Women discuss the power of Indigenous food pathways in James Beard – Food Tank panel

In a panel hosted by the James Beard Foundation and the First Nations Development Institute, “Women’s History Month: Honoring Indigenous Women in the American Food SystemIndigenous activists discuss the role of food in preserving and uplifting their communities.

The conversation is moderated by Cochiti / Kiowa member A-dae Romero-Briones from First Nations Development Institute. Panelists include Rochelle Adams, Gwich’in member of Indigenous action; Member of the Navajo Nation Denisa Livingston from Diné Community Advocacy Alliance; writer, ethnobotanist, environmental activist and member of the Blackfeet Nation Rosalyn LaPier; and Vanessa Casillas, member of Ho-Chunk Gathering Café.

“When we ask what the differences are between an American food system and an Indigenous food system, one of my first answers is – you see the sign – we are women,” Romero-Briones begins.

“We have such an important role in our lands and in our communities and in the way we raise our plants, as well as our children. We are the foundation of Indigenous food systems. In American food systems, this is often dominated by men. The female voice is not always heard, but you will hear it loudly today, ”she says.

The conversation takes place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged Indigenous communities across the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that at one point in the pandemic, Indigenous people in the United States were 3.5 times more likely to contract the virus than non-Hispanic white Americans.

“We don’t look like what we’ve been through this year,” says Livingston, who says his community has been particularly devastated by COVID-19. “It’s a very exciting time.”

Livingston says the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many inequalities in Indigenous communities, but it has also provided Indigenous women with the opportunity to show leadership. “For us, it was really about this relational equity: how to come together in a space in the face of disparities and inequalities? she says.

Many panelists agree that food is central to this healing process. “Food is more than food,” says Casillas. “It is our spirituality, it is this fullness. It’s our occupations, it’s physical well-being, it’s emotional. It connects us to the environment.

Casillas compares smoking meat and fish in church. “To be able to be so intimately connected with our land and our waters, and to practice that, and to go into this smoking room, and keep the fire burning… I cannot express enough how much this means to us. to have that, to carry on that tradition and to have our food sovereignty as indigenous people, because our well-being is so important, ”she said.

LaPier adds that Indigenous peoples have long understood how food systems intersect with public health, culture and environmental conservation. “We don’t compartmentalize things as much as we see in other communities or other cultures,” she says. “We will see the connections between language revitalization, restoration of our food systems, respect and reconnection with Elders. “

Adams also reflects on the links between food and land. “When I think of our food system, it’s really our connection to place,” she says. “It is such an honor to continue this way of life, to be so connected to our home – the land, the waters, our native place, and everything that also calls it home: our fish, plants, birds. parents.”

Unfortunately, indigenous peoples’ access to land has not always been guaranteed. As an example, Adams explains that his own community is fighting to protect their lands in Alaska from oil drilling.

“Indigenous peoples face a huge challenge in terms of their rights to hunt, fish and food sovereignty,” she said. “Our family has a story for every bend in the river and every trail… It is important that we maintain this stewardship on our land. “

Panelists also touched on other challenges that indigenous communities face: a lack of food sovereignty, poor public health, and an abundance of food swamps or areas that only have access to unhealthy food.

Livingston suggests that in order to continue making change, Indigenous women must deal with their own trauma. “How do we serve out of sorrow?” She contemplates. Livingston continues with examples of native self-care: drinking green tea, braiding hair, and planting seeds.

“We have to keep these spaces even more during this time to come out stronger, we come out more resilient,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Bart Heird, Unsplash

Nohemi M. Moore