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Indigenous communities becoming food sovereign

Indigenous Food Sovereignty
Posted at 12:06 PM, Nov 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-16 12:06:16-05

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced new resources to empower Indigenous food sovereignty. Tribes all over the country are pushing to become more independent to help with food shortage issues.

Some tribes are looking to past agriculture techniques to help sustain their future.

"Oneida has historically been a champion for food sovereignty for Indigenous communities,” said Vanessa Miller with Oneida Nation.

One of the toughest issues Indigenous communities face is food insecurity.

"We have this slogan of food sovereignty, and for me, it is creating everything,” said Jodi King, the coordinator of Indigenous diet and wellness for Oneida Nation. “Making it our own and having our own sustainability and, our own food. That's one thing we try to promote, and we try to teach our youth those kinds of things."

Oneida Nation is a tribe residing on a reservation in northeastern Wisconsin, and one of their main focuses is food sovereignty for their people.

According to the USDA, food insecurity is a problem all Americans face. About 1 in 9 Americans are food insecure.

But there are some groups that are more likely to face hunger.

About 1 in 4 Native Americans experience food insecurity, compared to 1 in 12 white/non-Hispanic.

These problems stem from a multilayer issue for indigenous communities from the affordability of grocery items, access to grocery stores, and minimum wage.

According to the Oneida Emergency Food Pantry, starting in January 2022, the pantry had 220 families a month. As of August 2022, the pantry has 220 families a week needing help. To fight this, Oneida Nation is following the steps of their ancestors and taking this issue into their own hands and soil.

“One of our main Indigenous foods that we process is our Oneida white corn,” said Crystal Danford, with community outreach for Oneida Nation. "The way we grow our white corn was passed down from ancestor to ancestor, all the way from when we first started from nation to nation. We grow them in mounds together from our beans and getting the nutrients that they need from the corn while the squash is on the bottom protecting everything from the animals.”

The Oneida Nation brought back their way of growing food and raising buffalo to bring it back to their people who are struggling. It is taken from the farms and ranches and delivered to their food pantries and food banks.

"For Oneida, our food systems delve so much more than meeting our nutritional needs,” Miller said. “Food security, yes, we know that is an issue for sure and that is critical and making sure that our people are fed, but for Oneida, we're really trying to make that bigger step to look at our food systems to health."

The USDA is now applying resources to Indigenous communities to back these efforts of food sovereignty. In addition to these resources, USDA is also announcing new cooperative agreements with tribal-serving organizations that will expand the USDA Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative.

The USDA Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s and USDA’s commitment to empower tribal self-determination, promote equity and remove barriers to services and programs, and incorporate Indigenous perspectives into agriculture.