Lisa Fruichantie (citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) has served as a vibrant connector within her communities since she started her first business at 13. Last year Lisa put those skills to work as the new executive director for the restaurant and arts venue Alma in Tacoma, Washington, the traditional lands of the Puyallup peoples. In this episode, find out why it was important for Lisa to draw upon her Indigenous network as she expanded her team, and what it has been like to bring her dream of a Native-focused menu to life. Host: Jessica Ramirez. Producer: Rachel Lam. Story editor: Jenny Asarnow.
Learn more about Alma Tacoma.
Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.
Jessica Ramirez: [00:00:00] Hi Seedcast listeners, this is your host, Jessica Ramirez. Here at Seedcast, we tell stories from around the world about Indigenous knowledge systems. We do so with the purpose of making Indigenous people heard, uplifting Indigenous ways of being as examples of how to be.
[Theme Song by Mia Kami]
Jessica: [00:00:50] Reciprocity as we think about it here on Seedcast means to be in community with all beings. And today we'll listen to [00:01:00] an audio portrait of an Indigenous woman who has spent her entire life transforming physical space into a conduit for community
Lisa Fruichantie: [00:01:10] Lisa chhocefkvt os. Seminolet ois. Ocese vm etvlwvt os, Ecovlke toys.
Jessica: [00:01:20] This is Lisa Fruichantie.
Lisa: [00:01:22] Lisa: I am a daughter, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter. I’m a queer Indigenous woman, and currently reside on the traditional lands of the Puyallup people. My ancestors were Seminole, Creek (Muskogee), Sicilian, and Irish, and I'm a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.
Jessica: [00:01:48] Lisa is the new director of a restaurant and arts venue called Alma in traditional Puyallup territory. Alma defines itself as a space for food, culture [00:02:00] and committee.
Lisa: [00:02:01] You know, community already exists out there and we really just become a conduit for it. Through food and beverage and entertainment to provide space and to work in a very authentic way, [00:02:15] having that, that, you know, kind of cross-cultural exchange.
Jessica: [00:02:19] Lisa into her role as Alma’s director in early 2020 during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of her first impulses as director was to think about how to deepen the Indigenous values of Alma.
Lisa: [00:02:36] And so when I think about, you know, when I first stepped into the role in the pandemic, I thought, how am I going to, how am I going to move the most authentically?
[00:02:48] I reached out to a small plethora of other indigenous people within the region and that I'm in community with and just created a council [00:03:00] of sorts to say, what could it look like if we had a Native restaurant? Is it possible? Is it possible to really make that shift?
Jessica: [00:03:09] And Lisa's first steps in developing a Native restaurant was to find a Native chef.
Lisa: [00:03:15] So when I put this call out, I reached out to all of these people that I knew from all different communities. And I found out about Ramon Shiloh and Ramon himself is mixed race as I am. So he and I are both Creek, obviously with my, my different background and his own, I think we're pretty rich culinarily and through our cultures.
[00:03:39] And he has determined to come on as my executive chef with the goal that by 2022, we will be just a Native kitchen. His most recent question to me was like, what's the food that you remember that your mom and your aunties made that, that you've never had anywhere [00:04:00] else? And first thing that came to my mind was grape dumplings, which are made from possum grapes.
[00:04:06] But, you know, it's just like, how do, how do you put that into a restaurant will other people eat it? I think they will. But you know, it requires a little education and a little trust. I feel fortunate to be able to move this way and, and, um, and just to try to take the time and do it in a good way.
Jessica: [00:04:25] Lisa developed her understanding of how to do things in a good way from the different communities of her childhood.
Lisa: [00:04:34] One thing I think that's unique about me is that my mother worked for the state of Alaska correctional facility. My father. My stepfather that I was raised with, they met when he was actually an inmate.
[00:04:50] So you can imagine how those dualities throughout my childhood really helped me see that the world is never a black or white, and that there's a lot of variation. [00:05:00]
[00:05:03] As a child. My, my elders and my mother always, uh, sought to remind me of my ancestry. To be proud to be native, but also to really understand where I was. You know, I predominantly grew up in Alaska and spent a significant amount of my childhood in Colorado, Oklahoma, but I was adopted into the customs and the traditions of the Kenaitze.
[00:05:27] We live subsistently for a good majority of my young life. And tribal and cultural gatherings were actually at that time, really taught in my school. So I was very fortunate to have lived in a small community. Even traditions, such as basket weaving or plant-based medicine, gathering, leatherwork, cultural songs, dance, all of that was actually taught right in what was a public-school education through some of the Kenaitze elders.
[00:05:53] So when I think about all of, all of that, I look at like the connective tissue that I was able to observe. [00:06:00] And that made me feel a sense of pride, not only for my own culture, but also all the various cultures as such rich history. So it’s certainly just provided me real grounding and a sense of belonging.
Jessica: [00:06:15] Lisa's understanding of how a sense of belonging grounds people has made her want to help others belong work. She does now for a living and work she's done since she was very young when she got a grant from the state of Alaska to start a business.
Lisa: [00:06:33] Lisa: It was the nineties. I was 13 and I was able to create a thrift store and candle shop. And it may not sound so unique, but at that time in Alaska, because we were roughly 300 miles away from your nearest mall, what we had for options were limited, it was K-mart or, or the Salvation Army, K-mart hand-me-downs. So I really desired to do something different.
[00:07:00] And there was a, an abandoned space next door to us that I was granted permission to use at my convenience so I started, I started actually hosting concerts there and I would have high school bands perform and then next door people would come in and purchase clothes and it was pretty successful. Um, until I discovered, I didn't know how to pay taxes, but, um, anyways, so I was able to exit out of that relationship.
[00:07:33] And, um, I was able to donate the rest of, of my merchandise to there were actually fires that year up in the valley in Alaska, and I was able to donate to all the families up there in need. So that was a really great way to learn about business at a young age and learn about not being afraid to ask, and community connection, and the value of a physical space, you know, especially in, in small communities. [00:08:00]
Jessica: [00:08:00] From Lisa's thrift store, candle shop and concert venue to her position as the new director of Alma, she has always found ways to nurture physical spaces for community.
Lisa: [00:08:13] When I left my, my community in Alaska, I really, I just missed it so I started hosting potluck dinners. So now I've been hosting potluck dinners, up until the pandemic for, for 15 years. Every Monday.
[00:08:27] And um, each week has a different culinary theme and the rules are you just bring a dish, dessert or talent to share. That’s it. And anyone can show up. And it's just a standing invitation. And so it's been a gift for me to never know who's going to show up on a weekly basis. And the perk of it has been, it's taught my children how to cook really, really well, and how to learn about a lot of different cultures through cuisine.
[00:08:55] And as I’ve gotten older, that has been where I have [00:09:00] found my strength is - just to be open and to teach that, you know, you don't have to have formal training and you don't have to, you don't have to fake it. You can just be very authentic and ask questions. And I hope that whoever is listening, just, just understands that just showing up is often step one. And should always be the first step - of just showing up, just being there. Because it speaks volumes. You know, there are, there are people out there that, that will allow you the opportunity to find unformal education and to grow, and just really relying on strength of your community, not your online community, but your physical and in-person, community, and culture, as much as possible.
Jessica: [00:09:52] Finding community beyond our screens can feel hard at times, especially in this day and age, [00:10:00] and especially in a pandemic. But the physicality of place is one of the most important treasures for many Indigenous communities for a reason. Place is a relative of many Indigenous communities, as are non-human entities.
[00:10:19] And everything, place, non-humans, and humans are in community with one another. When children are taught this as Lisa was by her families in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Alaska, they will feel emboldened, as Lisa does, to actively be in community. To love their community back. As Lisa says, simply show up, be authentic, and trust and rely on others.
[00:10:54] We hope you've enjoyed this audio portrait of Lisa Fruichantie. And if you live in the [00:11:00] Tacoma area, make sure to stop by Alma to try Lisa and Ramon's culinary schemes. Or if you don't live in the Tacoma area, consider searching for Indigenous places to eat where you are. Thanks for listening and I hope you do some good eating.
[00:11:30] Nia Tero is a Seattle based foundation. We are both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples with a mission to secure Indigenous guardianship for all vital ecosystems. That means we provide support to Indigenous peoples globally who are protecting their homelands from colonization and destruction. Their practices are one of our best guides for making earth livable for humans and other species for generations to come. [00:12:00]
[00:12:01] To learn more about Seedcast and about our work at Nia Tero, please visit our website, niatero.org and follow Nia Tero on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Have thoughts to share with us? Or you liked what you heard? Email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would really love to hear from our listeners.
[00:12:25] This episode was produced by Rachel Lam and edited by Jenny Asarnow. Lisa was interviewed by consulting producer, Julie Keck, and edited by Sharon Ho Chang for the South Seattle Emerald, a nonprofit hyper-local Black led media outlet on Coast Salish territory. Our consulting producer is Julie Keck. Executive producer is Tracy Rector. Fact-checker, Roman Lee Johnson. Theme song by Mia Kami.
[00:12:54] I'm your host, Jessica Ramirez. And we look forward to sharing more stories with you [00:13:00] all very soon.
[Theme Song by Mia Kami]