This issue of the Indian Giver e-newsletter spotlights one of First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) grantees that is doing tremendous work on the Muckleshoot reservation in Bellingham, Washington – Northwest Indian College and its Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project (MFSP).
With a population of 3,884 American Indians living on or near the reservation, college created the MFSP with the aim to “build local and systemic infrastructure in the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe to improve food systems, address food insecurity, and eliminate food deserts.” In its early stages, the project was able to create and implement many community activities, including cook’s camps, for-credit college courses on basic nutrition and traditional foods, seasonal food celebrations, community gardens, and educational trainings on traditional foods and medicines.
Now in the middle of its first year of being funded by First Nations, the MFSP is reaching for more goals in order to expand the program. With the success of the community gardens, the project is now trying to incorporate more of its locally grown foods into the seven tribal kitchens, attain better quality products from vendors, develop a “menu development toolkit,” and create more educational events for the community.
Right now the program is working on its latest initiatives through surveys, consultation and planning. It has been challenging for the seven community kitchens, largely because each of them faces “unique barriers to making meals on a daily basis.” Additionally, with their location, it is often difficult getting deliveries of fresh products.
Establishing and growing the program has been no easy feat, and the coordinators have often had to face the reality that, sometimes, plans are not always easily translated into reality. However, they have seen progress, such as the elders of the communities benefiting from improved diets because of the gardening projects, watching community participation in the effort increase significantly, and a general relearning of cultural knowledge. Though they have run into some challenges, they are persistent and keep the project moving forward.
It has been well worth their efforts. According to Miguel Hernandez of Northwest Indian College, “After speaking with some elders and explaining to them about the project, they had mentioned to me, ‘this work is a response to the ancestors’ prayers.’ After hearing this from an elder, it makes me realize how important people from the community think this work is and how the project affects them. We try to keep these things in mind when things get difficult or energy is low.”
By Katy Gorman, First Nations/Ogallala Commons Intern