boston, Mass.; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Orlando, Fla. Casila surprised himself by first getting into the NIH’s STEP-UP program his senior year of high school and found the experience so rewarding that he sought out similar programs wherever he could, making sure to initiate contact or ask about opportunities even if getting accepted seemed like a long shot.
“My goal to pursue a career in science and engineering is part of giving back.”
He became the first person from his university to be named an ACS Scholar. The program ensured that he had a mentor among his chemistry professors and helped him pay for the extra classes he took during the fall intersession, which allowed him to graduate on time. The ACS also showed him the broad extent of the chemistry community. Each of the research programs Casila attended revealed more of the possibilities available when you have the right network and funding.
When he compared prestigious academic institutions to his small university, he saw that his local network is comparatively less. Many students, he believes, aren’t made aware of the many resources outside the institution — and that’s something he wants to change.
This fall, Casila’s heading to UPenn’s bioengineering PhD program, where he’ll be working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on research related to tissue engineering and drug delivery. He doesn’t know where that will lead him specifically, but he knows that in the future he wants to create more academic opportunities for underrepresented students who may not know what they’re capable of or what resources are available to them.
“My heart has a special place for students who are in the same shoes I was once in, especially those from Guam,” he says. “For now, I just want to be in a position where I can help students break out of the mentality that their opportunities are limited.”
One of the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific, Guam is a U.S. territory and its residents, known as Guamanians, are U.S. citizens. The Indigenous people of the Marianas are Chamorros. The Native language is Chamorro, but English is mainly spoken throughout Guam.