For centuries, Indigenous communities have been disconnected from their traditional food sources due to challenges, like displacement and forced assimilation. For instance, Indigenous children in boarding schools were given processed foods instead of their traditional nutrient-rich diets. This dramatic change in diet, along with being forced to live away from home, made it difficult for many to maintain their ancestral food practices. Over time, this detachment from traditional foods and reliance on processed alternatives has contributed to many health issues, including diabetes. To reclaim our health, we need to reclaim and honor our food heritage.
Tribal food sovereignty means having control over the food we grow and eat. For example, if an Indigenous community has always grown corn in a certain way on their land, then being able to continue this practice is part of their food sovereignty. Eating corn grown in the old ways sustains our health far more effectively than eating frozen corn from a bag, or other processed foods. By practicing food sovereignty, we not only protect our culture, but it keeps our bodies, minds, and spirits strong and healthy.
Food sovereignty doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a farm. It can start with planting a small garden. Imagine the joy of eating fruits, vegetables, and herbs that you grew yourself! You can also make it a community project, where you work alongside your friends, family, and neighbors to grow foods your ancestors ate.
If you live on your reservation, consider approaching your Tribal council and asking for a designated spot where you can grow your garden. They might have unused land that can be transformed into a vibrant source of fresh, nutritious food. If you live in a city or town, see if there are any public or community garden spaces available. You can start by planting a few herbs or vegetables. It’s a beautiful way to learn about traditional crops, connect with your family’s heritage, and experience the joy of nurturing life right in your own home. For an easy indoor project, check out this info on how to grow potatoes in containers.
Food sovereignty is about Native American communities taking charge of their food. It means growing and using the traditional foods and medicines that our ancestors used. Imagine starting a garden in your backyard or a bigger one with your neighbors. By doing this, we can keep our traditions alive and stay strong against any negative outside influences. It’s not just about food, but also the preservation of our culture. When we grow our own food, we are healthier, our community bonds are stronger, and we help heal the past.
To learn more about food sovereignty, check out these resources:
- Indigenous Food Systems Network (IFSN) – An organization dedicated to promoting Indigenous food sovereignty and revitalizing traditional food systems.
- Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project – The Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project connects value systems to food, emphasizing traditional food gathering and diet improvement.
- Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA) – An organization dedicated to advancing food sovereignty and food security for Native American communities.
Author: Christopher Gomez is a member of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo community and holds two bachelor’s degrees in Horticulture and General Agriculture from New Mexico State University. Currently, he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Agronomy at Texas A&M University.