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Resource: Food, Faith, Food Sovereignty & Economic Development – Robert Two Bulls

Reverend Canon Robert Two Bulls discusses food, faith, food sovereignty and economic development. This talk was part of a Food & Faith Convening event held in November 2018 at Duke University. The event was developed through a partnership between Duke Divinity School and the Rural Church Program Area of The Duke Endowment, the Duke World Food Policy Center (WFPC).  Convening discussions identified several themes that drive the work of faith communities: moving from charity to justice, food sovereignty, and equitable food-oriented development; moving from charity to justice for the land & environment; the need for bridging and relationship building between practitioners, funders, and the academy; and the need for bridging between faith communities and policy. Additionally, several academic themes for future research were identified focused on cross-faith comparative analysis and the broad impact of faith community-based food systems work.

About Reverend Canon Robert Two Bulls

Reverend Canon Robert W. Two Bulls is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Oyate (aka, Oglala Sioux), who reside on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, in what is left of our original homeland. In 1986, Robert moved to Washington, DC, to live in intentional community and to renovate town houses in the Shaw Street Neighborhood of Inner-City DC with Manna, Inc. He attended the University of Maryland and earned a degree in American history. He also developed his creative side, still very much part of his vocation as a priest, and worked as a sign writer, calligrapher, and logo designer. He explores the connection that exists between art and spirituality. His vocation and ministry is working with the Native Peoples of this land as an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. He attended seminary in NYC and was ordained to the priesthood in 2001 in Los Angeles, CA. He currently works in the inner city, urban and reservation settings.


It’s an honor to be up here to be able to speak to you all. My name is Robert Two Bulls. It’s actually the Reverent Canon Robert Two Bulls. I’m an episcopal priest, and we’re quite fond of titles and stuff in the episcopal church. So, I carry a number of them.

I come from the Oglala Lakota Oyate. I’m an enrolled member there of Pine Ridge Reservation in South Western Dakota. I’m also a son of a priest. My dad’s a retired episcopal priest as well, so. I come from that line of individuals who always worked with their own people. So, that’s how I grow up.

I think one thing I learned in my work this last 30 years of living in the place that I have lived is that for ghost people is that when you see us on the street, you don’t see us. He walked passed us, it doesn’t register. That individual might be native, that individual might be from a particular tribe. So, it’s a term that came about by some of these writers up in Canada for its nation’s people who talk about that and a majority of our folks, native people live in the cities and urban areas. So, when people think about native people, they think about the reservation. They don’t think about the urban native folks which I’ll argue that its own identity, depending on where you’re at, Minneapolis, St. Paul. It’s different than Los Angeles, where I spent time at working with the urban population there. I lived in DC, which is a whole different group of people. They’re what we call professional native folks or highly educated workers in the government and whatnot.

So, doing this food ministry, you know, we started “First Nations Kitchen” exactly 10 years ago. We spent the first two-years raising the funds, getting people on board and whatnot, and meeting, and putting together a group of individuals who then we started batting around ideas. My first idea was that will just be your record soup kitchen because that’s what I did a lot of work in places I’ve been, whether it was in LA, or New York City, or DC. You know, these getting people through, feed as many people as you possibly can in a short period of time. So, we decided that what we would do is have people come in, sit down, and we would serve them. And we have various faith communities that come in. And we tell them that, “You know, when you serve food, and if you have nothing to do, sit down, and break bread with these individuals, and start listening to their stories, and you tell them your stories and then through the connection a community is made.” And that’s all about respecting the dignity of every human being.

You know, when I talk to our guests, that’s what we call them. We refer them as our guests. When I talked to them, some of these individuals say, “This is the best meal I have all week.” Because we serve indigenous organic food. That means we don’t serve cow, pig, or chicken. It’s all indigenous, meaning it’s buffalo. We get wildlife from the Red Lake Nation, we get wild rice from the wider Leech Lake folks up in Northern Minnesota. We’re starting to work now with some of the tribes that raise buffalo to start using from them. They’re what they raise. We’ve been serving a lot of turkey lately which is not pumped with all that stuff. So, it’s all good, healthy meals that we try to serve. And of course, organic. We procure that from the local Co-op food partners who supplies the groceries around the Twin Cities. And we give it all away. Whatever’s left-over, we give it all the way to the folks that show up. So, we try to do this every Sunday. We’ve been doing it for the last 10 years.

We just celebrated our 10th anniversary last two weeks ago. And so you know, we continue to do this ministry, and I think what’s really interesting for me is that we’ve been working with some of the local folks and trying to help them out economically. We have this woman who makes pies in our kitchen, and she’s trying to start her own business doing that and so she makes really great pies. And then she sell him for like 25 bucks a pie, and she gets all these orders. And so her next step is hopefully she’ll find her own space to really start our business. And we charge her only what she could afford. And I tell her “Well, you know if you could afford this much, that’s great. If not, it’s fine.” We’re not here to make money, or a church, or a building. Let’s utilize the space.

Back in 2000, this building was renovated top to bottom, and it was… Let’s hope that they would start this meal program, but it never got off the ground. Primarily because of money. So, when I interviewed for that’s position, that’s what really grabbed me right away is that they already have the kitchen. It’s already commercial grade, and that’s the major hurdle right there. It gets by all the local laws and whatnot. And so when we started this, the next step is to use this kitchen every day, rather than just on a Sunday. So, that’s where we’re at now.

We just hired a young Ojibwa woman who’s going to do more with connecting more with the local native organizations as well as other reservation in Minnesota. And then we’ll start making more connections with the tribes that are either have their own garden projects, or raising buffalo, or canning salmon, or whatever. That’s what we’re trying to do at this point.

When I studied history, I think about this whole idea of ghost people. I think about how you can have your ghost scared away. I think it back to when you hear the things being shared, and heard, and things I’ve been reading. My wife’s Scott Irish descent. She’s from Georgia, and her mother is from the Appalachian region. And they have all these books that they have inherited. So, one time I was looking through, and it’s a history of Raven County, Georgia. I’m looking at the first chapter in it, it says, “Well, there used to be these Indians live in here, but they’re no longer here, but there’s all this land. It’s the forests already cleared, and fields already to be growing crops, and harvest, and all these. It’s all there.” But it doesn’t say, “Well, who cleared those forests? Who planted those gardens? Who did that?” That was probably the creek. And you hear those kinds of stories. And then when you get to Minnesota, it’s about the Dawes Act of 1887, where land is open up. It’s basically free land, we just got to go and work it, and it could be yours, free. And what I tell people, I said, “You know, that’s one way to look at that is one of America’s first formula action programs involved, where you could farm this land, and you could step up on an economic level.” And when you start talking to people, they talk about their great grandfather’s, grandmother’s who worked this land, and then they moved to the towns, their parents moved to towns, and then they eventually get to go to the cities to go to the university and get their professional education. And so they have this nice story about connection to the land without thinking about what about the ghosts that were there before?

So, this picture here, we don’t take pictures of our guests. That’s one thing we don’t do. We try to respect them. They just come to bake bread, and eat, and enjoy a good meal, and take home food. It will carry them through part of the week. So, this individual here he comes in. He’s studying to be a lawyer. He’s from the Oneida tribe up in Wisconsin, and he’s been coming in now for the last two years. He’ll finish law school soon, so. He talks about when he was growing up and work in the kitchens, where he in on his reservation, serving meals in the morning. And this is our work that was done by a local LA artists who came in and he laid it all out for us, and so, you know, we had people come in and paint, fill in the spaces, make it nice, and it’s really for the community.

So, when people come by, they can really check it out, and they will talk about the kitchen in our gardens, and you know, our relationships with other organizations we have in a community. So, we really trying to make those inroads with with these businesses. There’s one in particular. It’s called “Gandhi Mahal” restaurant, and we’ve teamed up with them on a garden project a few years ago, and they do a lot of outreach and local community as well. And this picture is just one of our young parishioners, and he comes in, and you know, we have little kids help out sometimes. They’ll help serve and you know, interact with our guests. That’s pretty cool.

And then this last picture is summer volunteers that come through. We have various cooks and chefs who come in, and we’ll cook a meal on a Sunday. In this particular community, the Monk community, we have an Episcopal Church that is all monks. And they’ll come in four-times a year, they’ll bring their cooks, they’ll prepare their meals. The learning curve for them was that they had to cook with buffalo or turkey. So, I was like you know, a ship for them you know, to learn a little bit more about local foods and whatnot. Tthe thing with the traditional foods nowadays is that, you know, a lot of our folks can’t afford it. Traditional food is expensive. So a lot of times that’d become ceremonial food. It is used during ceremonies now, whereas our ancestors ate it every day. That is what we are trying to get back to. Because our traditional diet was healthy. It was good for us, whereas reservation era foods, which was what we would call commodities, it is all the stuff that’s bad. That is why we have diabetes, obesity, heart conditions. All this bad stuff connected with food. So, to get back to our traditional diet, that would be the huge big step for us. Thank you.