Luce Fellows’ Convening Focuses on Connection and Creativity

Sherwin Bitsui, Diné (Navajo) poet.

Sherwin Bitsui, Diné (Navajo) poet.








The group is silent as the poet holds them in his aural grasp.
“What does it sound like?” he asks.
After a few guesses, one person pipes up, “Water.”
“That’s correct…Water,” says the poet. “So important, especially when you look at the picture of where I’m from.”

Poet Sherwin Bitsui is a Diné (Navajo) from the Navajo Nation in White Cone, Arizona, and teacher at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Leading attendees of the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship at their first convening of the year at a workshop in Boulder, Colorado, February 19-20, 2020, he helped them tap into their creativity and think about the importance of words and language in opening themselves up for their Fellowship year. He shared his own path into poetry and the different ways that Native poets have used objects and experiences to express their stories. In the opening example, he said the word (which sounds like “Twa”) a word inspired by the water dripping from a seasonal creek near his childhood home. Each participant then sketched out a poem and shared it with the group one by one, using a mix of English and their Indigenous languages to share a fragment of their own story.

About the program

The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship was created in 2019 to honor and support intellectual leaders in Native communities who are actively working to generate, perpetuate and disseminate Indigenous knowledge. The 10 Fellows, selected from over 500 applicants receive a monetary award of $50,000, access to additional resources for training and professional development, and the opportunity to apply for $25,000 in additional support for a community project after their fellowship year ends.

“Another central component of the fellowship year is to bring the Fellows together at three in-person meetings,” said Kendall Tallmadge, senior program officer at First Nations. “The in-person convenings are designed to build the Fellows as a cohort and community of practice. At these meetings, Fellows are networking and building connections with each other and with other Native leaders in their fields. We hope these meetings will help Fellows build an additional network of support and collaboration with each other as they continue their work in their respective knowledge fields.”

These convenings are organized with input provided from the Fellows regarding speakers, topics and overarching goals.

At this first meeting, Fellows were enthusiastic and ready to participate in the busy agenda before them. They came from all time zones of the United States to engage with keynote speakers, facilitators and each other to begin the work of mapping their fellowship year and coalescing as a community of practice who could rely on each other for support, guidance, and encouragement.

Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellows 2020

Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellows 2020

Indigenized models

Each Fellow shared their background and what brought them to the specific Indigenous knowledge they hold. They are diverse and yet bound together by their passion and commitment to perpetuating the precious information and backgrounds from which they came. Some, like Corine Pearce, are the last people in their tribes who know their skills and have their special knowledge. There is honor, significance, and weight in carrying these talents.

Each of the follows were able to map and share their plans for the year, including identifying elements of success and possible challenges in their upcoming work. “Always remember who we are doing the work for – our children, our People,” shared one of the Fellows.

Sharing their stories through art

The group met Melanie Yazzie, Diné (Navajo) professor of printmaking in the Art and Art History Department at the University of Colorado-Boulder. She and her husband Clyde created a gel printmaking station, where she taught the art of printmaking using cutouts, gel squares and 10 different paints. Like the poetry exercise, Fellows were encouraged to share their stories and journies through art. After some hesitation, a few tentative prints and encouragement from Melanie, soon everyone was diving in and trying this new technique to capture meaningful symbols of their knowledge and their Nations.

Gel print by Lloyd Sing.

Gel print by Lloyd Sing.

At the end of the second day, the Fellows met “World Café” style to further brainstorm how they would like to connect with each other, what they would like to learn together on this journey, other speakers they would like to hear from, and other ways to incorporate spirit feeding and self-care at the next 2 convenings. They shared a sense of togetherness in their pursuits and their energy was palpable.

“It feels amazing to meet peers and colleagues who come from such a high level of skill and experience,” shared one Fellow. “I feel such validation!”

The feeling of validation is certainly shared by staff at First Nations. To be able to bring together this level of Native genius is humbling and rewarding. We look forward to sharing more from these exceptional talents in the months to come.

The 2020 Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellows are:

Clarence Cruz (Khaayay), Ohkay Owingeh – Tewa
Knowledge Field: Traditional Potter/Assistant Professor, University of New Mexico

Dorene Day, Ojibwe Anishinabe, Nett Lake, Minnesota
Knowledge Field: Activist-Indigenous Birth Revitalization, Oondaadizike Kwe

Rahekawę̀·rih Montgomery Hill, Skarù·rę (Tuscarora Indian Nation)
Knowledge Field: Speaker, Linguist, Language Activist

Lisa Yellow Luger, Standing Rock Sioux
Knowledge Field: Tribal Justice Specialist

Trisha L. Moquino, Cochiti/Kewa/Ohkay Ohwingeh
Knowledge Field: Indigenous Educator/Guide and the Co-Founder of Keres Children’s Learning Center

Corine Pearce, Redwood Valley Little River Band of Pomo Indians
Knowledge Field: Basket Weaver, Artist, Environmental Steward

Hanna Sholl, (Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, Alaska) 
Knowledge Field: Contemporary Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) Artist and Culture Bearer

Lloyd Harold Kumulāʻau Sing Jr., Native Hawaiian
Knowledge Field: Traditional mixed-media artist and cultural practitioner

X’unei Lance Twitchell, Tlingit, Haida, Yupʼik, Sami
Knowledge Field: Indigenous Language Teacher

Peter Williams, Yup’ik
Knowledge Field: Artist and Activist

By First Nations staff

Investing in Our Roots: Standing Rock Gardening Improves Health & Sovereignty

Standing Rock landscape by Frodo/

Standing Rock landscape by Frodo/

When we look at history, American Indians are often the canary in the mine. When their health goes, it’s a sign of what’s in store for other populations. This is one of the many reasons behind the work of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Nutrition for the Elderly program. Here, with the support of First Nations, this community is not only protecting that canary by improving Native health but taking active steps to promote food sovereignty.

A food desert

The canary metaphor comes from Petra Harmon One Hawk, director of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Nutrition for the Elderly/Caregiver Support Program, who learned it from her family. For Petra, the call to invest in the nutrition of Standing Rock is both professional and personal. In her role, her goal is to centralize and enhance services for seniors through this comprehensive program to connect the elders with elder abuse prevention programs, nursing facilities, senior center programs, and nutrition services. She is also the Title VI Director for the tribe, which means she leads programs to better meet the needs of older Indians. It is in this capacity where her roots growing up on the reservation, her medical school education, and her master’s degree in Indian Health intersect.

“I was trained to treat patients who have a high rate of diabetes. I learned that all my role was as a future physician was to prescribe them medication and tell them that as long they eat right and exercise, they would be able to manage it,” she explains. “But when I moved home to Standing Rock, I realized how unrealistic that is.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is located on 2.5 million acres with three communities on the North Dakota side and five on the South Dakota side. Years ago, to control flooding by the Missouri River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began building damns, which ultimately created backflow and drowned out Native lands. The Dakota/Lakota People were relocated to higher ground, far above the wildlife, rich soil, and fruit-bearing trees that were washed away. In this new setting, the Dakota/Lakota braved cold weather and barren resources, along with the social trauma of the era that was pervasive throughout Native communities.

Petra explains that returning home after years of schooling was her first realization that Standing Rock was a food desert. She saw the health disparities caused by lack of access to healthy foods and specifically Native foods, which is a requirement of the Older Indians Act.

While Standing Rock had the history and knowledge of how to grow and sustain Native foods, its infrastructure was lost. She says, fighting diabetes was not as easy as eating right and exercising. Access to healthy foods was limited, along with the awareness of the importance of good nutrition in improving health outcomes. Part of Petra’s job has been to rebuild those systems and revive those traditional foods, which calls for not only building that infrastructure but reinvigorating gardening and community as a way of life.

Petra Harmon One Hawk

Petra Harmon One Hawk














Returning to traditions

This is where Petra is serving the elders in the Standing Rock community and also tapping into their knowledge. “They have a collective memory of being self-sufficient,” she explains. “We’ve lost our gardening skills, our cooking skills, and even our taste buds for healthy food. We are now fighting against a system of convenience.”

Older tribal members are helping Petra’s team take on the battle, and one of their weapons is the implementation of the Elder Community Gardens. These gardens are building on a foundation that started in the Cannon Ball community through the Sioux County North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Office. The Indian Health Service Nutrition Coalition and NDSU Sioux County Extension both have community gardens located at Cannon Ball and Fort Yates. The bounty is shared with schools, the communities, elders, and the Nutrition for the Elderly Program.

While there are other gardens throughout Standing Rock, the Elders Community Gardens Project aims to help elders who want a garden of their own. (They can even create raised-box gardens, which are table height so elders can sit while gardening.) The gardens were created as a direct project of the Nutrition for the Elderly Program both to provide food for the elderly in line with Title VI regulations and to engage the elderly in meaningful work. They also build on other progress at Standing Rock, including the success in returning bison meat to the food packages as part of the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations or FDPIR. Coordination, planning, and implementation of the gardens have been made possible in part through grant funding from First Nations Development Institute.

Pete Red Tomahawk grew up with Petra’s mother and works part-time for the Nutrition for the Elderly Program. He is an enrolled member of Standing Rock and one of the 400 elders in the community. From his perspective, he explains that Elder Community Gardens are not a new approach.

“We’ve always had gardens,” he says. Every family had their own garden. Food was shared, and root cellars were built to preserve and store vegetables. The soil was fertile and getting enough food – and the right kinds of – was not a concern, he says. As a result, folks had very healthy lifestyles, and issues like diabetes, cancer, and health problems were not prevalent.

This knowledge was engrained in Pete’s generation, but it has diminished through the years. The  Elder Community Gardens are bringing it back.

“These are things we learned when we were children in the 1950s,” he says. “Today, we find ourselves as grandparents, trying to teach our younger ones, who I hope will teach their own children.”

Advancing food sovereignty

The Elder Community Gardens have become a key aspect of the infrastructure at Standing Rock, and have laid the groundwork for more outreach, cooking classes, and community involvement. Based on their success, Petra and her team were invited to take part in the Food Sovereignty Summit, co-hosted by First Nations and the nearby Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. There they joined leaders from throughout Indian Country to discuss the disconnect that has occurred between food and Native cultures and beliefs, the holistic role of food, and the need to reconnect with the land.

“As Indians, our food systems are dictated by the Farm Bill and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As a result, our health disparities are catastrophic,” Petra says. “But by working in regard to food sovereignty, we can take back that control.”

It’s control Pete says that had been part of the Native culture. “When we look at what we learned from our parents and grandparents, tribes survived by gardening. As tribes, we know what’s growing and how we can live off the land, “ he says. He credits First Nations for highlighting that knowledge and showcasing it in new ways.

“We’re just starting out, and tribes like Oneida Nation are way ahead,” he says. “But still, we are all advancing, and First Nations is providing the training to tie programs and communities together.”

It is a movement they plan to advance. Beyond the gardens, Standing Rock is looking at more avenues for outreach, nutrition classes, and partnerships for extension programs at institutions like NDSU. Investments are being made in canning practices, irrigation, soil analysis, food storage, and creating an orchard. Youth are being introduced to healthy foods in an effort to reset those lost taste buds. “Our dream is to share this knowledge, so information does not go away as the elderly age,” he says. “We’re looking at that next generation and passing on that way of life. In a metaphorical sense, we are planting that seed.”

In a world that remains vulnerable to legislation, climate change, bias, and upheaval, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is making strides for their elders and for their youth that they hope will offset their risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart issues. They are restoring the role of gardening for nutrition and sustainability. And they are taking to heart that canary in the mine, recognizing that the health and future of all Indians depend on taking back control. 

By Amy Jakober

A Personal Essay about Oginiig (Rosehips) and Recipe for Rose Sauce

Rose hips

Rose hips

Our friend Tashia Hart, (Red Lake Anishinaabe) Duluth Culinary ethnobotanist, has shared some of her recipes and stories for your enjoyment. This is the first of her three offerings. 

“Itchy jiid” (pronounced ‘jeed,’ like ‘seed’) was one of the first references to wild edible plants I learned as a kid. Or, at least it was one of the most memorable, as it was always delivered by my father or one of his friends, accompanied by a snicker. We’ll return to that in a minute.

Now ‘jiid’ isn’t exactly a standalone word in the Anishinaabe language, but rather is spoken in terms of ‘his jiid’ or ‘her jiid’ or ‘their jiid.’ So to say ‘itchy jiid,’ is kind of slang usage. I’d never heard anyone outside of Red Lake call oginiig (oh-gin-eeg) this, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized it must be somewhat of a localized term. It was my father who told me this name, ‘itchy jiid,’ and it was my mother who told me the name ‘rosehip.’

Growing up, my dad taught us about the plants around us in the environments of northern Minnesota. My mother is a bookworm who loves to read about medicinal plants from across the globe and put them into practice. For example, she would calm us with celery seed, numb sore teeth with clove buds, and made sure we were eating our veggies. It’s obvious to me now that their appreciation for the plant world was combined and seeded into my own. For this, I am grateful.

The rose is the focus of art, literature, music, festivities, food, medicine, and traditions spanning across continents and millennia.

If you work with rosehips, you will know that you don’t ingest the seeds, for they are covered in irritating hairs. If you happen to do so, let’s just say you can expect an itchy departure. My dad knew this and would instruct us to nibble around the middle where the seeds are if we wanted to eat the fruit. I always thought rosehips were like tiny, waxy, creamy apples, and loved finding them on our outdoor adventures. They were always firmer before the snow, and afterward, they would get mushier.

Crushing the rose hips

Crushing the rose hips

When dried and eaten plain—which is a feat characterized with a special kind of crunchiness—I think oginiig taste like tomatoes, but when you cook dried or fresh rosehips, they smell and, with a little sweetener, taste more like apples. It’s not surprising that ‘ogin,’ the Anishinaabe word for a rosehip, is also our word for a tomato.

According to the USDA, rosehips are an excellent source of vitamins C and A, as well as fiber, and contain manganese, magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, and other vitamins and minerals. Some people believe that the rose can help revive a person from emotional numbness, depression, and revitalize a desire to live in the moment. I can attest to this effect.

A few years back, I was in the tail process of reviving myself from exactly such a state—a process that has taken decades to date—and I found myself in the Sioux Chef kitchen in Minneapolis, working with rose petals with my friend, and at the time kitchen manager, Andrea Weber. We gave the petals a bath in chilled water and added honey before putting them in a dehydrator. The smells from this entire process did indeed impress on me a desire to live more in charge of my own life—carpe diem—as they say. Working with the roses over those few days had an effect on me that I can still feel anytime I wish, by just remembering their smell and how beautiful their presence was. Anytime I have worked with roses since it’s been the same. It’s almost as if they are the essence of love itself, which when you’re in need of self-love, can be a powerfully moving and uplifting force. I find much gratitude working with plants, and the rose has a special, integrated role in my plant-memory-repository.

-Rose Sauce-

Rosehips and petals can be wild-harvested, cultivated, and purchased at some local health food or herbal stores.

½ cup rosehips (seeds removed)

¼  – ½ cup maple sugar

1 ½ cups water

Rose water (recipe below)

In a small saucepan, bring water and rosehips to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer until the rosehips begin to soften (about eight minutes). Uncover and simmer five minutes more (turn burner back up to medium heat). Stir. Add ¼ cup maple sugar and stir again. Allow mixture to simmer low, stirring occasionally until the rosehip sauce thickens and it is easy to blend most of the fruit bits fairly smooth. This can take 20-30 minutes. During this time, you can make your Rose Water.

-Rose Water-

½ cup rose petals

1 cup water

Boil water. Remove from heat, stir in rose petals and cover. Let sit at least five minutes. Stir, cover and let sit another five minutes. Petals should be a much lighter color and the water should be a rose color. Strain.

Turn off the heat. Whisk until sauce is as smooth as you can make it. Allow to cool just a little. You can now either blend your sauce in a food processor or strain out the bits through a fine mesh strainer. If you blend it, you will have a little more fiber in your sauce. It’s delicious either way. Whisk in your rose water and another ¼ c of maple sugar, if you want your sauce to be sweeter. You should end up with about 1 cup of rose sauce that has a color and consistency similar to barbecue sauce.

This sauce has a potent rose flavor and can be incorporated into many recipes.

Try marinating grilled meats and veggies with it, using it as a salad dressing, adding sparkling water to it to make wild-rose soda, spilling it on pancakes, blending it with other fruit sauces—the possibilities are endless—have fun exploring!

I recently put this sauce on some sweet potato corn pudding along with sliced strawberries.

Sweet potato cake with rose sauce and berries

Sweet potato cake with rose sauce and berries

Here is a basic recipe for that, if you’d like to try something similar.

-Sweet Potato Corn Pudding-

1 cup mashed sweet potato (can substitute pumpkin, applesauce or mashed bananas)

1 cup cornmeal

3 cups of water

Maple syrup or sugar to taste

2 tsp. salt

Boil water and salt in a medium-large pot. Reduce to medium heat and whisk in cornmeal slowly, stirring constantly until cornmeal is smooth. Simmer about seven minutes. Whisk in the sweet potato. Add sweetener to taste. Serve with rose sauce and berries.

If you’d like to learn more ways to incorporate rose into your diet, you can search for how to make some of these popular food and medicinal preparations:




Seed Oil



Let’s Speak Ojibwe:

Ogin – a rosehip (also our word for tomato)

Oginiig –rosehips

Oginii-waabigwan – a rose

Oginii-waabigwaniin – roses

Oginiiwaatig – a rose bush

*Language from The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary


by Tashia Hart

Bringing Data Alive to Improve Nutrition and Health


Bringing Data Alive to Improve Nutrition and Health

For the Chugach Regional Resources Commission (CRRC) in Anchorage, Alaska, the knowledge gained from food assessments and reports is only as valuable as the ability to use it. With funding from First Nations Development Institute, project leaders have gathered valuable information on traditional foods and lifestyles and are now sharing it in ways that increase understanding and raise awareness. Here, data is not just a report on the shelf, but a living tool to improve the knowledge and health of the seven Tribes that make up the Chugach Region.

The landscape of Chugach

The Chugach Region covers the remote area of Prince William Sound and the Lower Cook Inlet. The area is rural, with parts only accessible by small aircraft or boat. Climate change is pervasive, and the threat to their natural resources from outside pressure and industrial development is constant. 

The area is subject to big-picture issues that affect Native populations throughout Alaska, according to CRRC Deputy Director Willow Hetrick. 

“Traditional food practices of hunting, fishing, and gathering are declining. Traditional foods are becoming scarce, and people are relying more and more on outside support,” she says. “But that support comes in forms that our bodies aren’t meant to tolerate, and that has led to increasing rates of cancer, diabetes and obesity.”

In the Chugach Region, more hardship hit with a 1964 earthquake, along with the famous Exxon Valdez Oil Spill of 1989. Hetrick explains that these two compounding issues were devastating to the Alutiiq People – their food, their self-reliance, and their future.

The CRRC, an inter-tribal fish and wildlife commission that was formed in 1984 to promote Tribal sovereignty and protect and manage natural resources, has had their work cut out for them. 

The CRCC earned the 2019 Arts and Humanities Award in the field of Distinguished Service to Education from the Governor of Alaska. Pictured here with the award are: (From left to right) Kelly Tshibaka, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration; Patty Schwalenberg, Executive Director of CRRC; Robert Heinrichs, current CRRC Board Member from the Native Village of Eyak; and Beth Pipkin, former Board member from the Chenega IRA Council.

The CRCC earned the 2019 Arts and Humanities Award in the field of Distinguished Service to Education from the Governor of Alaska. Pictured here with the award are: (From left to right) Kelly Tshibaka, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration; Patty Schwalenberg, Executive Director of CRRC; Robert Heinrichs, current CRRC Board Member from the Native Village of Eyak; and Beth Pipkin, former Board member from the Chenega IRA Council.

Setting out for knowledge

Representing the Tatitlek Village IRA Council, Native Village of Eyak (Cordova), Port Graham Village Council, Nanwalek IRA Council, Chenega Bay IRA Council, Qutekcak Native Tribe (Seward), and the Valdez Native Tribe, the CRRC is a leader in Tribal Natural Resources in Alaska. As such the organization leads local projects surrounding research, education, economic development, and enhancement of subsistence species. 

One project involves the region’s traditional foods – how accessible they are, how important they are, how they are being used, and what needs to be done to protect and manage them. With a belief that “food is life,” the CRRC sought funding through First Nation’s Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative to conduct data analysis and a workshop. 

The grant funding kicked off with a four-day training on food assessments hosted by First Nations, which Hetrick says gave all grantees a baseline start on best practices. 

“They believed in us,” she says, “And they put us in touch with a program officer who really understood the intricacies of working in a rural, offset region like Alaska.”

From there, the CRRC set out to design, distribute and collect food surveys from over 100 respondents to provide a high-level analysis of the situation. Their food assessment collection tool was unique in that it focused not just on consumption, but on food as a whole, explains Hetrick. 

“This is an over-surveyed population. People are polled routinely by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and others about food on a technical level, with questions such as ‘How many ounces of salmon do you consume a day?’”

Instead, the CRRC tool focused on food as a whole. 

“Food is life,” she says. “Food is part of our culture. It’s the holistic act of hunting, fishing, and gathering. It’s not just about eating berries, but it’s also about the walk to get those berries.”

Another important aspect of the survey is that it covered a broad region, adds Chelsea Kovalcsik, the Indian General Assistance Program Regional Environmental Coordinator for CRRC. 

“As a regional organization, we recognized that some questions might apply to the Port Graham area, but it may be different 200 miles away. We took into account a broad range of geography, with different approaches to food in each one.”

The survey resulted in a 40-page report that goes beyond government statistics and reveals the day-to-day food systems in place in these Native communities. It’s a snapshot of the Alutiiq People, their relationship with food, and the status of their health and natural resources. Further, insights from the surveys have fueled other investigations into salmon health, ocean shellfish, and dietetics and helped the organization leverage additional funding sources to advance more research.

Research that Empowers

Still, the organization recognized that a 40-page report on a shelf would be only that: a 40-page report on the shelf. Instead, to be useful, the information would need to be extracted, made into digestible information, and shared. At that point, the CRRC applied for an additional grant from First Nations to break out the data into a visual presentation. What resulted was a large-scale poster depicting specific foods of each area and local hunting, fishing, and gathering practices. The poster, which ultimately earned the CRRC the 2019 Arts and Humanities Award in the field of Distinguished Service in Education from the Governor of Alaska, has given people something they could use and refer to on their own, to understand traditional foods and celebrate their food as life.

1712_Color Poster_36_small

Moreover, it has become a tool for the People. Kovalcsik explains that these communities are inundated with “experts” coming in and asking questions, yet they are never shown where their answers go. With the poster, they have been given more control. 

“It gave power back to the Tribes,” says Kovalcsik. “They can visualize the changes we’re seeing. It’s given them that power to own their food, their own sovereignty.”

Another objective achieved by the CRRC was the production of an 80-page recipe book, which was created by including blank recipe cards in the surveys and asking respondents to complete and return them. From this outreach, they gleaned dozens of traditional recipes, plus traditional ways of harvesting and preparing foods, and they combined this with more recipes found through a library literature search. 

“This was traditional Native knowledge documented in old books, but sitting on shelves in basements,” says Hetrick. “Now, people can access them and those foods can live on.”

Knowledge for the future

These traditional foods projects have provided a foundation for the CRRC and a great data set to build from, says Kovalcsik. And it has produced visual guides to show how food is indeed life – how everything is connected — and the work surrounding traditional foods ties in with the organization’s overall approach to climate change, seawater quality, ocean acidification and other issues. 

“Now we have more information and we can let community members know what’s going on,” she says. “From there we can do more training, more on-the-ground programs. It gives us a place to start.” 

Hetrick adds that the work lends itself to further efforts toward food sovereignty – how the Tribes import food, how we consume, and how we teach people how to reside off the land, fish and wildlife. It has helped heal the generational trauma caused by the oil spill, increasing education about the resources Tribes have now, and the resources that were lost. And it has propelled partnerships that they had not known about, including with organizations in the lower 48. 

“We don’t have to recreate the wheel,” she says. “We may have unique challenges in Alaska, but everyone is facing challenges throughout Native communities everywhere. Together, we can raise each other up.”

 By Amy Jakober

Dressed to Dance: Fostering Dakota Culture and Pride

The Wikosa/Wiciyenna Dance Regalia Project builds on Dakota Wichoan's established youth outreach efforts, including the Koska Boys Leadership Program and the Wikosa & Wiciyenna Girls Leadership Program.

The Wikosa/Wiciyenna Dance Regalia Project builds on Dakota Wichoan’s established youth outreach efforts, including the Koska Boys Leadership Program and the Wikosa & Wiciyenna Girls Leadership Program.

For one Dakota community in Minnesota, where youth are prone to low self-esteem, bad influences and suicide, something great is happening. Young people are designing and making their own regalia, reconnecting with their culture and an art form at risk of vanishing. Through funding from First Nations, Dakota Wicohan is providing kids opportunities to regain pride in who they are, and in doing so, changing health outcomes and transforming lives.

Building on progress

Dakota Wicohan is a cultural resource center focused on the celebration and transmission of Dakota cultural lifeways, arts, and language. The center brings together artists, activists, supporters, teachers, and learners, including elders and youth, in preserving Dakota traditions, providing a source of healing, and uniting people. 

Founded in 2002, the organization is a long-term grantee of First Nations through both the Native Arts Initiative and the Native Youth and Culture Fund. Through one of its most recent First Nations-funded projects, Dakota Wicohan expanded its arts programming with the Growing Dakota Artists Program. Now, with the latest grant from First Nations, the organization is again building on the power of art, this time with a purpose to further engage youth and provide new opportunities.

The need for Wicozani

For years, Dakota Wicohan has had success reaching youth. Through the Itancanpi Youth Leadership (Itancanpi) Program, which includes the Koska Boys Leadership Program and Wikoska & Wiciyena Girls Leadership Program, youth are learning Dakota ways as a foundation to make healthy lifestyle choices that will lead to high school graduation, college, and opportunities in which they’ll grow up to serve the community.

It is programming that is essential for these young people. According to Dakota Wicohan Program and Finance Director Eileen O’Keefe, Dakota have the state’s highest incidence of diabetes and the highest mortality rates, next to infants. Throughout the whole state of Minnesota, Native ninth-graders have the highest obesity rates among all other ninth-graders. And, Minnesota’s Native youth also have the lowest graduation rate in the state – the second-lowest in the United States.

Further, many of the youth living on or near the Lower and Upper Sioux Dakota communities in southwest Minnesota are in the foster care system and lack access and exposure to their Dakota heritage. As a result, their sense of culture and belonging is diminished, which can lead to poor academic, behavioral, and health outcomes.

To counter this, all youth programming of Dakota Wicohan is designed to improve decision-making skills and increase “Wicozani,” meaning mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Dakota Wicohan has found that the poorer youth rate their Wicozani, the greater their suicide ideation; and the greater their suicide ideation, the less important they viewed their Wicozani to be to their quality of life. Dakota Wicohan’s approach is based on the Dakota belief that strong Wicozani and suicidal ideation cannot coexist. Dakota Wicohan youth programming has been found to increase Wicozani, which has resulted in more youth graduating from high school, and fewer youth – only 1% – ending up in the juvenile justice system.

While these leadership programs have been effective at improving overall well-being and improving outcomes, Dakota Wicohan knew more could be done. The organization has a robust Tawokaga arts program for adults, and through it, some of the youth had some exposure to Native art forms. Still, there wasn’t an opportunity to reach more youth and to truly hone their artistic skills. And the power of art to further increase Wicozani was untapped.

Through the project, each girl learns artistry from a Dakota Wichohan artist, including textiles and the making of ribbon skirts.

Through the project, each girl learns artistry from a Dakota Wichohan artist, including textiles and the making of ribbon skirts.

Investing in regalia

Even more significant: The youth wanted to learn and were looking to take their involvement in traditional Dakota arts to a new level, says O’Keefe. In response, the organization sought to combine their expertise in arts programming for adults and leadership programming for youth and launch the Wikoska/Wiciyenna Dance Regalia Project.

 Initially formed as part of the Wikoska/Wiciyenna girls’ program, the project set out to recruit and train 10 young women from the Upper and Lower Sioux communities of Minnesota to design and construct their own Dakota dance regalia to wear at powwows. Through the project, each girl would learn from a Dakota Wicohan artist about textiles, beading, parfleche, and quilling, while being empowered to create something unique to them.

The benefits of this are twofold.

One, the program teaches artistry. Many of these girls have had exposure to crafts, dancing, and singing as individual activities, but they haven’t been empowered to bring all acts of culture together. Through this project, they’re able to make their own decisions regarding style and theme, get support and guidance from adult artists, and practice what they learn through a hands-on project. They learn textiles, which can include ribbon skirts and shawls; beading of moccasins, barrettes or hair ties; parfleche for other accessories like a purse, belt or knife sheath; and quilling for earrings or bracelets. Further what they create is personalized regalia that they can show to their community at powwows, school events, and the Prairie Days Festival at the Gibbs Farm in the Twin Cities.

Second, completing the project gives these girls a sense of accomplishment. And the ability to be part of Dakota ceremonial dance and wear the regalia gives them a chance to celebrate their Native heritage, which increases self-esteem and that important Wicozani.

Project Assistant Gianna Eastman, who grew up dancing in her own regalia, explains its power in promoting belonging and pride. Further, she says, not having the regalia can actually be a showstopper.

“Most times, having regalia is a requirement for powwow participation,” she says. “Through this project, these girls can be a part of it now, rather than just being spectators. And it’s even more special because they’re the ones who designed it and made it.”

Having regalia is not something that’s automatic in Native communities, especially in places like Morton, Minnesota, where many youths have little exposure to and are not connected with their Native heritage. “50% of these youth have some sort of barrier to being able to participate at this level,” says Eastman.

For many girls doing the project, dance is a lost art for their families and the older generations no longer have the knowledge to pass down. For others, there is the expense of the materials or lack of access to sewing machines. Others are in the foster care system and have no one in their lives who is invested in their cultural well-being. Others are at-risk youth who benefit from not only making the regalia but also having a safe place to come and meet with their peers and create something together.

Program Assistant Dory Stands says she can already see the confidence and pride in the girls. “They are so ambitious,” she says. “A big piece of this is that it’s so personal. The colors, all the symbols, design, yolk/skirt – everything is what they chose. So, they’re excited to be able to showcase it. Some of them even say, ‘I can’t wait to tell everyone that I did this myself.’”

Eastman adds, “In the area that we live in, it’s rural, and there’s still a division between Native and non-Native. For these girls, the regalia reinforces who they are, and lets them know it’s something to be proud of.”

Completed ribbon skirts and proud smiles for work well done!

Completed ribbon skirts and proud smiles for work well done!



















Dancing into the future

Going forward, Dakota Wicohan hopes to expand the program beyond the initial 10 students and make it a long-term focus for the organization, one that continues the knowledge and practice of Native art and that adds to the outcomes-based approach of its youth programming. The Dance project will be evaluated to determine its impact on increasing Wicozani, and how it indeed transforms the future of Dakota youth, their academics, health, and pride. Optimism is high based on initial feedback and the girls’ desire to meet more often and for longer.

Already, plans are underway to expand the program to bring on experienced dancers and to add more classes and participants. “People have lost these skills, but we’re slowly bringing them back,” says O’Keefe. “Now the younger ones can keep this lifeway alive. It’s an amazing opportunity right now.”

 By Amy Jakober

A 30-Year Journey to Bring Back Bison

76-year-old Charles “Red” Gates says he often gets the credit for getting bison into the food packages, but he’s quick to assert that it was a team effort.

76-year-old Charles “Red” Gates says he often gets the credit for getting bison into the food packages, but he’s quick to assert that it was a team effort.

When a storm comes in, the powerful buffalo can be seen facing the wind – resilient and steadfast in its strength. In much the same way, Charles “Red” Gates and his collaborators and partners throughout Indian Country have stood strong in their own resolve. Throughout a journey lasting over 30 years, they have led the return of buffalo to their nutrition and economy and have made a strong and lasting foothold toward food sovereignty for Native communities everywhere, despite the many storms before them.

Starting out

Gates was hired by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota and South Dakota as a bookkeeper in 1969 and through the years has held many positions in finance, planning and grant writing. In 1982, he became Standing Rock’s Director of the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), a national program created in response to the Food Stamp Act of 1976. Gates explains that the Act mandated the provision of food stamps for low-income families nationwide. The bad news: These stamps weren’t meant for use on Indian Reservations, as they were only good at select stores. For tribes in rural areas like North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, and for those on the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, which spreads across 2.5 million acres, this meant hours of travel to the nearest food source.

In response, several tribes approached Congress, explaining how the Act violated treaties and did not work for Native people. Congress agreed and redrafted the Food Stamp Act of 1977, reinstating the commodity program for reservations. Prior to this law, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was provided rationed food pursuant to the treaties.

While this was a battle won for Indian Country, the winning prize had its downsides. The commodities were delivered to reservations, but internal systems of distribution were still needed. Food packages were based on income and not family size, so supplies rarely lasted the full month. And perhaps the direst aspect was that package contents were based on surplus items – the remaining foods available after demand elsewhere were met. This meant canned foods, foods of the lowest quality, and meats from surplus animals and not the prime cuts.

The result over time: Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

“When you hear people talk about poor health outcomes in Native communities, it’s attributed to these packages,” says Gates. “These rations introduced us to the White Man’s food.”

Indeed, in the packages regularly were canned pork, canned chicken, canned beef, flour, and lard. For the people of Standing Rock what was missing was fruits, vegetables, and fresh meat, specifically bison. “We were the Buffalo Nation – our reliance was on the buffalo,” he says.

A battle before them

Gates explains that he himself was in fact 10 years old when he saw his first buffalo. Still, when he took the position as FDPIR Director for the Tribe, he knew the packages were delivering trouble.

“It was all based on the surplus market,” he says. “When things weren’t going well, we got a surplus. If there was a shortage elsewhere, they would take it away. It was constantly changing. It was never growing, and it for sure wasn’t healthy.”

In 1989, he received an invitation to an organizing meeting for Oklahoma and New Mexico  Tribes, who were coming together to discuss the commodity program for their regions. Gates attended the meeting, in which the National Association of FDPIR was formed, and Gates was elected the alternate VP for the Mountain Plains Region. He took over as VP a year later when the elected VP stepped down.

Meanwhile, back at Standing Rock, he continued to see the injustices of the monthly packages. He says one day he was walking by the kitchen when his wife was preparing the canned meats. He saw the fat and white tissue and blood vessels in the pot. “I asked, ‘what’s that?’ and she said, ‘This is what it looks like, this is what I throw away. The rest, I cook off, which ends up being half the can.’”

By the late 1980s, there was growing concern nationwide about hunger, especially for Indian Reservations. A Hunger Relief Committee was formed, which ultimately led to the Mickey Leland Memorial Domestic Hunger Relief Act of 1990. In reviewing the legislation, Congress chose Standing Rock for an on-site hearing. Here, Gates took the opportunity to stage the opening of one of the cans of meat in front of Congressmen, the press, inspectors, and investigators.

“‘What’s that smell?’ they asked me,” says Gates. Indeed, under the pure fat cap, there were blood vessels, white tissues between muscles, and a bad odor. “Sometimes there are bones, but not today, I told them,” Gates says.

He says one congressman said, “I would not feed that to my dog.” And three more people ran out of the door and vomited.

A close-up on Red’s computer is always a reminder of the importance and power of the Buffalo.

A close-up on Red’s computer is always a reminder of the importance and power of the Buffalo.

Roadblocks and after roadblocks

Certainly, the presentation was eye-opening for Congress. And it led to slow and gradual improvements that would one day elevate the FDPIR. Still, getting there was not without challenges and Gates says he was “ready for a long fight.”

Some opposition came from the Tribe itself. Gate says some people didn’t want to call further attention to the issue because they feared the government would retaliate. Some reporters ran headlines proclaiming “Indians complain about free food.”

On the outside, Congress called for immediate study and investigation of the FDPIR foods, but there remained evaluators who believed the canned meat would be good if you just hid it under some barbecue sauce. Gates was asked to speak at follow-up meetings but was told not to bring up the canned meat issue.

Despite this storm, he and his colleagues in the NAFDPIR persisted. Initial successes included cleaning up the canned meats and introducing ground beef, fruits, and vegetables into the packages. But as the battle wore on other challenges continued to arise, and when Gates was ultimately able to introduce the idea of buffalo, the laundry list of opposition continued:

  • Did they have the freezer space to accommodate ground beef, let alone buffalo? “They treated us like we didn’t even know what freezers were,” he says.
  • How would Tribes accommodate for the shorter shelf life? Because bison is leaner than beef, were tribes prepared to store and cook it properly?
  • How much was the actual surplus of buffalo when the national demand was increasingly growing?
  • And finally, what about the bison itself? Gates and his colleagues were told that the food packages could contain meat only from domesticated animals. Buffalo, they said, was not a domestic animal and could not be considered a food source.

Through years of questions and challenges like these, Gates stood strong. And finally, in 1996, buffalo was incorporated into the FDPIR food packages at Standing Rock.

Red says he owns many pieces of art reflecting the buffalo. One favorite is this metal buffalo skull sculpture created by Red’s son Steve.

Red says he owns many pieces of art reflecting the buffalo. One favorite is this metal buffalo skull sculpture created by Red’s son Steve.

 Bison, at last

It was certainly a win. Standing Rock stood up to federal regulations and buffalo was returned to their Native diets. But through the next 15 years, the landscape of FDPIR and bison would continue to evolve. There were ongoing challenges surrounding Native versus non-Native ranchers. What were ranchers feeding the bison, and were Native communities getting the prime meat or just the “trim”? Were the slaughterhouses approved by the government and did they have humane slaughtering practices? Were they Native-owned and, if not, did they honor every part of the sacred buffalo?

Through it all, Gates kept up his leadership role with FDPIR. And by then, he had become the president and would go on to serve three additional terms. He continued to advocate for the health and nutrition of his Tribe and for the permanency of buffalo in the Native food packages. He held firm through the politics of ranchers, outsiders, and supply and demand, while at the same time protecting herd populations and opening the minds and tastes of Standing Rock youth, who he says have grown up on McDonalds and Ramen Noodles.

Paving the path

Today, Gates is 76 years old. He has worked for the Tribe for 50 years. He has nine children, 48 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. He remains active as a historian and on the board of the NAFDPIR. His story of returning buffalo to the Buffalo Nation is one he’s asked to tell repeatedly, and his work at Standing Rock and the FDPIR has created a blueprint for other Tribes seeking to incorporate their own Native foods, from blue cornmeal to salmon to wild rice. Further, it has instigated new models like the Tribal Leaders Workgroup, which is helping guide the 2019 Farm Bill and other legislation.

“We created a domino effect,” he says. “Now it seems like the whole nation is listening to us.”

Indeed, food sovereignty is a growing topic in Indian Country, and its roots date back to before it was even considered a term. Returning bison to the Buffalo Nation represents some of the earliest progress in restoring Native foods, creating independence, and improving health outcomes. For Native communities, it is a testament to the feats that can be accomplished through funding, collaboration, and vision. For First Nations, it is a call for further investments in Native food sovereignty. It is a message to funders that progress happens, but more help is always needed to help other Native communities up against similar battles.

And for Gates, the return of bison is the achievement of a personal mission. “People think I’m something I’m not,” he says. “But I’m just the person who took the initiative. It’s been a long journey involving a lot of different people.” And today, still standing strong with Standing Rock, together, they are facing the next storm.

By Amy Jakober







Passing Down Language by Teaching the Teachers

The tenacious teachers of the Akwesasne Freedom School in Hogansburg, New York.

The tenacious teachers of the Akwesasne Freedom School in Hogansburg, New York.

At the Akwesasne Freedom School (AFS), the ideal teachers are home-grown – cultivated from the Akwesasne community, fluent in the Mohawk language, and trained to teach in the way the Mohawk learn best. Now, through a Teacher Training program, funded by a First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) Native Language Immersion Initiative grant, the school is identifying these new teachers, building their curriculum, and creating new tools to improve the learning environment and reach more students.

About Akwesasne

The Akwesasne Freedom School is a community-based educational institution located on the Kanien’keháka Territory of Akwesasne in New York. It was formed in 1979 when the Kanien’keha language and culture had been pushed to near extinction.

At that time, there was community conflict as a result of confrontations with the state over the state’s plans to cut trees to build fencing around the Native area without prior consultation or approval from landowners. The conflict escalated into a standoff between the state and the traditional Longhouse people of Akwesasne for several months, with families staying inside of an encampment. Then, when it came time for children to return to school in September, the families inside the encampment were harassed and bullied by others in the school system, and did not want to return to the state school. Segregation further alienated Mohawk children with public school buses refusing to pass blockades onto the Reservation.

Community parents, recognizing how traditional language and culture were being rapidly extinguished, set out to change things by creating a school behind the blockades dedicated to serving Mohawk students. Konwanakhtotha Sargent, Executive Director of the Friends of the Akwesasne Freedom School, explains that many of the parents were the products of Indian Boarding Schools, growing up in the days of the “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” approach. Instead, the parents knew the importance of their identity, and intentionally flipped the Carlisle adage to “Save the Indian.”

The school started with a few students in a few grades, incorporating a Waldorf-like educational model, a curriculum found to be most in line with the Mohawk ways of learning. In 1985, it adopted a total immersion program. Building on the grassroots movement of Language and Cultural Revitalization, the classes expanded up to fourth grade and gradually to 10th grade.

Today the school has 12 teachers and two office personnel, and teaches 72 students in grades pre-K to eighth in 1,200 hours per year of immersion classes. There are an additional 10 toddlers in the school’s Language Nest, designed to reinstate the Mohawk Language as a child’s first language. The school’s goal is to rebuild the Mohawk Nation by focusing on young people. In the words of Akwesasne Elder Tom Porter, “The time will come when the grandchildren will speak to the whole world. It is hoped that through AFS, the grandchildren will have something significant to say.”

Based on this, everything taught in school is rooted in the language. Kanien’keha is taught thematically, through speaking, reading, writing, singing, dancing and participating in traditional cultural practices such as basket-making, beadwork, leatherwork, hunting and ceremonies. Parents are encouraged to speak the language in the home as much as possible.

Throughout all the classes, students learn their role now and in the future as educators and leaders in the community. They are taught proper behavior, respect, and understanding of the distinct culture of the Mohawk people. The main goal of the Akwesasne Freedom School is not to build good students but to nurture good people, says Sargent.

“Beautifully written and respectfully told,... a much-needed examination of one Indigenous community’s pathbreaking efforts to exercise educational sovereignty." -- Teresa L. McCarty

“Beautifully written and respectfully told,… a much-needed examination of one Indigenous community’s pathbreaking efforts to exercise educational sovereignty.” — Teresa L. McCarty

Not just any teachers

Carrying out this curriculum has called for skilled teachers who are first and foremost fluent in the Mohawk language. In the beginning, Sargent explains, classes were taught by parents who were first-language speakers. “They were mothers; they had problem-solving skills, which made them able to teach multiple subjects at once, weaving in culture and language.”

As the school grew, more teachers like this were needed. Yet, they couldn’t just hire teachers from anywhere and train them to teach in the Mohawk way. Instead, what AFS required was just the opposite: Fluent speakers who grew up Mohawk and who could be taught to teach. “We have to grow our own,” says Sargent.

At the same time, they knew they could no longer throw their new teachers into the classroom and say, “you’re a teacher, now teach,” explains Sargent. Many of the newer teachers, while fluent in the language, lacked classroom experience. As a result, when they would get flustered or not know how to teach in the language, they would revert to English, taking away from the full immersion approach. Once students heard English in the classroom, it became more and more acceptable for teachers and students to use it.

What they needed were standardized materials, curriculum and manuals to guide the Native speakers in how to manage a classroom and best connect with students in Kanien‘keha. That’s where funding from First Nations and the new project – the Teacher Training Program – was set in motion.

Resources to empower, tools to succeed

The new training program is designed to give new and current teachers the skills to create an effective and efficient Mohawk learning environment. The program draws from the dwindling pool of fluent-speaking individuals identified by the school and the community and gives them the tools to teach “our ways,” while also learning classroom preparedness, time management, lesson planning and classroom management. Through the project, 10 teachers will be trained on more than 14 AFS curriculum units. In addition, an orientation manual will be developed to both document processes and approaches and train future teachers after the initial 10.

Through the project, Sargent hopes the AFS can provide the tools to help ease their new teachers into carrying out their roles and responsibilities with the school and give them the resources they need to keep the language strong and keep the kids learning.

Meeting a need

Sargent asserts that the need for more Mohawk teachers is growing, in line with the demand for more AFS offerings. She says the demand stems from the increasing recognition of the importance of the Mohawk language and culture throughout all the Mohawk communities.

“When I was growing up, we were taught to be ashamed of who we were,” Sargent says. This lack of pride contributed to low self-esteem, partying and drug abuse. But people are now realizing how these outcomes can be shifted when there is a greater connection to culture and language.

“I think people are seeing the importance of knowing who we are,” says Sargent. “If you don’t know where you belong, it’s hard to find that community. But at AFS, they can. What they get is a pride in their identity, which has a direct effect on their behavior and opportunities.

“Bad behavior can be the norm at the public school,” says Sargent. “But our kids are very respectful. Others have told us they can tell if a child is from the Freedom School just by the way they act.”

Sargent asserts that changing times calls for changing strategies, and their school is having success not only bolstering a threatened language, but also fostering a pride in the Mohawk culture and “saving the Indian” for a brighter future. Future plans include a capital campaign for a new building, streamlining curricula, and more opportunities to reach parents and students. For now, AFS rejoices in the progress they’ve made since 1979. “We created that tipping point for the rest of the community to embrace our culture,” she says. “I think that the school has been responsible for that.”

By Amy Jakober

Sustaining Shellfish for the S’Klallam People as a Matter of Policy

Port Gamble S’Klallam biologist Julianna Sullivan evaluates shellfish growth along the protected beaches.

Port Gamble S’Klallam biologist Julianna Sullivan evaluates shellfish growth along the protected beaches.

On the Port Gamble S’Klallam Reservation, shellfish and other aquatic life are part of the economy, nutrition, identity, and culture of the S’Klallam people. Unfortunately, though, threats to these resources from environmental impacts, over-harvesting, and increases in population have affected access.

This is the story of how this First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) grantee, through support made possible through the Policy Innovation Fund (developed jointly by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the American Heart Association and its Voices for Healthy Kids initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)  is advancing research in shellfish preservation and creating new Tribal policy to protect the health and future of the S’Klallam people.

Shellfish and sustainability

With a reservation located on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington State, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe has about 1,300 enrolled members, with more than 1,100 living on the reservation. Their land base includes 1,700 acres held in trust by the federal government.

Historically, the S’Klallam were called the Nux Sklai Yem, meaning “Strong People.” An Indigenous Peoples of the Northwest coast, they have lived as far west as the Hoko River, up north into the Straits of Juan de Fuce, south into the Olympic Mountains, and throughout the Puget Sound.

As it has been throughout S’Klallam history, shellfish remains an important source of food and income, as well as a key part of Tribal gatherings, ceremonies, and culture. Moreover, shellfish—rich in calcium, iron, and vitamins—are a part of a S’Klallam traditional diet, which the Tribe encourages its members to partake in as a part of a healthy lifestyle.

A way of life threatened

Julianna Sullivan, a biologist with the Natural Resources Department of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, focuses her work on habitat and resource protection. She says that fish and shellfish—those invaluable Native resources—have prevailed over generations, despite the obstacles continually put before them, most of which began with the arrival of European settlers hundreds of years ago.

The history of the Tribe’s efforts to protect its culture and traditions around fishing and shellfish harvesting span generations: In 1855, the Treaty of Point No Point was signed. While this ceded tribal land to the U.S. government, the treaties reserved tribes’ pre-existing rights, including the right to harvest fish and shellfish at “Usual and Accustomed grounds and stations.” Yet, as the years and decades passed, tribes found their Treaty Rights increasingly marginalized, as native species fell prey to over-harvesting by state, commercial, sport, and other non-Indian fishermen.

This infringement of tribes’ Treaty Rights eventually ended up in the courts. In 1974, a landmark decision in United States v. Washington (more commonly known as The Boldt Decision, named for the judge who presided over the case) reaffirmed the rights of Washington State tribes to fish in their Usual and Accustomed Treaty Rights areas. Judge Boldt interpreted language in the treaties—“in common with”—to mean that tribes had a right to half of the harvestable catch and to act as co-managers of salmon and other fish stocks in partnership with state agencies.

In 1994, Federal Court Judge Edward Rafeedie ruled that the provisions of The Boldt Decision extended to shellfish. This decision also maintained that all public and private tidelands within the case area can be subject to Treaty harvest, except for artificially created beds set aside specifically for non-Indian cultivation purposes.

While these rulings paved the way for tribes, including the Port Gamble S’Klallam, to better protect and sustain the natural resources that have always been a part of their way of life, there are now new challenges to face, especially those related to the impacts of climate change on coastal environments. Rising sea levels, habitat degradation, ocean acidification, and toxic algal blooms are all regular and reoccurring issues that Tribal fisheries are forced to contend with. Modern development also plays a role: stormwater runoff from compacted soils and impervious surfaces deliver pathogens and toxins into delicate aquatic ecosystems.

The floating FLUPSY is a floating raft-like structure that provides for an “all-you-can-eat buffet,” for the growing oysters.

The floating FLUPSY is a floating raft-like structure that provides for an “all-you-can-eat buffet,” for the growing oysters.

Projects to preserve and protect

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe recognizes that they must continually be their own best advocate to ensure that resources and rights are protected for generations to come. To this end, the tribe has a rigorous Natural Resources research and monitoring program, which includes the ongoing creation of projects designed to protect and sustain fish, shellfish, and their respective habitats.

One such recent project involves the Tribe purchasing two Floating Upweller Systems, otherwise known as FLUPSYs. These stationary raft-like structures house shellfish seed and allow them to grow rapidly in ideal conditions before being transferred to protected beaches to enhance existing shellfish stocks.

“Projects like the FLUPSYs allow us to investigate and employ a variety of aquaculture technologies to enhance populations of various species. We’re proud of the success we’ve seen,” says Sullivan.

While this work is promising, sustaining shellfish populations requires not only these types of culturing and research activities, but also minimizing the impacts caused by overharvesting and climate change.

“We are working to take sustainable actions to protect the aquaculture and existing fish and shellfish populations. Policy plays a big role in these efforts,” explains Sullivan.

A policy for change

First Nations’ “Fertile Ground Advocacy Campaign” is a program that supports Native-led advocacy efforts to advance new policies and innovative policymaking approaches that benefit Native American nutrition and health. Through this program, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Foundation on behalf of the Tribe received funding for the “S’Klallam Shellfish Grow-Out Expansion Project.”

The S’Klallam Shellfish Grow-Out Expansion Project will enable the Tribe to develop and implement an aquaculture policy that will improve the health and sustainability of shellfish while enhancing education and outreach to the community.

“The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe is lucky to have many species of clams, oysters, geoduck, crab, shrimp, and salmon in their Usual and Accustomed area, but the threat to these species is real,” says Hannah Jones, development associate for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Foundation. “There is a need for environmental, economic, and sustainability policy surrounding the Tribe’s precious food resources.”

According to Sullivan, the policy being developed will establish a process wherein proposed aquaculture projects can be evaluated through the Tribe’s various advisory groups with objectives that include:

• Maintenance, enhancement, and accessibility of aquatic resources to Tribal members.
• Limiting competition between aquaculture activities and wild harvest.
• Protection of and limiting access to wild harvest aquatic resources.
• Improving the economic sustainability of shellfish harvesting for Tribal members.
• Creation of educational opportunities that encourage healthy living, and promote cultural continuity and ecosystem health.
• Promotion of projects that improve ecosystem health while protecting the diversity of native species.

Sullivan says that created policies strive to always match the culture of the community and the mission of the Tribe, which is, in part, to “ensure the health, welfare, and economic success of a vibrant community through education, economic development, preservation and protection of a rich culture, traditions, language, homelands, and natural resources.”

Much of the policy work at the heart of the S’Klallam Shellfish Grow-Out Expansion Project focuses on community outreach and education. For example, funds from the First Nations’ grant will be used for in-the-field and classroom-based education coursework on shellfish biology, waterway health, and the importance of food sovereignty. Sullivan stresses that these teachings are core to helping protect and preserve the S’Klallam way of life.

The S’Klallam people follow a saying: “When the tide is out, the table is set.” According to Sullivan, “This means that the whole tribe recognizes when there is someone out collecting—it’s part of the S’Klallam culture and identity, and it’s a significant element in the health and culture of the S’Klallam people.”

With the new technology, oysters can grow exponentially in size, going from tiny specks to the size of a quarter in just a few weeks.

With the new technology, oysters can grow exponentially in size, going from tiny specks to the size of a quarter in just a few weeks.

The S’Klallam Shellfish Grow-Out Expansion Project represents progress in Tribal empowerment and creates an effective framework for the future. Jones says she is excited about this work and grateful for the support of First Nations in enabling the Port Gamble S’Klallam Foundation to continue to work in food sovereignty through policy building.

“This is work that will affect the way the Tribe sustains, harvests, and addresses threats to a resource my S’Klallam children have grown up on,” Jones says. “Now, the resource may very well continue to be around for my grandchildren because of aquaculture policy.”

Indeed, thanks to the innovative work of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the table will continue to be set, and a Strong People will stay forever strong.

By Amy Jakober

2019 Food Sovereignty Summit Brings Indigenous Food Thought Leaders Together

One of Oneida Nation's many food-related businesses.

One of Oneida Nation’s many food-related businesses.

The 2019 Food Sovereignty Summit held at the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, September 23-26, brought together Native food practitioners to share, collaborate and build healthy food systems within Native American communities. First Nations Development Institute and the Oneida Nation have partnered to create the national forum for food sovereignty since 2013.

Oneida’s Community Integrated Food System

Years ago, Oneida’s community members and staff decided to pursue grants and expand their farming and food production operations. They worked to develop a model that would become Oneida’s Community Integrated Food System. Through a process, they mapped and aligned their existing agricultural and food assets to create a system that is more holistic and representative of their vision for a healthy community.

The elements of their food system are a combination of for-profit business, tribal programs, local non-profits, and individual community members. They include the Oneida Nation Farm, a commercial farm with buffalo and cattle; Oneida Nation Orchard; the Tsyunhehkwa Farm, which specializes in reintroducing traditional foods into the community and specializes in growing white corn; and the Oneida Cannery, which processes those foods and assists community members with preservation methods through traditional and conventional teachings. Many of the Nation’s food products are available at the Oneida Market; a natural health store that sources native and local foods and supports the Oneida’s youth, elder, and community programming. Ohe∙láku, a newly established White Corn Co-op, Oneida Emergency Food Pantry, aquaponics, project and Oneida Farmers Market are also in the mix.

Giving the Food Sovereignty Summit attendees the opportunity to tour Oneida’s Community Integrated Food System has always been an anchor for the event. To see how agricultural production with cultural and sustainable practices are integrated into the community through food outlets is an inspiring model to experience and sets the backdrop for the next three days of learning and conversation.

“We want to demonstrate transferable knowledge,” said Joanie Buckley the Division Director of Internal Support Services at Oneida Nation. “We want to show that it is possible to create and impact a local food economy while encouraging a healthy community mindset that centers around our food.”

An Indigenous learning community

Over the course of the next three days, the Food Sovereignty Summit provided multiple presentations, sessions, and workshops that advanced understanding and propelled learning. Tehassi Hill, chairman of the Oneida Nation, and Michael Roberts, president, and CEO of First Nations, kicked off the events with words of encouragement, which were followed by some words of wisdom from Ross John, Sr., Counselor of the Seneca Nation of Indians: “We left out our communities and that’s what’s important to this farming and growing. It takes it back to individuals who are empowered again to do something. To help our communities. To heal our families. You don’t need my expertise, you don’t need me to tell you how to do it, you need to figure it out for yourself. Let’s rebuild those fires. That’s our family. Our symbolism is what the rest of the world needs to understand again.”

First Nations Director of Native Agriculture and Food Systems, A-dae Romero- Briones, hosted a sneak peek of the film, GATHER, co-produced by First Nations and directed by Sanjay Rawal. GATHER follows four Native food providers as they pursue Indigenous food development and food sovereignty in their communities. After the presentation, three stars of the film shared their experiences pursuing food sovereignty. The film is scheduled for release in January 2020 and will be made available for community screenings throughout Indian Country. “I appreciate hearing about how storytelling brings up issues of everyday life on the reservations,” said one attendee. “How our experiences are valuable. The stories have rich lessons about food sovereignty.”

A-dae Romero-Briones, Kim Baca, Sanjay Rawal, Tessa Cassadore and niece discuss GATHER.

A-dae Romero-Briones, Kim Baca, Sanjay Rawal, Tessa Cassadore and niece discuss GATHER.

Three hundred and fifty attendees stayed together for the morning sessions to explore the expansive and time-sensitive topics of Thriving Tribal Food Systems, to Tribal Sovereignty and Land Rights, The Farm Bill, Food Systems Funders, Strengthening Climate Resiliency on Tribal Lands, and Future Generations a session filled with passion and insight coming from young food systems leaders.

“Amazing things happen when you get practitioners in conversations with one another,” noted Romero-Briones. “There are synergies amplified and these conversations reflect the core of First Nations—that indigenous people have the ability to create solutions that are beyond what we can create alone or apart.”

During the afternoons, folks chose from a variety of small group breakout sessions led by knowledge keepers in their related fields. The range of sessions was vast, from the technical skill building like Government Grant Applications, Food Codes, Business Plan Development, and Legal Cases, to the more contextual sessions such as First Foods, Hemp, Stewardship and Conservation, and Rural Broadband Access, and Indigenous Food System Models. “I appreciated presenters sharing challenges and successes,” said one attendee.

Sharing a taste of where we are from

Evenings were filled with an abundance of food and festivity. The I-Collective a group of Indigenous chefs, herbalists, seed and knowledge keepers prepared a Culinary Showcase of Traditional Foods for all to enjoy. The first-time all-woman cast of Kristina Stanley, Twila Cassadore, Britt Reed, Hillel Echo-Hawk and Tashia Hart amazed the people with their home inspired recipes from their Chippewa, Apache, Choctaw, Pawnee, Athabaskan, and Anishinaabe roots. “I want to express gratitude for everyone working in the Native food sovereignty community. I love this second family of mine so much!” shared Chef Stanley.

“We often hear about the calamities of the world daily in social media and it can cause anxiety. The Food Summit reminds us that we have the tools to heal our community and world—it’s a matter of putting those tools into practice,” shared Romero-Briones.

Under the stars at Amelia Cornelius Culture Park, everyone gathered for the Oneida Social. The evening started with a beautiful seed exchange where seed keepers brought seeds from their local community to tell seed stories and exchange seed with others. Then, Ohe∙láku, the White Corn Growers Co-Op, Oneida families and community members presented a meal. Guests feasted on corn soup, wild rice with buffalo roast, and strawberry drink. After dinner, Oneida smoke dancers introduced a visitor dance, where visitors selected from the audience partnered with local dancers. Dancing continued late into the night and ended with a dance-off performance between the top smoke dancers.

Oneida Social under the stars (Eliza Skenadore)

Oneida Social under the stars (Eliza Skenadore)

Planting seeds for the future

The summit culminated with remarks by host Tehassi Hill, Oneida Nation Chairman and Mark Charles, Native activist and thought leader, “Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed common memory must be created,” implored Charles drawing from his Dine’ teachings.

The Food Sovereignty Summit has been a place to rebuild our collective memory of food and continue to share the cumulative knowledge outward. “I’m thrilled! The engagement of the tribes was incredible,” shared Buckley.

“The future and success of the Food Sovereignty Summit is to see the emergence of local and regional food summits throughout Indian Country. There is not just one recipe for a healthy community.”

First Nations would like to thank the sponsors for Food Summit 2019: Agua Fund, Inc., Farm Aid, Land O’ Lakes, Inc., Natural Resources Conservation Service, NoVo Foundation, Oneida Nation, USDA, Otto Bremer Trust, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

By First Nations staff

Podcasts Connect Youth for a Brighter Salish Future

Michelle Polasky and Isabella James discuss current events at Lummi for the pilot episode.

Michelle Polasky and Isabella James discuss current events at Lummi for the pilot episode.

It started over lunch at an ice cream parlor. From there it grew to a communications platform, a podcast series designed to unite generations on issues that, left ignored, could increase division and compromise the strength of the Salish culture. This is how one production company in Bellingham, Washington, is engaging youth and giving them a voice – and a microphone – to make a difference for the future.

Reaching today’s youth

The Lummi Nation is a self-governing nation within the United States and is the third largest Tribe in Washington State. Here, the Coast Salish People have a history built on art, fishing, language, and oral traditions. As in Native communities everywhere, there is an increasing need to keep their culture and ways of life alive.

But specific to the Lummi Indian Reservation, there is a disconnect among tribal members stemming from certain controversial issues in the community that can be largely attributed to the friction between the old ways of governing by family law and the colonially imposed system of governing by Tribal Council. The regulation of marijuana, changing laws, and the use and effectiveness of seasonal per capita payments are creating conflict among tribal members, a discontent that is being felt by this nation’s youth.

According to Children of the Setting Sun’s Michelle Polasky (age 20), there is not a lot of effective communication going on, and people are not always listening to each other. What has resulted is disengagement of the younger population, growing resentment, and a potential threat to the future and strength of the Coast Salish traditional lifeways.

Cover art depicts the creativity and culture behind the Youth Podcast Network.

Cover art depicts the creativity and culture behind the Youth Podcast Network.

Lending a voice

Children of the Setting Sun Productions is a multimedia, film, and theatre arts production company specializing in enlivening the rich history, legacies, stories, and traditions of the Salish People. They do this by using interviews and performance arts to share the “Lummi Family Tradition of Native Storytelling,” fulfilling their mission to create, share, and educate.

As such, the company was uniquely positioned to engage youth in a modern medium that would resonate with them – audio podcasts. Elli Smith, Youth Program Director and Development Administrator, sought funding through First Nations Development Institute’s Native Youth and Culture Fund to create a Youth Podcast Network. Polasky was brought on board as a youth advisor and podcast host, along with co-host and youth advisor Isabella James (age 24).

With the grant funding, Smith and Polasky both took part in First Nations’ professional development training, which set the stage for setting up and implementing the podcasts. From there, the grant made it possible for Children of the Setting Sun to invest in the research, resources, and equipment for production. Key to the project has been providing technical training, as well as teaching the appropriate cultural protocols that promote respect in the community and best share the language and Tribal stories.

In the works is a three-part series on Being Indigenous, featuring individual episodes on Reviving the Lummi Language, Healing, and Youth Indiginaity. These initial episodes are being produced and created by Polasky, James, and Smith in the studio as well as in the community, directly engaging multiple stakeholders.

Polasky shares on the Children of the Setting Sun website: “As a community, it is our responsibility and duty to come together as one and make important decisions that should only benefit all of us. In order to do that we must first listen to the people of the community for their thoughts and opinions, this includes everyone: the council, the fisherman, the elderly, the youth, and the children.” The organization also extends this responsibility to people in recovery.

Amplified impact

Polasky explains that through the podcasts they hope to give youth a voice to talk about important issues, and also reconnect them with the Lummi language and culture. “We want to inspire them,” she says.

She says this work is more important than ever because, even with such a large presence in Washington State, many people do not know of the Lummi Nation. Even within their shared city of Bellingham, “People still don’t know who we are.”

And where this is a diminished presence, there is diminished strength to draw from — strength that Lummi Youth need in defining their own self-value and future. Smith adds, “We’re aiming to change the perception of how others see the Lummi people outside the community. Through these productions, we can let them know that the first peoples of this land are still very much alive and that culture is rich in knowledge, love, and ingenuity.”

Moreover, this new project by Children of the Setting Sun is creating a more formalized mode of communication. Polasky explains that in the past, the voices of youth would be heard only on social media. It lacked the prominence and professionalism needed in an environment of community leaders and elders. Now, having an official podcast gives their voices more credence and elevates their role. The podcasts have also led to the creation of a Youth Advisory Council, which is further engaging teens in ways they can contribute and lead.

This is the story of what can happen when friends meet for ice cream, when conversations begin, and when people are given the opportunity to express themselves thoughtfully. Further it is the story of storytelling itself. Smith says that, as producers, they can bring music, imagery, and story together to tell a broad picture of humanity. “With film and podcasts, you can rise above the political issues,” she says. “You can bring people together above conflict and shine a spotlight to see what was and what could still be. That’s the power of art, for youth and for our future.”

The first episode of the Youth Podcast Network by Children of the Setting Sun Productions is available at

Isabella and her baby Connor in the Children of the Setting Sun Production office recording on the Lummi language using the new equipment. Elli Smith adds, “Listen to the episode! Connor has a lot to say!"

Isabella and her baby Connor in the Children of the Setting Sun Production office recording on the Lummi language using the new equipment. Elli Smith adds, “Listen to the episode! Connor has a lot to say!”

By Amy Jakober