'Food is sacred to us:' One woman's journey to feed her tribe

Jacqueline White
November 20, 2021
by Paul Morello

“My name is Te3oo Niibeisei, which means Singing Crane Woman.”

Jacqueline White always introduces herself first in Arapaho, and then in English. 

For Jacqueline, the traditional greeting is just one way she’s celebrating, sharing and preserving her heritage – which she’s incredibly proud of.

A member of the Northern Arapaho and Chippewa Cree tribes, Jacqueline grew up on the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana and the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming in a family of eight – her parents and five other siblings.

“The highlight was always learning about our culture, our way of life and our language,” she said.

In her life, Jacqueline has learned about the importance of food in her culture.

“When you come into our door, we offer you something to eat or something to drink, even if we don’t have much. It’s our culture and our way of life,” she said.

“For the Arapaho people, food is sacred to us. We use it in all of our ceremonies and those ceremonies are very important to us.”

As an adult, Jacqueline has dedicated herself to ensuring her community always has access to food. She’s the former Tribal Relations Specialist at the Food Bank of Wyoming. 

Right now, she’s working with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes on the Wind River Reservation, where she lives, to help set up a food pantry for each tribe. 

“With the food pantries, we’re breaking ground,” Jacqueline said. “We’re creating something that should’ve happened a long time ago.”

A food distribution on a Native American reservation in Wyoming.
A mobile food distribution on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Until the permanent pantries are established, the food bank provides pop up food distributions like this one.

Jacqueline hopes to have both pantries open in the next year or so. In the meantime, she manages a mobile food distribution for each tribe once a month on the reservation.

“We’re unique. We don’t eat the same as everyone else,” Jacqueline said. “So, we always make sure we have something culturally appropriate. We’ll have some type of traditional food.”

After surveying both tribes, the food bank tries to provide meat, blueberries (which substitute for choke cherries) choke cherries, Blue Bird Flour, Indian Corn and more whenever possible.

While Jacqueline knows there’s a long way to go, she’s proud of what she’s accomplished so far.

"I feel like I’m an advocate for our people who don’t have that voice,” she said. “The more that I can educate others, the more people who can understand who we are and how we do things, that’s important.”

And for Jacqueline, her passion is fueled every day with the knowledge that she’s not just providing sustenance or something to be taken for granted.

“To me, it’s not work, it’s a blessing. For us, food is life.”