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Crystal Wahpepah is an enrolled member of the Kickapoo nation of Oklahoma Sack and Fox Nation . She was born and raised in Oakland, California, on Ohlone land, surrounded by a multi-tribal, tight-knit, urban Native community. Crystal’s objectives for Wahpepah’s Kitchen are threefold: (1) to acknowledge that we live on stolen land; and (2) how that acknowledgement connects to the reclamation of Native food ways (food sovereignty); as well as (3) to educate communities and organizations on the health benefits of Native food ways using the knowledge passed onto her.
Although it’s impossible to boil down the cultural food ways of 600 federally recognized tribes across the country into a single statement (Native Americans are not a monolith), something many nations have in common is the sharing of food and caring for each other in a community setting. Crystal has observed and participated in her cultural food ways since she was a small child. Her work cannot be separated from her culture or identity as a Native American woman, daughter, grand-daughter, niece, aunt, mother and community member.
In addition to Crystal’s inimitable experience with food in ancestral and community settings, Crystal has received extensive training from prominent organizations in Oakland and San Francisco on how to run her business. She received the Indigenous Artist Activist Award and has been inducted into the Native American Almanac for being one of the first Native American women to own a catering business in Oakland, Ca. In 2016, she was the first Native American Chef to compete in the Food Network’s show, Chopped. Crystal has also been featured in Oaklandside.
Crystal does not merely cater events and go—she speaks on where her food comes from and honors its roots, its Indigenous cultivators and stewards and its place within the seasons. This is why you will always see diversity in her food, because Wahpepah’s Kitchen honors the seasons with changing menus and product availability. Crystal’s creations through food and community shine with joy, lightness of heart, and are led by a solid internal compass.
Crystal has catered and done educational talks in many forums that span local community settings, the tech world, non-profit organizations and educational institutions. Crystal has worked with the American Indian film festival, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Salesforce, WeWork, UC Berkeley, Cal Poly, UCSF and the National Indian Health Board. This is a small sample that illustrates the diversity of Crystal’s reach. She has traveled all over the country attending food summits and building networks with other Native American and Indigenous farmers, land stewards and chefs.
Crystal values deeply the reciprocal practices of mindfully choosing Indigenous food sources with which she creates her cuisine. Her ingredients come from people and lands to which she is connected and has a relationship. She views her business as a portal to food sovereignty and a reclamation of ancestral knowledge in Native and Indigenous communities. Crystal has plans for herself and her community that give voice and claim ground for an ethical and sustainable way to nourish ourselves on this planet.
Crystal has also been featured in Oaklandside and on Broken Bread season 2.
Photo credit: Jean Melesaine