Celebrating Indigenous Foodways for Native American Heritage Month

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We would all be remiss to be fighting the good fight for food justice if we didn’t center the history, struggle, and resilience of the Native American and indigenous communities, whose land and water is what our country’s food system is built upon. Yet it happens…all the time. Too often, the table is set without a place for the indigenous narrative despite the fact that we’re dinning in their home, nourishing our bodies with their food that was cultivated on their land. Such is the colonizer’s narrative. And as active resistors we must intentionally deconstruct and decolonize while giving grace and reparations to the Native American and indigenous identities that have and continue to be marginalized by our colonial, industrial, white supremacist food system.

Critically analyzing mainstream food justice movements, we find our entire framework and the constructs that shape them are built on the backs of indigenous cultures and identities. In fact, our entire food justice rhetoric is an appropriation of native foodways and philosophies. Sustainability, climate justice, slow food, eating local, and holistic health and healing are all systems and wisdoms that are deeply rooted in the indigenous past, present, and future. The earth and her many interconnected systems are a central component of native identity and lifeways. Our inability to acknowledge this in food justice movements prevents us from actualizing a truly just and equitable food system.

Xuyen’s definition of “food sovereignty”: The ability of community members to control food access (both effluent and influent) independent of outside food sources (such as supermarkets). source

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, I’ve rounded up 5 powerful stories celebrating beautiful movements of food sovereignty within Native American and indigenous communities. Some are local–building movements just 30 miles outside of Seattle–while others are more distant, but still hit very close to home. Including indigenous [Hawaiian and Mexican] identities in the roundup was an intentional motion to acknowledge the limits of the term “Native American” and encompass those whose land, bodies, and livelihood were the first to be rooted in this nation.

The beauty and resilience of Indigenous foodways

Valerie Seagrest and her work with the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project have been a major source of inspiration for work at The Foodways Project. This movement centered around building a sustainable, thriving, food system from within is a beautiful embodiment of indigenous food sovereignty and Valerie’s 2013 TED Talk paints a powerful image of her community’s work.

The survival of kanaka maoli identity is so deeply rooted in indigenous land, water, and foodways, which continue to be threatened by the tourist industrial complex and industrial decimation of sacred lands. Every year, 8.2 million tourists flock to these small islands, most without care or thought of their roles in upholding oppressive systems against the indigenous communities that have weathered violence and genocide. Kanaka maoli activists like Liko Ho (who we interviewed for our Talk Story video) are resisting the egregious colonization and cultural assimilation through celebration and preservation of indigenous foodways through story and food.

The bitter side of sweetness. Cacao farming in Mexico moves beyond livelihood and serves as an act of political resistance and transference of energy, power, and history through generations. But the indigenous art of cultivating cacao is under constant threat of extension as foreign policies work to systemically dismantle these empowering, self-sustaining models of cultural preservation.

Well for Culture

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A fantastic and quick read that highlights how integral story, identity, and history are in indigenous foodways. The spiritual and terrestrial threads that hold together the practices of growing, eating, and disposing of food cannot and must not be forgotten.

A Call to action: Equity for our Native Brothers & Sisters

As I mentioned earlier, observing NAHM is not only about giving grace, but also about giving reparations. As a non-native person of color, I have benefited from the genocide, rape, and [continued] destruction of indigenous communities, lands, and waters. I, a resident of Seattle, reside on Duwamish tribal land, a tribe that is currently fighting for federal recognition, which would provide valuable resources for survival as a peoples. My role in upholding this system of oppression demands action. I urge folks to give any amount that is meaningful to you to the Duwamish Tribal Services, which funds administrative and legal support systems dedicated to seeking federal recognition as a tribe. To learn more about reparations check out this article by The Atlantic.

How do you honor indigenous nations and what other movements can we give reparations? Comment below!
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