The idea of food sovereignty — or people having the right to control where and how they get food — is growing across the United States. It resonates particularly with Native Americans, many of whom have been separated from their cultural food by centuries of colonization, leading to food insecurity and health disparities.
“I think we need to be aware of the historic role that the federal government and the American people have played in moving native plants and animals to begin with,” said Heather Dawn Thompson, director of the Office of Tribal Relations at the U.S. Department. of Agriculture.
Thompson, who is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, knows the systemic factors at play. She said the U.S. government tried to eliminate bison when colonizing America, leaving Native American tribes without a source. of food and without their sovereignty.
The impact of these early settler efforts on Native Americans has not faded in the past. According to a study published in the journal Food Security, researchers found that Native Americans make up less than 2% of the U.S. population, but suffer from some of the highest rates of food insecurity, poverty, food and other socio-economic challenges. .
Grow against the tide
Indigenous organizations in the Midwest are building new formal food sovereignty programs from the ground up.
At the First Nations Development Institute in Colorado, they fight systemic food insecurity by helping Indigenous communities find grants and other resources to connect with their own food.
“When we talk about indigenous communities, especially on this continent, we have always been here, we have always tried to feed our people, we have always worked to manage land, water and seeds,” said A. -dae Briones, director of programs at the institute. “But it’s only recently that you’re seeing more formal organizations such as Indigenous-led nonprofits that explicitly state it’s part of their job.”
Briones, who is Cochiti Puebloan and Kiowa Indian, said it was less than a century ago that the US government allowed Indigenous peoples to participate in the US economy. She said it’s no surprise that it’s taken a few generations for Indigenous peoples to gain the skills and access to set up formal food sovereignty programs.
“I think what we’re seeing now in food sovereignty is this attempt to break through some of the colonial structures, whether it’s government regulations or economic disparities that prevent Indigenous peoples from really building food system models or to participate in traditional patterns of food culture,” Briones said.