August 22, 2017

Blackfeet Reservation, Montana.

Montanan’s love to eat huckleberries. Each summer fresh wild huckleberries can be found at most farmer’s markets and roadside stand sell jams, jellies, and syrup. But, interestingly, one of Montana’s Native peoples, the Blackfeet, did not eat huckleberries. Why not?

Saokio Heritage, a community-based organization on the Blackfeet reservation, is working to uncover the answer to this question and many other historic traditional food facts with the help of tribal elders. A new grant from the First Nations Development Institute of Longmont, Colorado will help them do that.

Last year, Saokio Heritage conducted an oral history project with tribal elders Frank Still Smoking, Irene Old Chief, Angeline Wall, Bernadette Wall and others that shared their knowledge of traditional foods used by the Blackfeet. The elders hope these projects will impact the numerous nutrition-based health disparities, including higher rates of obesity and diabetes on the Blackfeet reservation, by encouraging the use of traditional foods.

Blackfeet elders shared that the Blackfeet did not historically eat huckleberries, they used the leaves and berries as medicine. Elders said that the Blackfeet drank huckleberry tea as a daily tonic to lower blood sugar, improve eyesight, and promote overall health.  

Saokio Heritage’s report Ahwahsiin: Where We Get Our Food, release in May 2017, garnered significant national media coverage.

“After the successful release of our oral-history report in the spring, we decided to work on a new project,” said the project coordinator, Abaki Beck, “that would continue to share our elders knowledge about the importance of using traditional foods and healthy eating.”

A new grant this fall from First Nations Development Institute will allow Saokio Heritage to create new language videos to teach the Blackfeet words of traditional foods, produce a policy guide to teach community members to advocate for food sovereignty, and host a traditional foods summit.

“We’re honored that the First Nations Development Institute is eager to support traditional food revitalization and education,” said Beck, “and are excited to continue to share our elders knowledge with the Reservation.”


Saokio Heritage (pronounced like Tokyo) was founded in 2008 by several Blackfeet women, in collaboration with the late Darrell Robes Kipp of Piegan Institute, whose purpose is to revitalize Blackfeet traditional knowledge in a modern context.


Abaki Beck,

Saokio Heritage,

For information or interviews please call: 406-728-6224.