Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized American Indian tribes and has the most tribal land of any state in the nation. The region, which is located on ancestral lands of the Hohokam, O’odham, Apache, Diné, Xawiƚƚ kwñchawaay, Piipaash, Hualapai, Jumano, and Hopi, is inextricably linked in culture and identity to those Indigenous traditions as well as the impact of European settlers on those nations. And, because of this, it’s important that American Indian organizations define and trademark their cultural heritage and contributions — especially when it comes to food.
The Intertribal Agriculture Council created American Indian Foods in 1998, with the goal of trademarking Native-owned and operated businesses. The certification ensures that a product is made or produced by the members of a federally recognized tribe. In doing so, it guarantees the authenticity of the products and protects the Native businesses and consumers.
“I wanted to get the AIF certification because there are many brands out there that claim to be native, Indigenous, and Indigenous-inspired,” says Winter Wood of Native Ground Coffee, produced by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. “This label, I believe, will allow customers to make the right decision and know exactly who their dollars are going to.”
Valene Hatathlie, owner of Val’s Frybread in Scottsdale, also receives certification from American Indian Foods, and notes that the program helps her small, woman-owned business network with other similar companies around the world. “It also gave me the infrastructure to sell internationally,” she says.
Membership also helps support tribes. Some of the businesses, even in their nascency, have donated time and money to programs such as the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, which provides support and resources to American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian women who have experienced domestic violence. The ranches, farms, and fisheries also employ sustainable practices to protect the land, water, and animals. To get a true taste of the American Southwest and support Native-owned, AIF-certified businesses, here’s a guide to eight excellent local food businesses worth supporting.
Tempe-based Navajo chef Michael John wanted to create a taste of the Southwest and, when his restaurant shut down during the pandemic, he finally got his shot, creating a barbecue sauce using prickly pear, the epitome of regional flavor. He does all the work from cooking to bottling his three flavors: smoked prickly pear, Skinwalker (spicy), and Skoden Golden (mustard). Customers can pick up the sauces through the company website.
Owned by Winter Wood (Onk Akimel O’odham), Native Ground offers single-origin coffee and botanical teas. The Red Mountain decaf, Morning Warrior light roast, Arrowhead medium roast, and Thunderbird dark roast are available in 12-ounce or 2-pound bags, whole-bean or ground. Native Ground also offers a subscription service in two, three, or four-week intervals for a 10 percent discount. The subscription discount applies to their four types of botanical caffeine-free teas as well, with 14 2.5-ounce satchels to an order.
As a Navajo woman, one of the skills the family wants you to learn is how to make fry bread. But perfecting fry bread is not an easy feat. Enter Valene Hatathlie. She came up with a mix that anyone can combine with water to make fry bread at home. Those who live in the Valley can also go straight to the source during her pop-ups to try Val-made fry bread. If you live far, even as far as Canada, shop online for the mix and the grill.
Located on the Gila River Indian Reservation, Ramona Button inherited a family farm from her parents. The farm is significant for bringing back the almost extinct bafv or tepary beans from a few seeds Button’s father had left behind. The beans are packed full of flavor and nutrients. Aside from heirloom tepary beans, Ramona Farms offers ancient grains and heritage corn. The products are sold through several shops in the Valley. Check the website for purchasing options, recipes, and to order online.
Located in Tucson, San Xavier operates according to the Tohono O’odham way of life under these five principles: Respect for land, sacredness of water, respect for elders, respect for animals, and respect for plants. The farm does not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers to cultivate its cholla buds, mesquite for flour, Sonoran wheatberries, and flour, as well as O’odham peas. Its Wild Harvest Program provides education about Sonoran Desert harvesting, cooking, and preserving for the community. Visit the farm at 8100 South Oidak Wog or shop online.
Litson is owned and operated by Navajo (Diné) women and fourth-generation ranchers. The ranch provides hormone- and antibiotic-free grass-fed beef while preserving the land. The website offers a wide variety of products including offal. Custom cuts are also available.
Bravo & Sons is a group of fourth- and fifth-generation ranchers who sustainably raise grass-fed Beefmaster cross cows in northwest Arizona on the Hualapai Reservation. They sell whole, half, or quarter beef as well as 10- or 20-pound burger boxes. Order online and choose pickup or delivery. Delivery is free for those who live within a 70-mile radius of the ranch.
This family-owned fishing company has been sustainably fishing sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay for six generations. The primary distribution site is in Tucson, “their winter home.” Four products are available: Fresh gutted salmon with the head attached, fresh or frozen salmon fillets, smoked sockeye or keta (chum) salmon, and shelf-stable smoked or canned salmon products. Purchase online or call (520) 488-9814 for availability and pricing. For those who live in Tucson and are culinarily challenged, 5 Points Market & Restaurant uses Naknek salmon in its smoked salmon Benedict.