Cochiti Youngsters Enjoying a Healthy Experience

One of First Nations Development Institute’s focus areas is Native American foods and health. Our work here is crucial; we know that agriculture and food systems can be significant keys for tribal economic development, while at the same time helping restore healthy Native diets and reconnecting us to our cultural traditions and lifeways. Our effort is formally called the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, or NAFSI.

A recent grantee under NAFSI, through generous funding provided by Walmart, is the Pueblo de Cochiti Food Project or, in particular, the Cochiti Youth Experience (CYE). First Nations provided a grant of $32,179 to support the Cochiti Pueblo in 2012.

Originally founded in 2001 as a 4-H club, CYE was reorganized in 2008 as a nonprofit, community based organization aimed at creating opportunities for youth that encourage healthy life choices. Motivated by the fact that American Indian children have high rates of diabetes, obesity and other health problems, CYE’s primary goal is to empower youth to make positive changes for themselves and their community.

CYE believes one way to empower youth is through the reinvigoration of farming and traditions of healthy food preparation. The group believes in the power of farming as an important process for learning core Pueblo values and healthy living, including a healthy diet.

Once a highly agricultural people, recent generations of Cochitis have not experienced the benefits of traditional farming. This has occurred because of the tragic loss of farmland from seepage from the Cochiti Dam in the early 1970s. Despite this, Cochiti remains a culturally strong community guided by a traditional calendar that regularly brings people of all ages together for events such as baptisms, ceremonial dances and annual feast days. These gatherings are centered on food and include communal meals, the giving of food as gifts, and the exchanging of food.

Historically, these events and family subsistence revolved around the maintenance of family farming plots that provided access to naturally grown foods for both consumption and sharing with others. But the loss of farmland, coupled with the widespread introduction of unhealthy, inexpensive store-bought food choices (e.g. potato chips, sodas and sugary drinks, fatty quick foods and candy) and a reduction in physical activity, have all contributed to the alteration of Cochiti diets. CYE seeks to reintroduce and
encourage healthy foods for daily and traditional gatherings, reinvigorate farming as a basis for local economic development and social learning, and support the healthy lifeways of Cochiti people.

The Cochiti Pueblo Food Project is designed to reinvigorate farming in the Cochiti Pueblo community, a 900-member agricultural community in rural New Mexico. Its primary goal is to create a localized food system by supporting existing farmers who are all over the age of 45, teach Cochiti youth ages 10-18 traditional farming techniques, and recreate the tradition of farming that, in turn, strengthens the invaluable social institutions of the Cochiti people. Its secondary goal is to encourage Cochiti youth to find ways to merge modern economic systems with the traditional farming systems by creating opportunities for them to establish food networks, such as farm-to-table programs, with the primary food programs in the Cochiti community, such as the tribal elders program and the local school district. The young farmers will learn farming and economic systems while being empowered to control the resources of our community.

You can help First Nations in its work and mission of strengthening Native American economies by giving generously online or by mail.

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