What is Food Sovereignty and Why is it Important to Tribes?

   By Joshua Arce

Put simply, food sovereignty is the right of a community to identify and control how their food is produced and distributed, and this includes the quantity and quality of what they are consuming. Often, people think food sovereignty is the assurance we have enough food to meet our physical needs, but it goes far beyond that. In fact, the food sovereignty movement dates back many years between farmers, fishermen, Indigenous peoples and those most impacted by the ongoing struggles between control over land, sea and livestock. September is Hunger Action Month, giving us the perfect platform to shed light on why food sovereignty is so important to tribes.

Factors behind food insecurity for tribes

Twenty-three percent (23%) of Native American families suffer from food insecurity today – the highest rate of any group in the U.S. This is due to many factors like climate change, droughts, natural disasters, a lack of government responsibility and more, but something often overlooked is the lack of food sovereignty for Tribes on remote reservations.

For most people, going to a grocery store and picking out your favorite items is a mundane task. You have endless options for flavors, calorie count, gluten-free, fresh or frozen, and more – all to say, the choice is yours. But, for many Native Americans, the nearest grocery store is an hour or more away; tribal lands are often food deserts devoid of healthy, fresh produce; and stressed budgets leave them turning to foods that provide volume over nutritional quality. It is because of this lack of control over our food system that nutrition-related health issues like diabetes run rampant among Native peoples. It is also why many Tribal communities are turning to gardening as a solution.

Moving tribal food sovereignty from concept to reality

Alongside Hunger Action Month, September is also National Emergency Preparedness Month. Earlier this year, PWNA partnered with Feeding America to launch the Natives Prepared Project, which will help recover traditional foodways and help tribes prepare for natural disasters, food access during disasters, and other hurdles that get in the way of providing a healthy diet to their families.  

This initiative has shown us the complex intricacies of working in Tribal communities, innovative solutions they are creating and the level of impact that adequate funding can provide in moving concept to reality. Feeding America is leading the way with their financial support, and the outcomes of the Natives Prepared Project will be truly transformative. I am hopeful other organizations will follow their lead and forge future partnerships for the betterment, advancement and deployment of food sovereignty initiatives in Indian Country.

To learn more about Native American food sovereignty or donate to help recover healthy, traditional food ways, please click here.

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