Strengthening Native American Communities & Economies
Why is this project needed?
Prior to colonization, Native peoples had self-sufficient and sustainable food systems. Over time, removal from traditional homelands, limited access to traditional food sources, and transitions to cash economies, among other things, weakened tribal food systems. Today, many Native communities and households are food insecure, dependent on outside food sources, and maintain a diet of Western foodstuffs that are often linked to negative and deteriorating health, community and economic effects.
Current data suggest that Native households experience food insecurity at greater rates than most Americans. Data indicate that 23 percent of Native households (nearly one in four) are food insecure compared to 15 percent of all U.S. households. Similarly, data note that 60 percent of all counties that are majority-Native American are labeled highly food insecure by the USDA. However, some reservation communities experience even greater rates of food insecurity. For example, Shannon County, South Dakota, entirely encompassed by the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, has a child poverty rate over 60 percent and in households with kindergarten-age children has been reported to be as high as 40 percent. Similarly, research on the Navajo reservation has noted that 75 percent of individuals are food insecure.
Many Native communities face high rates of food insecurity in addition to high rates of obesity, and suffer from other diet-related ailments and diseases. This is largely due to the fact that healthy traditional foods are no longer readily accessible, “junk foods” are more readily available than other foods, and nutrition-related education opportunities remain scarce. Recognizing that the loss of self-sufficient food systems is a contributing factor to the myriad issues Native communities face today, First Nations works with and supports Native communities in reclaiming local food systems. Local food-system control is foundational to reversing years of colonization aimed at the disintegration of cultural and traditional belief systems and the dismantling of Native social and economic systems. If Native communities have control of local food systems, food becomes a driver for cultural revitalization, improving community health and economic development.