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Daily Inspiration: Meet Ty & Masami Smith

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ty & Masami Smith. 

Hi Ty & Masami, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by talking about NAICCO Cuisine.
What exactly is NAICCO Cuisine?

 The short, summarized answer could simply be: NAICCO Cuisine is a Native American-owned and operated food trailer that offers a one-of-a-kind menu consisting of exquisite Native American street food or what might be better referred to as savory favorites from various parts of Indian Country. However, in order to answer this question properly, the most important component of what really makes the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio (NAICCO) what it is, needs to be spoken to… and that’s the Native Americans who personify NAICCO and all that it stands for. 

Like many heartfelt Native American stories, NAICCO Cuisine, too derives from a humble, grassroots beginning. The origin of NAICCO Cuisine first came about by way of the local Native American community’s voice or those who call NAICCO home. Over the past decade and through an array of community engagement activities, a consensus arose amongst leadership and longstanding community members at NAICCO. The community voice that emerged over those years distinctly and directly spoke to the importance of NAICCO having an in-house sustainability plan and approach in place; thus, so meaningful Native American programs, events, and gatherings could continue forward into the future. 

In seeing the importance of this community-driven statement, NAICCO team members made a bold decision in 2019 to step up and apply for a federal grant through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a funding source with the distinct potential to address the spirit of this concern.

In writing the ACF grant, the NAICCO team deliberated with community elders, families, youth, and the NAICCO Board of Trustees to be certain that every element necessary for assuring the success of the project was considered and taken into account, and more so, to ensure meaningful outcomes were set in place for both NAICCO and the local Native American community. The three main pillars that makeup NAICCO Cuisine today are: 1) Cultural Preservation/Restoration, 2) Social Development, and 3) Economic Development/Sustainability.

 NAICCO Cuisine not only stands as a means for creating opportunities for NAICCO community members to earn extra income and develop future employability skillsets—by way of hands-on experiences and trainings—but as well, it purposefully provides a nurturing atmosphere that lends itself to the development of community buy-in and overall ownership. The design of the model that defines NAICCO Cuisine is one that is not only meant to generate revenue to supplement ongoing programs, activities, and events at NAICCO but just as meaningful, is one that serves as a platform for promoting traditional Native American values and teachings; the foundational fabric of Native Americans or those virtues better recognized as prayer, respect, compassion, truth, generosity, humility, and wisdom. Furthermore, this sustainability initiative and all the components that it is comprised of is not just meant to ensure a future for NAICCO and the people it stands for, but just as importantly, it is meant to represent an attainable possibility in today’s day and age for all Native Americans; or better yet, the writing of a fresh, new, successful chapter in Native American history.

 Along with serving as a vehicle for sustaining programs and services at NAICCO, NAICCO Cuisine is also a means for engaging the general public; thus, to raise awareness, build relationships, and create a real sense of visibility for Native Americans in Ohio.

 Notably, this sustainability model is also driven by a distinct vision or the desire to achieve a highly sought-after goal. Through the same participatory-focused process described above for NAICCO Cuisine, so too did the clarity of the Bigger & Better NAICCO vision come to fruition. This vision entails NAICCO moving out of its current location on the South Side of Columbus and onward to that of a more desirable location in Central Ohio. The first phase, or Phase #1, of this vision, is better recognized as the Land Back NAICCO campaign. At its core, the Land Back NAICCO campaign seeks to bring in $250,000, thus to purchase a minimum of 20 acres of prime land—land worth building the future of our Native People upon. Once Phase #1 is complete, NAICCO will then initiate Phase #2, or the development of the newly acquired land. 

The Bigger & Better NAICCO vision, though still in the making, is becoming clearer day by day; even more so now since being able to launch NAICCO Cuisine. Markedly, the voice of the Native American community at NAICCO has given life to this vision, and at the heart of that voice has always been the undeniable desire to have a real place of our own here in Ohio where we can gather; a land base we can call ours… where we can together, raise happy-healthy families, share and enjoy the abundances of life as an intertribal community, and ultimately stand together as proud Native Americans in Ohio.

 As can be seen, NAICCO Cuisine is more than just a one-of-a-kind Native American street food option in Ohio. At its core, there will always be a community-driven initiative to develop a self-sustaining means for ensuring future, culturally congruent programming at NAICCO. Simultaneously, NAICCO Cuisine will also serve as a real, foundational step toward the goal of establishing a Bigger & Better NAICCO in Central Ohio.

Going forward, we here at NAICCO are not only excited to be the first to bring Native American street food on the scene in Columbus but as well, are looking forward to the opportunities ahead that will allow us to share NAICCO Cuisine’s exquisite menu with the rest of Ohio. NAICCO Cuisine will not disappoint in delivering a culturally rich, inviting atmosphere that offers exceptional food to its customers. Native American street food items to be found on NAICCO Cuisine’s menu include: Buffalo Burger, NAICCO Pocket, NDN Taco, NDN Taco Bowl, and Fry Bread. If you would like to come and taste a bit of Indian Country here in Ohio and support an honorable cause, then come and experience the exceptionality and positive vibe that NAICCO Cuisine proudly exemplifies. 

#naicco #naiccocuisine #landbacknaicco

 Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
NAICCO Cuisine was anticipated to be operational by the spring of 2020. However, due to the pandemic, NAICCO Cuisine came to a screeching halt before ever getting off the ground. At first, this was an immense challenge that NAICCO seemed to have no answer for. However, after carefully taking all aspects of the pandemic into consideration, NAICCO leadership devised a new approach for NAICCO Cuisine.

At first, NAICCO Cuisine was intended to be a knockdown concession operation (tent style set up with kitchen operation housed underneath). But, because of the trying times associated to the pandemic, NAICCO Cuisine had to reconfigure its approach; thus, to provide a safe and preventative environment amid the coronavirus pandemic. It was at this point in time that NAICCO Cuisine transitioned from a knockdown concession to that of a food trailer. In hindsight, this transition became a blessing in disguise, for it helped streamline the efficiency of the entire NAICCO Cuisine operation.

 After getting the new NAICCO Cuisine food trailer outfitted and operational, it appeared that things would start going in the right direction. Yet, after only being open a month and a half, COVID-19 spiked again, and NAICCO Cuisine came to another halt. This happened in November 2020. Things again were in a state of uncertainty for NAICCO Cuisine—along with everyone else for that matter.

 Though dealt another challenge, NAICCO Executive Director, Masami Smith, sought to find a solution to the problem at hand. After a couple weeks, she came up with the idea that NAICCO Cuisine should offer curbside service. Her logic derived from the fact that she had had numerous past experiences serving large crowds of people, during which times she learned to master the logistical aspects of such undertakings. Henceforth, NAICCO Cuisine platters come onto the scene in Central Ohio in the winter of 2020-2021. These platters proudly featured numerous intertribal dishes from various parts of Indian Country; i.e., Northern Plains Platter, Longhouse Platter, Navajo Twist Platter, Oklahoma Nations Platter, Haudenosaunee Platter, etc. Notably, these platters are flavorsome blends of traditional and contemporary recipes. During the winter of 2021-2022, NAICCO Cuisine platters were again in high demand.

Following a successful unveiling amid the pandemic—receiving stellar reviews and features in Ohio-area media outlets—NAICCO Cuisine had a superb first year! Though the pandemic dealt challenges to NAICCO Cuisine, the team stood together and rose to the occasion, and turned adversity into opportunity.

 Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Masami Smith, NAICCO Executive Director, and Ty Smith, NAICCO Project Director, are both tribally enrolled members of The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Oregon); where they both were born and raised. They are married with three children, one grandson, one granddaughter, and have been by each other’s side for 30+ years. Together, they have chosen to combine their life experiences and education to seek out the best possible ways to give back to their Native People, both in Ohio and around Indian Country.

 Since 2011, they have had the honor and responsibility of serving as management at the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio (NAICCO). Over the years, they have not only helped save NAICCO from going under, but they also revitalized the agency into that of a reputable urban Indian center in Ohio—one based on integrity. Along with that, they have been able to positively impact the lives of countless Native American individuals and families. Today, they continue to hold steadfast to their mission work of preserving and restoring balance in the lives of their Native People through traditional, cultural, educational, family, community, and wellness-driven values and initiatives.

 Why is this work important to you both?
Ty and Masami’s testimony to perseverance is evidenced through the successful and effective implementation of three consecutive federally funded projects at NAICCO over the past 11 years—with each strategically complementing the foundation laid forth by the one prior. Currently, they are diligently working alongside their team implementing NAICCO’s most recently federally funded project, or that which is better known as NAICCO Cuisine (Native American street food trailer). They are on a mission to put NAICCO Cuisine on the map in a big way—both locally and nationally—for at its core, it is envisioned to be the means for sustaining and ensuring ongoing and future culturally congruent programs and activities at NAICCO. Needless to say, this is a very important initiative to them on many levels, but primarily, because it is the component needed to supplement the healing journey of their Native People—via the pathways of Native American cultures and traditions.

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