The Pueblo of San Felipe is roughly 25 miles north of Albuquerque and 38 miles to the south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. While sandwiched between two of the top four largest cities in the state, the Pueblo spans 68,000 rural acres. It has 3,400 enrolled tribal members, and the majority of them speak Keres, the traditional language. The Keres language is what intertwines the people with their cultural and agricultural traditions.
The Pueblo of San Felipe was one of the recipients of the grants awarded to 21 Native American tribes and organizations to help them conduct food sovereignty or community food assessments in their various locales from 2016 to 2017. First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) provided the grants, totaling $400,000, under its Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) with generous support from the NoVo Foundation Fund at the Tides Foundation.
The Pueblo of San Felipe’s Department of Resources (DNR) includes the Agriculture Program, Environmental Office, Water and Land Management Offices, Mapping and Historic and Cultural Preservation Office. Pinu’u Stout is the Department of Natural Resources Director for San Felipe. She says the food sovereignty assessment is an important part of DNR’s work and that community engagement is a critical part of the process. A survey was created as a way to get community feedback on what issues they felt were important and needed to be examined in the food assessment. DNR utilized the First Nations Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool as a resource in creating the survey.
The survey asked the San Felipe community to consider their food sources – where they get their food and what food is available to them. Even though the Pueblo is located between two major cities in the state, tribal members must drive roughly 45 minutes each way to reach the nearest big box store or grocery store.
The Pueblo announced its food sovereignty assessment grant via a press release that was sent to area media outlets, but it is the person-to-person connection that made the most impact when conducting outreach to fellow tribal members, which crossed generations.
The DNR involved the youth in the village by having high school and college interns in the department take the survey from door to door within the Pueblo to encourage participation, and to connect with their fellow tribal members directly. A community luncheon and outreach event was held where tribal members ate traditionally-prepared foods, and talked about the food assessment in further detail.
“The community strongly encouraged us to get more feedback from them, and to make sure they were involved in the process. A strong interest was shown in creating a community garden, with the main interest being in farming,” said Stout.
According to the USDA Census of Agriculture for 2012, the number of farmers in the United States fell by 4.3 percent from the previous census held in 2007. Stout is ever-conscious that while nationally the number of farmers has been declining, the number of farmers in the community is high.
“In the United States as a whole, about two percent of the population are farmers, and about 70 percent are farmers here in San Felipe, and many of our farmers also work jobs in addition to farming. We strive to support existing farmers, and to bring in new farmers. Farming is a big part of the community and life here in the Pueblo,” said Stout.
One of the survey questions asked if they were not currently farming, would they want to learn how to farm? The response was high, with 75 percent saying yes, they would like to farm or help with the farming in their community in come capacity. Stout says they see it as part of who they are as a people.
“They – the community – see farming tied to the culture, language, health and to the future and past. It’s a different experience in this tribal community versus the rest of the United States,” said Stout.
The food assessment project provided the framework and a launching point for the DNR and other program collaborators in the community to take the community’s interests and what they want to happen further. The funding provided by First Nations and the NoVo Foundation Fund at the Tides Foundation was appreciated as it supported the food assessment into becoming a reality.
As tribal respondents to the food sovereignty survey stated: “We have the right to preserve our traditional values” and a “right to traditional foods that have been a part of our history for generations.”
The funding from First Nations give San Felipe the opportunity to take the time to focus on food, food sovereignty and what it means for the Pueblo. The assessment is the beginning of a conversation on how to move forward in the San Felipe way – honoring tradition and moving forward in a positive way.
By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer