November 29, 2021

Celebrating and Empowering Native Americans During National Native American Heritage Month

This week’s Industry Voices was written by Jessica E. Conner, Vice President of Human Resources at Sims Metal, North America.

Chokma! (Hello!). I am a proud citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. November is National Native American Heritage Month. During this month, we reflect on our history, what we have overcome and worked hard to establish, and the importance of preserving our culture. This means bringing my children together with Chickasaw elders to hear the rich history of our people and listen to those fluent elders speak the Chickasaw language.

Like all industries, it’s important for the recycling industry to establish a culture where people of diverse backgrounds can thrive and be who they are—who they really are—among their peers and managers. As an HR professional, I can speak firsthand to how this opens the door for people to feel a sense of belonging and supports better engagement. Seeing and developing everyone to their full potential will enrich our industry overall.

With this in mind, I applaud ISRI for establishing the ISRI Talent Educate, Employ, Empower (E3) Acquisition and Retention Program. Through the pilot program, which is scheduled to launch in June 2022, ISRI will work with members, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)/Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), trade schools, community colleges, and their students. The association is also collaborating with the Federal Department of Labor and Keep America Beautiful (KAB) and their affiliate network in the metro-Atlanta area. ISRI and its partners will design curricula and training programs to prepare students academically and host a series of seminars to support the experiential learning opportunities.

The program will provide supplemental education opportunities to Native Americans. My hope is that through this program we can equip Native students with skills for today and for the future, which not only directly impacts these individuals, but also ripples across the Native communities.

While National Native American Heritage Month is coming to close, you can acknowledge and celebrate Native Americans during your everyday lives. All tribes are different, and with more than 600 tribal nations—each with its own language, values, culture, and system of governance—there are many different opportunities to learn and discover.

One way to celebrate Native American culture is by cooking a traditional meal. I recommend starting with Pashofa, a Chickasaw dish of cracked corn (hominy) and pork, covered in water and boiled for many hours. Traditionally, cooking pashofa required many hours of close attention. Women came together to prepare enough to feed an entire village.

The pashofa pot was a necessary item in Chickasaw households. Before European trade, Chickasaw women crafted large clay vessels for cooking the dish. A lot of labor went into making these pots. Preparing the clay took hours and each pot was built and fashioned by hand. After that, women had to wait for the clay to dry before firing. Many pashofa pots were handed down among Chickasaw families for generations. Today, you can make pashofa in a crockpot as well.

To cook pashofa in a crockpot, you’ll need two cups of pashofa corn, water, and two pounds of pork, cut into one-inch pieces. The directions are simple. Cover the corn and pork with water and cook on medium setting until about half done (2-3 hours). Turn to low setting and continue to cook overnight. Salt to taste, and enjoy!

The recipe with detailed instructions be found here.

Photos courtesy of Jessica E. Conner.