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Food sovereignty in my community

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If we care about our Indigenous communities, we have to start caring about food sovereignty. Our communities’ health is in crisis. According to new research, “Over 50% of Indigenous people worldwide over the age of 35 have type 2 diabetes. Indigenous peoples suffer from poorer health, are more likely to experience disability and reduced quality of life and ultimately die younger than their non-indigenous counterparts (Health | United Nations for Indigenous Peoples).     

Students my age today don’t eat healthy. This could be because they don’t have the money, the knowledge to eat healthy or the skills to cook. According to the National Indian Council On Aging, “a poor diet now causes more deaths than tobacco smoking and high blood pressure.” A study in 2017 found that one out of five people died each day globally, due to a lack of nutrients. That’s almost 11 million people a day. Think about it, about 11 million people died in one year due to the lack of good nutrition. This means they lacked whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds and so much more that the body needs to help maintain a healthy living style. Our ancestors were healthy when they ate lean meats and berries. Our bodies weren’t built to digest milk, bread, or processed foods like chips, cereal, or cheese.  

We need our communities to start exploring how we can eat more locally sourced foods. There are a lot of native plants that still grow wild and can be harvested if one knows how to find them. Some of those native plants in our area include huckleberries, mint, wild onion, chokecherries, bitterroot, camas, husk and so much more. Each of these plants had a different purpose centuries ago and still do now. Whether it was to be used for medicine or just was easy to dry and preserve so they could survive the winter. Hunting was important to do as well and in some communities still is. Hunting wild game or even fishing could help a tribe survive depending on how much they got. They would dry the meat and it would have what we call it nowadays a jerky consistency but it was usually drier than jerky. 

Everyone in the tribe helped each other out, no matter what the job was. They all had jobs, including the kids. My grandpa said when he was a kid the women would have the kids watch the meat when it was on the fire so the kids had to keep the flies off the dry meat until it got a nice sear on the outside, but that usually took a while before that had happened. Nowadays it’s everyone for themselves, whether that means buying out all the toilet paper in the stores in 2020, to buying as much gas as they can and filling their pools with it. Greed has shaped this nation and it’s a sad process to watch happen. Younger generations don’t hunt as much, they don’t go out and learn how to gather, they don’t know when you can harvest certain crops, they don’t know how to bead, or speak their tribes’ language. 

We are experiencing a rise in grocery prices with inflation. Produce is one of the main things that have jumped in prices, along with meat. What most people don’t know is that it would be beneficial to them if they hunted their own meat and got it processed locally. If you slowed down going through town you might notice how many different places you can process your food. In my community there are several meat processors, and one processing center for vegetables, sauces, juices, pickling, spices, teas, and broths. They’ve even helped local farmers sell their produce but in juices, sauces, etc. This way local farmers can sell value added food items and locally grown produce that might not otherwise be sold in stores. Because farmers are selling value-added products, they are able to make more of a profit from their crops. The processing center keeps local farmers in business with the services they offer.  

Another way they’re helping the community is by giving family food boxes to families in need weekly. These boxes have fresh produce, milk, eggs, etc. For low income families this is a great option because there’s over $30 worth of local produce in them and by getting these boxes it is a lot cheaper than going to the store. These boxes are delivered every two weeks and right now they are helping ninety-five families. Everything that this place is doing is all locally grown.  

My tribe began a new “Tribal Food Sovereignty” department last year and have started planting Victory Gardens around our reservation. They started this to help the elders who couldn’t afford to or didn’t have anyone to help them get the produce that they wanted. Since they first started it last spring it has since then grown into four community gardens in four different towns. This is really helpful especially to people that live miles away from a store. Rural towns with few healthy food resources are called food deserts. The cost of gas often prohibits families from traveling to areas with food resources. Having a local community garden is super helpful. All together my tribe has grown over two tons of produce. They have been able to freeze, can and dry a large portion of it. The produce grown in these Victory Gardens range from multiple varieties of tomatoes, various varieties of summer and winter squash, corn, beans, garlic and a number of other choices participating individuals made this spring when they planted the garden. These vegetables are also very healthy alternatives to starches. For example, instead of buying noodles for spaghetti you could make zucchini noodles instead. They are convenient and healthy, and they won’t make you feel sluggish after eating. 

I have multiple personal experiences with food sovereignty. The different examples are hunting, canning, and gathering. All of these examples I have learned either since I was a kid or just recently. I have taken high school culinary classes for three years now and I also took two years of Family Consumer Sciences in middle school. Over the years this class has taught me how to cook healthier and make it taste better than most fast food restaurants. Just recently I started helping my auntie can her own vegetables that she grows. We canned corn, spiced apple rings, corn jam, strawberry jam, pickles, peach jam, and soon we will be canning pickled eggs since she has her own chickens. As for hunting, I’ve been doing it with my brothers and dad since I was a little kid. When we do get a deer or elk, we get it processed locally and whatever we can’t fit into our freezers we give to my grandpa or other family members.  

Kaileen Howard, an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish, Qlispe and Kootenai Tribes and a Ronan High School culinary arts student, was one of 60 national winners for the Intertribal Agriculture Council essay contest. She will travel (expenses paid) to Las Vegas in December to attend the council youth sessions.


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