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In honor of our free exhibition We the People: The Radical Notion of Democracy, we invite you to join us for a conversation in the Great Hall with Prof. Gerald Torres, professor of environmental justice and professor of law at Yale Law School, and Chef Nico Albert (ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ Cherokee Nation), chef, caterer and student of traditional Indigenous cuisines. Drawing from Prof. Torres’s amd Chef Albert’s careers, experiences, and insights, the conversation will be centered on the relationship between the US Constitution, tribal law, and Indigenous heritage, with a close look at use of Indigenous land and resources (such as food) through a lens of environmental justice, equity, and cultural histories.
Gerald Torres is Professor of Environmental Justice at the Yale School of the Environment, with a secondary appointment as Professor of Law at the Law School. A pioneer in the field of environmental law, Torres has spent his career examining the intrinsic connections between the environment, agricultural and food systems, and social justice. His research into how race and ethnicity impact environmental policy has been influential in the emergence and evolution of the field of environmental justice. His work also includes the study of conflicts over resource management between Native American tribes, states, and the federal government.
Previously, Torres taught at Cornell Law School, the University of Texas Law School, and the University of Minnesota Law School, serving as an associate dean at both. He is also a former president of the Association of American Law Schools and served as deputy assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the US Department of Justice during the Clinton administration.
Torres’s past work has examined how U.S. regulations have created racially or ethnically marginalized communities that bear a disproportionate share of environmental burdens and also has focused on developing strategies to improve governmental decision-making. He is also a leading scholar in critical race theory—a theoretical framework that examines questions of race and racism from a legal standpoint. His book The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy, coauthored with Lani Guinier, was described as “one of the most provocative and challenging books on race produced in years.”
Chef Nico Albert (ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ Cherokee Nation)
Chef Nico Albert (ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ Cherokee Nation) is a self-taught chef, caterer and student of traditional indigenous cuisines based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She began her culinary education at a very young age, growing up in California and Arizona. Her fondest memories began in her mother’s garden and in the kitchen preparing meals, and culminated around the family dinner table. When fate and her father’s career moved the family to Northeastern Oklahoma, Nico embraced her return to the post-removal homeland of her mother’s people (descended from the Adair family originating in the Cherokee lands now known as Georgia) as a calling and opportunity to reestablish a relationship with her Cherokee community, first and foremost through the language of food. Her journey to learn traditional Cherokee ways, dishes and the wild and cultivated ingredients involved in their preparation grew to encompass the indigenous cuisines of tribes from all parts of North America, and led to her involvement in indigenous food revitalization and food sovereignty.
As the founding Executive Chef of Duet Restaurant + Jazz, a modern American eatery and jazz club in the heart of the Tulsa Arts District, Chef Nico drew on her Native American and Acadian heritage, as well as her affinity for indigenous Mexican and New Orleanian cuisine, to create the original menu and a vast catalog of specials during her tenure. The eclectic jazz-inspired dishes feature a combination of classic southern, indigenous and world flavors, and remain some of Tulsa’s favorites.
Now as the founder and owner of Burning Cedar Indigenous Foods, Nico devotes her time and passion for the revitalization of indigenous cuisine to promote healing and wellness in the Native American community by providing healthy, traditionally inspired catering options and educational events. Her efforts to steadily expand her knowledge of traditional ingredients and techniques continue through research and collaboration with indigenous chefs and traditionalists from all Nations. Chef Nico’s work has been featured regionally and nationally by Cherokee Nation’s OsiyoTV, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Atlas Obscura, PBS, Gilcrease Museum, Philbrook Museum, BBC’s Hairy Bikers, and Food Network, among others.
Nico currently resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma with her husband, Kyle Williams Sr (Ponca, Otoe-Missouria, Iowa), her stepdaughter, two mischievous little dogs, and three perfect rabbits. She and her family enjoy spending time together outdoors and dancing at powwows. She and Kyle also play music in heavy metal and doom bands.
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