Menominee program harvests healthy knowledge

Ryan Winn

Jennifer Gauthier is inspired by indigenous food stories. The Menominee tribal member recognizes that the important work tribal nations throughout the world were doing to practice food sovereignty was inherent in the knowledge of her people.

Serving as the community development educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension in Menominee County, Gauthier said, “Locally, we have the knowledge. We hear it when listening to our grandmothers’, aunties’, and uncles’ food stories—listening to what they do and then passing it onto the next generations.”

The teachings in those family stories are being amplified by Kemāmaceqtaq: We’re All Moving, which focuses upon “increasing access to healthier foods and expanding access to safer locations for physical activity” for the Menominee Nation. Funded by The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention award of $2.5 million over five years, the initiate will “work with partners to improve the health of residents” through “evidence-based strategies grounded in Menominee cultural values.”

Gauthier noted, “Everyone in the community has a piece of knowledge, and this is a representation of what happens when we all pull together and share what we know.”

Working alongside state support staff, Gauthier’s team includes Dawn Doperalski, who plans curricula activities; Daniel Grignon, who designs their artwork and helps with their application of Menominee language; and Annette Tourtillott, who weaves the pieces together through community coordination.

The fruit of the team’s labors is a community guidebook that is available both in-print at the Extension office and in digital format on the UW-Extension’s website.

“The guidebook provides a Menominee timeline of harvesting and hunting food, which ties to the moons in the Menominee calendar,” Gauthier said. “It also has our language and hands-on and virtual activities for each month.”

Gauthier sees the project as a way to connect the current generation’s health to the wisdom of their ancestors.

“We include recipes from community cookbooks from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s,” Gauthier said. “We want to uplift those chefs and the meals they prepared during the moons in their own time.”

Gauthier emphasized, “Sharing food and being together is a way of healing for people,” adding, “August was Mēn-kēsoq, Blueberry Moon, and berry picking is a great way for a family to connect. They’re spending time together, getting exercise in a Menominee way, and gathering a food that has nutritional value beyond those that are store bought.”

The guidebooks are also being highlighted by the language teachers in the Menominee school district.

Gauthier recounted, “We shared them with a focus group this past summer, and they loved the concept, thought about how to use it, and gave us feedback to help make our work even better.”

She conveyed that this was what her team hoped for. “We kept all language teachers in our minds and hearts when working on the guidebooks, hoping they would adapt them and use them to help with their lesson planning.”

The group’s efforts were highlighted this past month at the Kehtekaewak Farmers Market on the College of Menominee Nation’s Keshena campus. Visitors to their booth were gifted a pint of blueberries and invited to both peruse the guidebook and use juice from the berries to paint wooden heart necklaces. September is Pawāhān-kēsoq, Wild Rice Gathering Moon, and Gauthier shared that they plan to return to the market to share the traditional food of her nation.

The Kemāmaceqtaq: We’re All Moving is undertaking endeavors to be a catalyst for Menominee health by connecting food, traditions, art, culture, language, and environment.

Speaking on behalf of her team, Gauthier said, “We want to value and recognize our Menominee knowledge systems as valid and important. There are teachings within them. There’s been changes in our land and food systems, but the knowledge is still there for us.”

She continued, “My hope is that this is a way for us all to reconnect and start to share those stories and their teachings again.”

Gauthier said, “Sharing food is a wonderful thing. It brings back a lot of memories for people.”

The hope is that this type of thinking will yield exponential rewards. After all, the more memories created and shared, the more food stories the Menominee nation has to nurture its citizens.

Ryan Winn teaches communication, English, and theater at College of Menominee Nation. For more information about the school, visit