Indigenous food today
Restoring Our Future by Reclaiming Our Past
And so here we are, 150+ years after the ancient, healthy diet of American Indian people was so forcefully and drastically altered, causing a litany of health problems leading to the lowest life expectancy in the U.S. (statistics on Lakota life expectancy: 48 for males, 52 for females). And yet, as I said at the end of my last blog, that is not the end of the story! We are still here. We have survived. And now there is a new focus and purpose spreading across Indian country. Indigenous Nations across North America are rising up and reclaiming their culture, their traditions, their rights and their sovereignty. With this reawakening, Native people are beginning to also reclaim their food heritage.
In Lakota country, there is an organization called the Lakota Lands Recovery Project, which is working to restore tribal lands to the Lakota families they were allotted to. As part of this effort, the project is also focused on educating our communities about how to locate their lands and identify the options and procedures for recovering, protecting, utilizing and managing those lands. Another great facet to the Lakota Lands Recovery Project is that they are supporting the restoration of the traditional ecology, economy and culture surrounding the buffalo. Nothing could be more important to Lakota people than the reestablishment of our deep connection to tatanka. An example of that vision for the future of our Lakota diet is Tanka Bar, a company located on the Pine Ridge reservation. Tanka Bar applies the ancient Lakota traditional food customs of combining buffalo meat with fruit, while making their products marketable and easily consumable for today’s world.
Another great example of American Indian people reclaiming their food heritage is the local food system being built and implemented by the Sac and Fox tribe of the Mississippi/Meskwaki Nation. Through its ‘Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative’, they have developed an organic farm called ‘Red Earth Gardens’, a 40 acre farm consisting of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers and cover crops, as well as a 1.5 acre community garden, cooperative incubator space, and hay and conservation habitat. The Initiative aims to restore the tribal community connection to Mother Earth and their rich, organic, healthy indigenous food heritage.
A school garden, tended by the students, provides produce for the school cafeteria salad bar. Not surprisingly, the students love the salad bar! The yield from Red Earth Gardens is sold through Tribal Supported Agriculture shares, a farm stand at the Meskwaki Trading Post, the Toledo Farmers Market, the casino, grocery stores and restaurants, thus providing economic resources for the Meskwaki Nation.
Stories like these are the buzz of the times across Indian country. Everywhere, American Indian communities are reclaiming their right to eat the way their ancestors knew so well. It is way of wisdom…. a way of acquiring, respecting and honoring our food, so that we may be the strong and healthy people we once were. A new day is dawning for the Indigenous Nations of North America; a new era of sovereignty, self determination and self reliance. Our cultures were devastated in every way imaginable. And yet, we remain. And so we reclaim all that makes us who we are, including how we eat. Thus the Indigenous food of our future is tied to the Indigenous food of our past. Together they make a sacred bundle, reconnecting us to our history with a vision for our future.