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

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