History is served up one dish at a time in the documentary “Gather,” directed by Sanjay Rawal. The film takes us on a deliciously informative journey of American Indigenous people who attempt to regain their culture and independence through “food sovereignty.”
The pilgrimage begins in San Carlos, Arizona, through barren, dry lands once a rich, lush forested area. An Apache woman teaches a young girl how to gather grains as she introduces their cultural ways of preparing and eating foods native and once plentiful for their tribes. The breathtaking camera work immediately pulls you into the nature of the film as it captures something beyond the visual beauty. But it is Chef Nephi Craig of the White Mountain Apache Nation who is teaching a cooking class at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in New York State on the Traditional Lenape Land guiding us along an overgrown path of historical significance and potential healing for a group of Indigenous Americans who were all but wiped out by means of American colonialism.
Within the horrors of the atrocities from centuries ago, food counters the ugly truth as it provides a platform for healing and a sense of beauty. To reconnect to ones’ roots in this way provides more than a physical nourishment, it’s an emotional and spiritual one as well. Director Rawal finds the heart of these people and introduces us to key figures within the communities as they tell their stories of living on the reservations, the difficulties they have witnessed and encountered as well as the hope for their own future and for their traditions.
Rawal takes us across the country to lands and rivers once populated by bison and salmon where Native Americans hunted, fished, and gathered while living in harmony with what Mother Nature provided. From the Yurok Nation along the lush and gorgeous Klamath River in California to the New England area, we meet people like Samuel Gensaw III who embrace their culture and those who bring a sense of evangelism in communicating the efforts from around the country to retain what is so fragile and close to being lost.
Rawal creatively uses voiceover storytelling by bison rancher Fred DuBray with archival newsreels explaining the history of the Plains and how the land changed from having millions of Bison roaming to near extinction thanks to the cattle industry. As recently as 1990, the land has been sought to be protected and brought back to its original form. The connection between the people and their land which provides the food, as DuBray states, is palpable. While the struggle continues, there is a sense of hope thanks to the initiatives around the country. Educating the young about their culture and history is the path to lead these people to a healthier and more prosperous way of living, connected to one another and to nature.
It’s an inspiring film on the whole, but it is the young Elsie DuBray that ignites the possible spark for understanding and integration into the future for Native Americans and this country to understand the difficulties and the solutions. As a teen, her keen insight and knowledge far surpasses most teens as she grasps her cultural background’s centuries old forced tragedies and current health dilemmas while searching for solutions. Rawal focuses upon this aspect of the story for good reason as Elsie and those of her generation are the keys to opening the doors of a better way of living not just for the Indigenous Americans but perhaps all Americans.
Weaving together this story of history, tragedy, and hope as Chef Craig serves up uniquely native dishes and tells us his own unfortunately common story captures your heart and invites you to learn more. The stunning cinematography accentuates every aspect of the story, the beauty of our land, and the need to understand the gifts we have all been given to live a life of truth about our pasts and create a new path for the future.
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