Oshkwazin staff were fortunate enough to attend the Intertribal Food Sovereignty Summit at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Reservation in Connecticut. This conference was a week long and full of incredible learning opportunities, delicious food and great company. Some of the theme highlights were food system change, decolonizing your diet, tribal farms, seed saving, food sovereignty initiatives and a feast that was prepared by Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman.
Going into the conference I knew what the term food sovereignty meant, or at least I thought I did. Western society defines Food Sovereignty as the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture system. But food sovereignty is so much more than that, there is also a whole piece about food revitalization, connection to land and building healthy relationships with food. Indigenous Food Sovereignty is referred to as a reconnection to land-based food and political systems, and seeks to uphold sacred responsibilities to nurture relationships with the land, culture, spirituality and future generations (Hoover, 2017). Colonization has negatively impacted how Indigenous people access food and how we view it. Since colonization, the loss of land, traditional food and culture, has caused diabetes and heart disease to become the leading causes of death for Indigenous people, but could be avoided by changing the way we eat. Reflecting on the week, I ate wholesome foods for the whole week. At every meal we were told where the food came from and they tried to use all local foods or donations from the people who travelled to the summit. Eating these foods was easy when I had someone there to prepare them for me, but it was easy to fall back into old eating habits as soon as I returned home. Some of the things that I would like to do is to learn more about the foods that are traditional to the area I live in but to also learn about the foods that my ancestors ate.
Youth Leading Food System Change
This session discussed the Dream of Wild Health program in Minnesota. This program started off as a small farming program but has since developed into a larger operation. One of the youth programs is called Cora’s Kids which is a one week camp for Indigenous kids aged 8-12. The program teaches kids about healthy, delicious foods, culture and language throughout the week. The program was designed to help kids discover healthy and traditional foods that they could be lacking in their lives. The program works to make food accessible and also gives the participants a sense of belonging. As the students graduate out of this program they can participate in the garden warrior program which is for indigenous students aged 13-18, which runs for four weeks. This program teaches the participants about how to farm their own food and focuses on leadership development. This program also allows the participants to work with the food, and sell their creations at local farmers markets. One of the overall take home messages I got from this was to always make sure the youth have a voice in your programming. If they feel like they can’t speak up that changes the dynamics of the program but by giving them a voice they are empowered and will lead the changes in our food systems.
Decolonizing your Diet
I was eager to learn about how to decolonize my diet and how the participants in this study were able to do it and for how long. The purpose of the decolonizing diet study was to connect and reconnect people with foods that are Indigenous to the Great Lakes region. Being from the Great Lakes region I was particularly interested in the foods that were ate and how they were prepared. The study consisted of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Quantifiable measurements were taken from each person in the study and they were asked to commit to one year of this decolonized diet. Overall outcomes from those that participated for the whole year where: a reduction in weight, girth, BMI, reduced blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. If we know that the leading cause of death in Indigenous people is diabetes and heart disease, changing our diets by as little as 25% decolonized foods has the potential to have a positive impact.
Tribal Farms- Feeding the People
This session was with people from the Onondaga Nation and Seneca Nation. They discussed their farming programs and the process it took for them to get where they are. Food is important to all cultures, it is one thing everyone has in common. But there is so much more to food than just eating it. Food comes from seed, which is planted, then it grows and is cared for, eventually that plant is harvested and processed, we eat it and then the cycle starts over again. One of the aspects of tribal farming is that you should be harvesting the food and distributing to your community but you should also be preserving food for all the community members. The Onondaga Nation currently has enough food stores for their whole community to last 5 years and their goal is to reach 7 years. Not only are they saving food in case of an emergency but they are also incorporating the teachings of the 7 generations into that. One of the reasons that this garden project was started was the chief and council meetings would eat foods at meetings that were unhealthy, from a cultural standpoint these foods could impair the way they made decisions. Angela told us about how a deer was harvested and that was used to prepare the next meal for the council meeting. The deer is a strong but gentle being, it teaches us about kindness and when we eat deer their strong but gentle nature is then passed on to us. It allows us to make better decisions because we carry its energy. Another big part of the tribal farms is the rematriation of seeds, bringing seeds back to their homelands. Seed saving is important, there are only so many crops left that aren’t commercialized so it is important to keep those plants alive and to keep their genetics strong. Good crop years and bad crop years can tell us a lot, the bad crops can indicate that’s not the food the community needs while good crops tell us those are the foods we need that year. There is so much to learn about traditional ways of farming and revitalizing those foods, this session touched on it and I can’t wait to learn more.
From “garden warriors” to “Good Seeds” defining and enacting food sovereignty in American Indian Community Gardens
This session was one of my favourite ones from the whole week. I felt like this brought together a lot of the topics discussed into one final presentation. Elizabeth Hoover, an associate professor with Brown University, travelled across the United States to different tribal nations to learn about their community gardening initiatives. She also highlighted some of the health impacts of altered food systems from colonization, these impacts are diabetes and heart disease, which are leading cause of death in Indigenous people. She also highlighted the fact that on one of the Tribal reserves in the United States, 8 million dollars a year is what it spent on food for tribal reservations, breaking that number down 7 million is spent off reserve while only 1 million is going back into communities. The 1 million that is being spent on reserve is also mainly being spent on junk food from convenience stores. If we can change the way people view food maybe we can start to have more that of economy being spent on reserves to develop better food programs. Hoover also states that food sovereignty is not just a goal in and of itself but a tool to achieve other aspects of cultural restoration that are connected to health and language. It is also important to recognize that with the food sovereignty movement that it is a goal, not a destination. Cultural loss has accumulated over many years and it is going to take time to reclaim that knowledge and connection to food and land. The levels of food sovereignty occur at an individual, community and political level. Individually we all have the right and responsibility over where food comes from and what we eat. At a community level there is the responsibility to make sure everyone in the community gets enough food. There also needs to be a reciprocal relationship between humans, animals, plants, birds and fish communities. At a political level- the tribal councils need to make sure that each community has enough to eat, create and pass policies that support local producers, protect habitat and ensure there is access to land. Tribal councils also need to ensure that treaty rights are being maintained and ensuring there is always access to traditional foods. Lastly, incorporating education for youth into the movement is so important because they are the future.
This conference has changed the way that I view food. It has made me realize it is important to know where your food comes from. It has also made me think more about my choices in the foods that I consume, are they colonial foods or did my ancestors eat them. I am very thankful that I had this amazing opportunity to travel to Connecticut and take part in this food summit.