One of First Nations Development Institute’s grantees under its recent “Nutrition Education for Native American Communities” grant program is the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), a tribally-chartered corporation of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. REDCO’s Community Food Sovereignty Initiative received the funding from First Nations as part of First Nations’ Nourishing Native Foods and Health program area. The nutrition education program was generously supported by the Walmart Foundation.
“Partnerships are essential to creating a stable and deep learning environment, especially when youth are involved,” says Wizipan Little Elk, REDCO Chief Executive Officer. “First Nations’ investments and technical support have helped us further develop our partnerships and move the Community Food Sovereignty Initiative forward.”
The “Feeding the People: Strengthening Family and Community Health through Shared Meals and Nutrition Education” project brings together REDCO’s Community Food Sovereignty Initiative and a group known as Boys with Braids Rosebud to address “the effect of food on individual and community health” that is often absent from discussions around food sovereignty.
Boys with Braids Rosebud brings together families from the Rosebud community who are dedicated “to teach the sacredness of hair, foster a sense of pride using education as a way of interrupting teasing,” according to its Facebook page.
Boys with Braids Rosebud approached REDCO about partnering on a project, and both groups realized they could do more than talk about the state of healthy eating in their community. They could put their energies toward “integrating nutritional food into both their programming and their homes.”
Empower Healthier Choices
The activities created as part of the project’s goals were to “expose the families to new and healthy foods, to empower the families to make healthier food choices at the grocery store, and to be food advocates.”
David Espinoza is a Rosebud Sioux tribal member and one of the Boys with Braids Rosebud volunteer mentors. He along with JR White Hat, also a tribal member, support Lakota males in becoming grounded in cultural knowledge of their language and identity to counter the bullying and teasing they may experience due to having long hair.
“The group – it’s an entry point to engage the youth through different activities – meets once a week. We were super excited to partner with REDCO and Mike on the food activities. Food is intertwined with community. A lot of the kids are low income, they live with grandma or single parents, so healthy eating is not a reality for the boys,” said Espinoza.
Mike Prate is the Food Sovereignty Coordinator for REDCO. He sees partnering with Boys with Braids Rosebud as a way to expand the discussion and practice of healthy eating in a community that is working to reconnect with cultural traditions around food and creating new habits around food.
“I see Boys with Braids developing healthy and holistic young men. They are supporting them in their masculinity and to be culturally grounded. As far as food sovereignty initiatives, healthy foods are often overlooked in most things. Half the time the youth are eating unhealthy foods. So there’s a disconnect between what we say and what we do,” said Prate.
Going Grocery Shopping
The partnership between REDCO and Boys with Braids is working to make healthy connections with food the new normal. But changing the eating habits of the youth took more than discussions about food choices. It took having the boys do the grocery shopping for meals they would cook and prepare for their families.
Prate reached out to the Turtle Creek Crossing Super Foods, one of REDCO’s enterprises. Turtle Creek has an ongoing focus of “Food is Good Medicine” with informational signs indicating healthier food items and recipes to promote healthy eating. In January 2017, Espinoza, Prate and White Hat, along with some grandpas, uncles, dads and one mom, went to Turtle Creek to help the boys shop and be role models. For most of the boys it was their first time at a grocery store.
“Most boys don’t get the opportunity to shop, some never get to do their own shopping and they don’t see dad in the store shopping for healthy meals,” said Espinoza.
Each of the boys had a budget of $25 to spend toward their healthy meal shopping. They had to make sure to read the labels and the cost of each item. It was a teachable activity as the boys learned that produce costs per pound. They learned to weigh the produce and to use their math skills to keep track of how much they were spending.
The boys had two choices: make either chicken fajitas or baked chicken. They learned to make the choice of brown rice over white rice or potatoes, and how to incorporate vegetables into the meal. One unexpected hit of the shopping trip was when the boys learned what a rutabaga is. They wanted to try it and include it in their meals.
“When we went shopping in the store, it was really fun and I enjoyed shopping with the boys. I also enjoyed going home, cooking and eating with my family,” said Yamni, a Boys with Braids participant and Rosebud Sioux tribal member.
Cooking in Action
After the shopping activity, each of the boys went home and cooked the meal for their families, some took pictures and made videos of themselves cooking in action, which can be found on the Boys with Braids Facebook page. Kayden, another Boys with Braids participants and Rosebud Sioux tribal member, particularly enjoyed the creative side of the cooking process.
“My favorite experience was when we made the chicken. When we put the sauce on the chicken before we cooked it, and I got some sauce on my fingers,” said Kayden.
More shopping expeditions were held at Turtle Creek, with one recent excursion where the boys shopped for fruit, vegetables, yogurt and other ingredients for smoothies. The boys made different smoothies and handed out free samples to Turtle Creek shoppers.
The mentors explained to the boys why they want them to focus on healthy food and the growing of food. They want the boys to see the traditional connection of how it is the young men’s responsibility to bring home and provide food for the family. The cultural connection of providing food also supports the young men in their development into manhood and prepares them to be leaders.
Some of the other activities have included preparing a meal to feed the community, which Boys with Braids Rosebud did during the last St. Francis Indian School high school basketball game. The boys prepared chili and passed out the food to the elders first, and then the rest of the community during halftime. The goal of having the boys “see the value in providing and serving the community” has been successful.
Rights of Passage
“Another community feed is planned for May 24 with REDCO, Boys with Braids Rosebud, and Tiwahe Glu Kinipi, the local horse therapy group, all partnering to put on a community social dance event. The boys are going to cook using buffalo from the harvest they participated in earlier this year,” said Prate.
Another key activity – which was done in addition to the Community Food Sovereignty Initiative activities – was the harvesting of a buffalo and the rights of passage for one of the older boys.
“The rights of passage and the taking of the buffalo, the continuation and the relationships to the buffalo, and praying. We did it in an honorable and respectful way. We wanted the boys to know the history and the cultural processes today,” said Espinoza.
The boys learned to skin and gut the buffalo and process the meat. The mentors talked about the traditions of sharing food among the generations and the community.
After a busy winter and spring, the Boys with Braids Rosebud youth, Espinoza, Prate and White Hat are busy gearing up to produce a short video and a poster on the importance of healthy food and the cultural connection of traditional foods to the community. What the group has experienced and learned over the eight-month project was shared at a community roundtable event this spring. Prate says they are grateful to First Nations for the support in making this project happen.
“I’m excited for this work, to see it go forward. To see a parent group take the initiative of what their sons want to grow and know, to hear parents talk about what they eat, where the food is from – it influences and affects the boys. Then they bring it home – where it impacts and engages the families.”
The work of REDCO and its partnership with Boys with Braids Rosebud will continue into the upcoming seasons. Just as the seasons are about growth and harvesting, so it is with the partnerships being built said Prate.
“We have recently received an additional grant from First Nations to partner with Boys with Braids Rosebud this summer. This will go toward growing gardens in each of the boy’s homes, taking them on traditional foods harvests, and completing a second buffalo harvest. This will be a way to continue the conversations held this winter into the summer in a tangible and concrete way.”
By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer