Current Grant Has Closed, but Food Sovereignty Program Continues at NHBP

Food sovereignty can “be described as the ability of communities to determine the quantity and quality of the food that they consume by controlling how their food is produced and distributed,” according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  

Food sovereignty efforts at NHBP, led by Food Sovereignty Coordinator Nickole Keith since June 2021, have primarily been made possible by a three-year grant from the ANA (Administration of Native Americans). Some outlined objectives of the NHBP program included:

  • The Food Container project, held from May 2022 to fall 2022, was sprouted by a survey regarding Tribal Members’ interest and the likelihood of having gardens in their homes. Aimed initially to serve 40 NHBP households, it quickly scaled up to provide for nearly 120 NHBP interested households across the country. Tribal Members planted, cared for and harvested their food in the summer and fall of 2022 in their gardens, raised beds and even on apartment patios.
  • The Indigenous Food Pantry was brought to fruition over several months through the combined efforts of the Food Sovereignty Task Force. After designating the church on the Pine Creek Indian Reservation as its location, the pantry stocks Indigenous Food items as supplies allow, and increases in supply and capacity remain in the works.
  • A Seed Bank was established for Tribal Members that insure against disasters, climate change and disease. Tribal Members are encouraged to donate and exchange seeds to begin filling the storehouse. 
  • Six Indigenous Lifeways Consultants, representing different Tribes from across Indian Country, led in-person events and Facebook videos on various topics, from gardening and foraging to canning and cooking. Altogether, these consultants held five foraging events, with a Rice Camp led by Member of Little Traverse Band of Odawa Daniel Hinmon  and Yebishawn Oldshield, Tribal Member with the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians.
  • The purchase of a 22-acre farm five miles from The Reservation will help with sustainability efforts for the Tribe. The farm has over 30 peach trees, an asparagus patch and a maple tree line along the property’s perimeter.
  • The NHBP Food Sovereignty Facebook page, which had 119 members in June 2021 and by September 2022, had grown to an active membership of more than 615, with numbers increasing weekly. Members both share and react to events, videos, ideas, products and articles related to food sovereignty efforts at not only NHBP but also those featured by other Tribes. 

Keith hosted a panel presentation and arranged for an onsite tour of The Reservation to mark the successful completion of the Food Sovereignty grant from the ANA on Thursday, Sept. 8. Emceed by Tribal Member Brad Simmons, the panel discussion featured five representatives, including three Indigenous Lifeways Consultants, a Tribal Member and Culture Specialist Kevin Harris II.

During the discussion, the panelists described other outcomes of the food sovereignty efforts that may not be as tangible as the grant’s outlined objectives but will continue to have ripple effects among the NHBP Community for years to come.  

Food Sovereignty has helped Tribal Members further identify as Anishinaabe and to begin to reclaim what is nearly lost.  

“It’s in our DNA…being Anishinaabe, we are stewards of the land… our main goal is being Indigenous and to take care of our Earth, eating from the Earth, everything on the Earth is Medicine, and we need Medicine to survive,” Harris said. “…And guidance of how we conduct ourselves as human beings, and also in our diet, so it’s very important to sustain natural resources into our bodies, so we can live longer. Our life expectancy has dwindled down so much, because we got a lot of that taken away from us, so it’s important for us that we start exercising that now.”

The food sovereignty efforts have also ignited passions and provided a sense of security for NHBP Tribal Members during uncertain times, such as the pandemic, food scarcity and supply chain issues.

“My involvement really came out of necessity, I found myself in a crazy transition time, as I was expecting my first child, and hearing about all the potential food scarcities,” said Tribal Member Alexandria Sulainis, 32, who resides in Lac de Flambeau, Wisconsin. “As a kid, we were on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and bologna sandwiches. There wasn’t much thought to nutrition, we were just surviving. I remember going every weekend in downtown Grand Rapids to a church parking lot with a food truck, because we couldn’t afford anything. We weren’t granted that space and energy to invest in our health.

“Being a mother, food sovereignty has really kicked in to my life and has become one of my main passions, and it’s been really exciting to have this program through my Tribe, and I am so thankful that my Tribe has taken this on.

“Especially living so far away, having the support remotely, as I started my first garden, I needed to know how to get the soil up to par, when to sow my seeds.

“I can proudly say that my 2-year-old son has gotten most of his entire first year of solid food from what we have harvested ourselves, we have been able to transition in a way that we live as food sovereign as possible.”

Food Sovereignty has allowed for a better sense of Community, sustaining NHBP for the next Seven Generations.  

“It’s all about Community, so having NHBP Food Sovereignty program has brought so many people back together as a Community,” said Lifeways Consultant Jody Gzhadawsot Mattena, Member of the Citizen Band Potawatomi. “Cooking is easy, it brings us back together… We’re teaching our future the Eighth Fire, so that we don’t have to hide, we can share our recipes and our seeds, all in one place, where it’s safe… seeing all the little kids joining us, whether it’s for Ricing, fishing or Flapjack Friday, teaching them how to provide for themselves.”

Although the current grant closed on Sept. 30, the NHBP Food Sovereignty program isn’t ending with the current funding model.

“I will still be posting to the NHBP Food Sovereignty Facebook group, where we have developed a large and engaged following, and there is still much work to be done,” Keith said.

In addition to building on the already successful objectives outlined by the grant, Keith’s plans include building a Community Garden that will hopefully be run by and able to feed Tribal Members for generations to come.

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