November was declared Indigenous Peoples Month in the United States in 1990. The purpose is to recognize the cultures, traditions, and acknowledge the history of Indigenous people in the United States. Central Rivers Farmshed recognizes that our home office is on the stolen land of the Menomoniee and Ho-Chunk people. Learning and acknowledging the land we live on is the first steps towards recognizing the history that led to the systemic challenges many Indigenous people live with today. To learn more about where you live, Whose Land allows you to see what tribes you are residing on.
Indigenous communities embody what it truly means to have food sovereignty. Food sovereignty can be defined as a community’s control over their own food system and resources without limits of an outside power. This brings greater access to fresh, healthy, cultural foods, control over distribution and greater access to food for all. For some Indigenous people, practicing food sovereignty today is a reclamation of culture, land, and power that was taken from them by colonizers. Activist Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) noted,
“Food sovereignty is an affirmation of who we are as Indigenous peoples and a way, one of the most surefooted ways, to restore our relationship with the world around us."
Along with food sovereignty, Indigenous people have a long history of practicing agricultural practices that feed communities and protect the Earth. Intercropping, permaculture, and agroforestry are all regenerative agricultural practices used for years by tribes. You will probably recognize some of these methods because they may be used by your favorite local farmer:
Intercropping is the planting of more than one crop together. Commonly practiced intercropping throughout the Native community is the “Three Sisters.” This is the planting of beans, corn, and squash together. When colonizers came to the Americas, they disregarded this method, deemed it as messy. Little did they know that each of these crops worked together to help each other grow: the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, the corn gives a structure for the beans to grow up, and the squash protects the others from pests. To read more about the history of the Three Sisters, read the passage from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
Permaculture is defined as an agricultural system that mimics natural patterns while still making a product. Farmers work with their natural environment, rather than against it. This involves intentional and strategic planting. A prime example of Native cultures doing this is planting nitrogen fixing plants to help with soil health, lessening the dependence on fertilizers to promote plant growth.
Agroforestry is the management of trees, wildlife, and crops altogether to ensure the health of all three elements. Clearcutting to make room for monocultures never was the only option for agriculture. Benefits of intentional care of the whole ecosystem include healthier soils, increased carbon sequestration, habitats for animals, and overall forest health.
This month we shouldn't just learn the origins of sustainable agriculture practices, but reflect on why, despite their effectiveness, Native farmers only make up 2.3% of farmers in the U.S, make less than 1% of farm sales, and own 6% of farmland (2017). Reasons behind these numbers include displacement to areas of low resources, cultural assimilation, the rise of industrial farming and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). However, the number to Native farmers is rising. As the effects of climate change become more and more apparent, more rightful support for having Indigenous people in decision making positions on our environment have risen.
One person who is reconnecting with their culture through food and cooking is Sean Sherman of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, also known as the Sioux Chef. He is the author of the cookbook The Sioux Chefs Indigenous Kitchen, a guide to modern Indigenous cuisine of the Dakota and Minnesota territories. He also recently opened a restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Owamni. At Owamni, they prioritize purchasing from Indigenous producers, edible flowers, and no colonial ingredients such as wheat, dairy, sugar cane, soy, pork, and chicken. Celebration of Indigenous culture is ever so present in this restaurant.
“We are committed to revitalizing Native American Cuisine and
in the process we are re-identifying North American Cuisine
and reclaiming an important culinary culture long buried and often inaccessible.”
Sherman is also involved in the North American Traditional Food Systems (NATFS). This is a non-profit organization dedicated to working to address and mitigate the economic and health disparities present in Native American communities, while “re-establishing Native foodways.” The organization offers skill development opportunities in food service, learning to identify, gather, and prepare cultural ingredients and foods, and act as a stepping stone to leading a successful business centered on Native foods and cultures. Organizations like NATFS and people like Sherman are reclaiming what was once taken from them. They are revitalizing their history, culture, traditions, and values within their communities. If you are someone who wants to support efforts like these, prioritize purchasing directly from Indigenous producers, visit Owamni, or donate to NATFS.
Many of the food and agricultural practices we praise and idealize are long time practices from Native culture. Regenerative agriculture practices that come from our values for seasonal eating and searching to be food sovereign are not new ideas. Once we can acknowledge this, we'll have the intelligence and leadership we need in order to build resilient food systems, promote environmental health, and bring greater access to healthy foods. There are years of intelligence and wisdom to living healthy lives that have been buried from the violent history of colonization. Oneida Nation, in Green Bay Wisconsin, are actively demonstrating the importance and capability of Native folks being involved in food security and agricultural work with their communities. The Oneida Community Integrated Food Systems (OCIFS) group works with families to power a food system with traditional foods, locally made and grown to support their economy, provide jobs, and address the hunger and nutrition needs in Oneida Nation. They truly captured what it means to view the health of their people in a multi-dimensional way. They have their own farm that brings job opportunities, food distribution of traditional foods supplemented with educational resources, other health service information, and a transportation service to the site. They also work with youth to promote healthy habits and have a 4H group. Oneida Nation's approach to improving community health, supporting local economy, and nurturing environmental health should serve as the framework for creating healthy communities.
November is Indigenous Peoples Month, but the history, successes, and knowledge of Indigenous people should be celebrated throughout the entire year.
They are essential voices and leaders in the various environmental and local food movements across the country. It is long overdue that we let them lead with us. Next month, join us at the Local Goat Company for Dinner In My INDIGENOUS Kitchen event and have authentic Indigenous meal cooked by Karen Ann Hoffman. Karen Ann Hoffman is a Haudensaunee raised in beadwork artist and citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. Hoffman lives, hunts, and gardens in a rural are of Central Wisconsin sheltered by trees and grasslands and poised on the edge of a marsh.