Centuries of genocide, oppression, and discrimination have sought to wipe out the food sovereignty and cultures of Native peoples. But tribal nations from coast to coast have held fast to their traditions, and today many communities are rebuilding or strengthening their food sovereignty.
We convened a webinar with legislators, tribal leaders, and advocates to learn about this important work and share how policymakers can engage with Indigenous communities to support it.
SiX Takeaways from the Supporting Tribal Nations Food Sovereignty Webinar:
#1: Food isn’t just food. For many tribal nations, food is intrinsically connected to water, forests, rivers, health, sovereignty, and most importantly, people. The federal and state governments, by contrast, address food in terms of agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and under labels such as food safety, not making the larger connections between food, culture, water, and life. Indigenous people are so often left out of the conversation around food, while their values should be driving the conversation.
#2: It takes all of us to build a future for the next generation. Working on food sovereignty requires that we all – state governments and tribal nations – work together. It is critical that state legislators collaborate with tribal nations to move legislation forward. Representative Debra Lekanoff, the only Native legislator in Washington State, talks about doing her work “holding seeds in one hand and salmon eggs in the other,” understanding the importance of balance. She finds support for her food sovereignty bills by building a coalition with farmers, city people, Indigenous peoples and others.
#3: Passthrough funding is prohibitive for tribal governments. Tribes themselves are the best entity to distribute resources to their people, so red tape and bureaucracy should be eliminated wherever possible. Funding should come directly to the tribe rather than being passed through the state. Where that is not possible, state governments should develop clear expectations and roles for the process of distributing federal funds. State governments are not the guardians of these funds, but rather a conduit. It is also important for state legislatures to remember that tribal governments are not just one entity, they are many.
#4: Engage tribal governments with respect. Panelists gave concrete and basic advice for non-Native legislators about engaging with tribal governments: Do your research: use the internet to learn about the tribe if you are unfamiliar with them. If they have a treaty or executive order, read it. Reach out to tribal leaders and request a tour. Be patient – they are as busy as you are. If you make a mistake, take responsibility, apologize, and learn. Most of all, remember that you are engaging with parallel governments and show the appropriate respect. The respect you show in your initial interactions will come back to you in stronger relationships.
#5: American Indian and Alaskan Native farms make up 3% of all U.S. farms and bring in $3.5 billion in revenue each year. And these figures are growing rapidly. Policymakers can support Native producers, foodways, and food sovereignty in many ways.Bolstering and expanding Native foods in institutional markets like schools and hospitals benefits both farmers and the broader community. Look for coalitions around specific legislation as well; the Native Farm Bill Coalition brought 63 tribal-specific provisions to the 2018 Farm Bill, including on tribal parity and traditional and Native-produced food.
#5: Part of the healing for tribal nations from centuries of violence and oppression is the ability to rematriate cultures and traditions—including traditional foodways. Panelist Lucille Contreras, a member of the Lipan Apache band of Texas and founder of the Texas Tribal Buffalo Project, describes herself as a caretaker of her bison relatives. Her work restores traditional practices and provides high quality bison meat to members in her community who have experienced land loss. In response to what elected officials can do to support tribal nation food sovereignty, Lucille says:
“Our most traditional practices are now touted as regenerative, and much in demand. But these are our traditions, and we would like to have more access to being able to practice these traditions.”
If you are a CROP member you can watch the recording of the Supporting Tribal Nation Food Sovereignty Webinar here. Not a CROP member? As a state legislator you can join below.
If you are a state legislator interested in working on food sovereignty issues and strengthening the relationship between your state government and tribal nations, reach out to us at [email protected] —we can help!