Sustainability (and such)

Follow-Up: Food Sovereignty Summit

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on May 1, 2013

This was a conference about how dialogues and communities are creating tribal food sovereignty.  We found new ways to work together:  Check out the debuts of (a new online resource) and the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (an organized food movement).  And we told stories, most of which left us shaking our heads with the undeniable proof of devastating CLIMATE CHANGE.

On one hand, tribes are adapting.   Traditional rice farmers harvesting only 30% of usual yields are returning to old, less-invasive ways of canoes, sticks, and weeding out water lilies and other pervasive early adapters.  When tons of chum didn’t show up for Washington’s Nisqually tribe– who have restored their river from its mouth to Mount Rainier – they called the neighboring Muckleshoots and discovered they had an overload of other fish that needed processing.  And several groups noted that Mother Earth is adapting traditional foods, such as corn that is growing on much shorter stalks to survive new, harsh winds.

But on the other, some are facing extreme threats.  The Grand Bayou Tribes of the Louisiana Coast have been hit by hurricane and the BP oil spill, not only ripping apart their homes from wind and erosion but also bringing salt water into their freshwater marshes.  And they can’t receive government funding because “they don’t believe there are enough of us to warrant resources.”  Traditional plants are dying and they worry about how the oil spill is affecting their livelihoods and food supplies of oysters, shrimp, and other sea food.  And a Midwestern tribe notes that moon cycles are shifting, seeing an inversion of strawberry and blueberry moons that used to signal planting cycles.

Many say it’s time people stop relying on forms of colonialism, such as public band-aids, to help us navigate our desperate need for food sovereignty amidst wild, game-changing climate shifts.  (“We must return to a calendar based on food; after all, no native moons are named after Roman emperors,” says Winona LaDuke.)

Food sovereignty is, of course, much more than a health and culture boost.  Tribal economists are finding that budgets are “hemorrhaging” up to half of revenues into two categories:  Energy and food.  And only a tiny sliver of that food money stays on the reservation.

So, seed banks are sprouting up as archaeological digs are unearthing 800-year old hard-shelled squashes with fertile seeds.  The Pueblo of Nambe is reclaiming idle land for community gardens, the Taos Food Center is open 24/7 with equipment for people wanting to start a new food business, and the Ute Mountain enterprises are sending sunflower seeds to the Ukraine.

And they’re sharing.  And this is a trending topic; for instance, Dr. Charlotte Cote and others in the American Indian Studies department at the University of Washington are currently sponsoring a “The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ”, a symposium about indigenous ways of knowing cultural food practices and ecological knowledge.

Come join us!



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