By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
Roxanne Best (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation) is a photographer, culinary artist and storyteller. She grew up on the Colville Indian Reservation, then spent a season of life as a scuba diving instructor where she took underwater photos and video at the Turks and Caicos Islands. She later moved to Kauai, Hawai’i where she honed her cooking and photography skills.
After the birth of her two sons, Roxanne returned to her home area so they could learn the traditions of her family. They now reside in Okanogan, Washington.
Roxanne is a certified Northwest Native Development Fund Indianpreneurship trainer and a First Peoples Fund trainer.
Sitting down for a comfortable chat with Grandma to learn the traditional foodways of her people. This is the feeling Roxanne wants to convey to readers through an Indigenous food blog that she can eventually publish as a book.
She is combining her passion for photography and food into the project to pass on ancestral knowledge to those who, like her, feel disconnected from their people. Though raised on the Colville Reservation, Roxanne was encouraged to get an education and not worry about the traditional ways.
“They won’t get you a job,” she was told.
So Roxanne set out on a journey that eventually took her to Hawai’i where she combined her love of teaching, scuba diving, exotic foods, and photography. But it was a trip to Fiji that ultimately brought her back home.
The warmth of the Indigenous people’s embrace and their ease of living within their cultural practices birthed a desire in Roxanne to learn about her own culture. But even when she moved back to the reservation area, it was hard to find reliable information. There was only one way to truly learn — from elders. Yet Roxanne felt like many in her generation. Disconnected. Unqualified. Afraid to ask.
For ten years, she held onto the dream of documenting the foodways of her people through photos and stories. Then a way opened through an encounter with Leon Rattler (Blackfeet) at a First Peoples Fund training last fall.
“He heard my story and approached me,” Roxanne explained. “He said he would love for me to be on the committee working on an elder’s heritage manual for the Colville Confederated Tribes. That’s huge. We’re talking about traditions around food, burial, every aspect of our people. It’s been amazing. I’m the only non-elder on the committee.”
With support from her 2018 First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership program, Roxanne is gathering information into a reliable resource for traditional foods. It will help others begin to fold their Native heritage into their lives.
“What you consume becomes a part of you,” Roxanne said. “I’m inspired by the stories that people have surrounding food. Being able to create those moments as a cook and also capture the process on film or in story brings me great joy.”