USDA Seeks Ways To Help Restore Indigenous Eating Habits

At this month’s White House Tribal Nations Summit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a series of new partnerships and commitments related to indigenous food sovereignty.

The aim is to promote food security and agribusiness in the Indian country. During the summit, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack pledged to forge stronger relationships with tribal governments and food producers.

“Our programs and priorities have not always reflected traditional indigenous values, foods and farming techniques,” he said.

Indigenous food sovereignty advocates say that is an understatement.

How Federal Food Policy Affected Indigenous People

Carly Hotvedt, who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is part of the University of Arkansas Native Food and Agriculture Initiative. She said federal policy is not just separating Indigenous people from their traditional eating habits – these policies are forcing them into new practices that are not healthy or culturally appropriate.

“We were really kind of left without a paddle to be self-determined on what our food policies looked like, where our food came from, what our nutritional choices were,” she said.

The USDA is trying to reverse this legacy. Hotvedt said one of the goals is to transfer the management of federal food distribution funds to tribal governments “and to really consider investing those dollars in the local food economy, supporting local producers and tribal products. “.

Heritage seed deposits

A USDA effort with the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance will create new repositories of heirloom seeds to benefit tribes in the Great Lakes and Southwest regions.

Another new USDA partner is the InterTribal Buffalo Council.

“Well, it’s very important to get the bison back into our diet and into the plates of our community members,” said Jason Baldes, who sits on the board of directors for that council and manages the tribe’s bison herd. Eastern Shoshone in central Wyoming.

During the pandemic, he said the tribe harvested four of these animals and distributed the meat to tribal members in need.

“The tribes have a stronger voice, I think, in some of these decisions in terms of our ancestral foods that have been neglected and undermined for decades,” Baldes said.

The InterTribal Buffalo Council will help USDA write a manual for cattle-producing tribes wishing to switch to buffalo breeding.

Nohemi M. Moore