NAFSI Food for Thought

Our Work Provides Much Food for Thought

First Nations Development Institute’s Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) was launched because we believe that food systems and food security are keystones to tribal economic development. Our goal is to assist rural or reservation-based Native American communities in ensuring adequate food supplies – with a particular focus on locally grown, healthy foods – and in developing or expanding a locally controlled and locally based food system that not only provides those healthy foods to community members, but which supports local food producers and the local economy.

Food is key to Native cultures. It is a multi-faceted part of life in Native American communities – where its availability (or lack thereof) influences the health of Native families, the local economy, and the perpetuation of Native cultures. On many reservations, the underdeveloped local economy has created a dependence on imported foods that are processed, canned or preserved, or fast foods high in fat or sugar. Native Americans – once completely self-sufficient and healthy – are suffering from epidemic
rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol.

Thankfully, we are not alone. Our effort has been generously supported by grants from numerous entities over the years including, among others, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, AARP Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Christensen Fund, and the Walmart Foundation. We also have been supported by visionary and generous individual donors throughout the United States. In turn, we support tribes and Native communities as they strengthen food systems in their communities, improve health and nutrition and build food security.

Earlier this year, we awarded numerous grants to many food-system projects around the U.S. What follows is a summary of those various projects:

Courtesy of the Walmart Foundation, we awarded grants ranging from $20,000 to $30,000 each to 10 worthy organizations. The recipients were:

$22,355 to the Eyak Preservation Council in Cordova, Alaska, to develop an environmentally friendly food-processing and cold-storage plant to support and preserve sustainable and independent food harvesting in rural Alaska.

$32,129 to Bay Mills Community College Land Grant Department in Brimley, Michigan, to
develop the capacity to produce, process, and make available naturally raised poultry for the Bay Mills Indian Community.

$32,200 to White Earth Land Recovery Project in Callaway, Minnesota, to assist local growers with independent food production, recovery of local food system production, restoration of Native varieties of foods and to expand the farm-to-school pilot project.

$31,920 to Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in Poplar, Montana, to purchase and install two large walk-in freezers, a walk-in refrigerator and shelving for the Wolf Point Food Bank. The food bank serves nearly 300 emergency food baskets each month to residents of the Fort Peck Reservation and five counties: Roosevelt, Valley, Daniels, Sheridan and McCone. The new food cold-storage system will double the freezer space and triple the refrigeration space.

$30,117 to Hays Community Economic Development Corporation in Hays, Montana, to establish a food co-op, develop a community garden, and provide classes on preparing wholesome meals,menu planning, and budgeting.

$32,179 to Cochiti Youth Experience at Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico to create a localized food system by supporting existing farmers, instruct Cochiti youth on traditional farming techniques, and recreate the tradition of farming to strengthen the Cochiti community.

$27,200 to Hasbidito in Cuba, New Mexico, to increase Navajo-controlled food production
infrastructure in three chapters on the eastern edge of the Navajo Nation – Counselor,
Ojo Encino and Torreon – by increasing certified food-production sales, developing food
entrepreneurs, providing healthy cooking classes and holding social events centered on healthy food.

$30,000 to Wind Hollow Foundation, Inc., in Anadarko, Oklahoma, to provide for the completion of its business incubator for agribusiness, and to support a seasonal farmers market, a local farmer co-op and a greenhouse program.

$30,700 to the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin in Oneida, Wisconsin, to
support “Tsyunhehkwa,” a project to improve food-preservation processes of white corn to
mitigate the negative effects of climate change and to support a symposium for the other 10 tribes in Wisconsin that are working with traditional foods.

$31,200 to Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College in Hayward, Wisconsin, to support the continued development and expansion of canning and preserving classes, provide community members access to local foods throughout the year, and promote community farming and gardening.

Courtesy of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we awarded grants totaling $450,000 to 11 organizations. The grantees, award amounts and projects were:

$44,403 to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland, Oregon. The four treaty tribes (Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warms Springs and Yakama) have long used the river as an integral part of tribal culture, diet and economy. However, tribal fishermen have been at the bottom of the fish-marketing chain and have not shared in its full economic value. This project will improve that by developing an entrepreneurial program to teach proper food handling and harvest safety practices along with business and marketing strategies.

$44,959 to Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona. The project will address the lack of access to
healthy, affordable and traditional foods in the region directly around the college and revitalize traditional food systems by establishing a regional food policy and a farmers market, and conducting public education about Navajo food-system issues and agriculture.

$13,080 to the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes in Poplar, Montana to further fund their effort to purchase and install walk-in freezers, a walk-in fridge and antibacterial shelving at the Wolf Point Food Bank. Freezer space will be rented to families for a nominal fee, which will be held in an account for them as a match for purchasing a home freezer.

$45,000 to Hunkpati Investments, Inc. in Fort Thompson, South Dakota. The initiative will
provide fresh vegetables, gardening and entrepreneurial education, and youth employment
on the Crow Creek Reservation. A planned community garden will have 10 personal plots for community members, leaving the rest for communal gardening. The project will facilitate community-wide farmers markets, provide nutrition and gardening education via the Boys and Girls Club, and will provide work for teens by hiring them to care for the garden and run the farmers markets.

$44,660 to the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope in Barrow, Alaska, to provide locally grown vegetables, herbs and edible flowers by using innovative technology to grow organic produce hydroponically with Tower Gardens® and LED lights, thus eliminating the need for soil and, during the winter, sunlight. The produce will allow Arctic Slope natives to improve their diets and long-term health. Currently available plant-based foods are prohibitively expensive. The project also will allow the school system to take advantage of a farm-to-school program.

$43,703 to Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Washington. The Swinomish Indian
Tribal Community is committed to strengthening its food systems to improve the health of
members through increased access to fresh produce. The recently established Swinomish Food Sovereignty Committee is developing a long-term food system plan. This project will complete a community garden space; provide education on gardening, food harvesting and preparation; and offer support and materials for home container gardens.

$45,000 to the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority in Kyle, South Dakota. This project makes a traditional food source, buffalo, readily available to Oglala Lakota tribal members who otherwise would not have access to the meat. There is no outlet to purchase it on the Pine Ridge Reservation unless a tribal member purchases a bison hunt, which is limited and expensive for low-income families. The opportunity to buy processed buffalo meat allows tribal members to purchase just what they need instead of paying the cost of a hunt and the processing of hundreds of pounds of meat at a time. It will be available at tribal farmers market sites and transported in a mobile freezer truck to rural areas.

$34,861 to The Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin in Oneida, Wisconsin. The project will improve traditional food security through enhanced food-preservation processes of organic heirloom white corn (a culturally important tribal food), which will prevent crop loss due to mold, pests and insects. This project will address improvements in white corn harvesting, storage, shelling and the processing of products.

$44,334 to the Painted Desert Demonstration Project (doing business as The STAR School) in Flagstaff, Arizona. The k-8 STAR School adjacent to the Navajo Nation will partner with the Navajo community of Sandsprings Farm on recently partitioned Hopi lands to pilot the first farm-to-school project in northern Arizona as a model for Navajo and Hopi schools and farms. They will collaborate to research and document state and federal requirements, certify the farm to supply public school meals, strengthen school gardens, prepare and disseminate a farm-to-school procedure manual, and mentor additional Navajo and Hopi initiatives.

$45,000 to the Taos County Economic Development Corporation in Taos, New Mexico. The corporation will be the lead coordinator of a new Native American Food Security and Food Systems Alliance. The purpose of the alliance will be to build a national Native movement and voice on Native food security and food system control. This will include developing a collaborative group of Native leaders who are concerned with Native food security, hunger and nutrition issues.

$45,000 to the Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders’ Association, Inc. in Kamuela, Hawaii.
The “Farming for the Working Class” program enables Native Hawaiian homesteaders to actively begin farming fallow land. It consists of hands-on training, classroom learning and business training. Wow Farm, a successful farming enterprise, developed a highly productive greenhouse.

That system will be taught to participants, allowing them to grow healthy crops that provide
additional income along with fresh produce.

Courtesy of AARP Foundation, we provided grants to four projects that are food related, but which also focus heavily on food security for elder Native community members. They were:

$25,000 to Sipaulovi Development Corporation at Second Mesa, Arizona. Sipaulovi will work to ensure elder food security by reclaiming locally controlled food systems based on traditional knowledge, contemporary practices, and coming together for the common good. Activities will focus on restoring seed and water sources, reviving community farming and gardening, and growing, processing and sharing food in the traditional manner. The gardens will be a reliable source of healthy food for elders. Sipaulovi is a self-governing Hopi village founded in the early 1700s on Second Mesa, Arizona. Of the 900 village residents, 28% are elders over 55, while 40% are youth up to age 18.

$25,000 to Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico. Santo Domingo Pueblo will implement a
traditional farming program to engage seniors, farmers and youth in the community. Through the purchase and development of a greenhouse, the seniors will plant and cultivate traditional crops. The seniors will work directly with youth on a weekly basis to provide traditional education around the interrelationship of agriculture and various cultural practices, including songs, dances and prayers. The seedlings cultivated in the greenhouse will be sold to community members and transplanted by elders and youth in a community field, where programming will continue throughout the summer and fall. At harvest time, elders and youth will work together to harvest crops for sale at local farmers markets and convenience stores.

$25,000 to the Pueblo of Nambe in New Mexico. The Pueblo of Nambe’s Community Farm
Project will use its local resources of land, water and sun to revitalize traditional agricultural knowledge while aiming to end food insecurity among seniors in the community. The Pueblo of Nambe’s project has four main components: the construction of a hoop-house, management of a program called “Inventory of Surplus,” establishment of a Senior Food Distribution Service, and the formation and operation of a food database. They hope that their efforts will not only help eliminate food insecurity among the Native senior population but also foster community involvement in food production and distribution.

$25,000 to the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. The Ponca Tribe will raise natural pork and provide it to tribal elders by way of its local food-distribution program and senior citizen center. The tribe will provide land for the venture, and the pork will be raised so as to ensure no hormones or other growth aids are used. (See separate article on the Ponca Pork Project.)

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

Ponca Pork Project to Provide for the Elderly and Help Youth

First Nations Development Institute, in association with AARP Foundation, is working to eliminate food insecurity among American Indian senior citizens. With support from the foundation, First Nations recently awarded grants of $25,000 each to four tribal projects that will go far toward meeting that goal. By way of alliteration, one of those efforts is the “Ponca Pork Project.”

With help from the First Nations grant, the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma will raise natural pork and provide it to tribal elders through its local food-distribution program and senior citizen center. The tribe will provide land for the effort and manage the venture.

The pork will be raised free of antibiotics, hormones or other growth aids. According to the tribe, the goal is to ensure that its elders not only have access to a sufficient amount of food, but that they also begin to adopt healthier diets, including the natural pork.

Further, the tribe will involve its youth in the project – from caring for the pigs to helping with the food- distribution process – as a way of introducing them to the world of animal agriculture. In many tribes across the U.S., traditional methods of raising livestock or growing crops have diminished significantly, which has helped erode many of the food- and agriculture-related cornerstones and customs of tribal culture. Getting youth engaged in the process will help revitalize the tribe’s connection to the land and agriculture.

“First Nations is happy to support this effort by the Ponca Tribe,” said First Nations President Michael Roberts. “Eliminating food insecurity is a critically important issue for many Native communities. Our partnership with AARP Foundation will support the development or expansion of locally controlled and locally based food systems while providing for senior members of Indian communities.”

National statistics document that Native Americans continue to experience high rates of poverty, which contributes to significant food insecurity. According to the most recent American Community Survey, about 26% of American Indians live at or below the poverty line. The same survey indicates that roughly 12% of all Native Americans living in poverty are age 55 and older. Other studies conducted by the National Resource Center on Native American Aging note that Native American seniors suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes and other negative health indicators when compared to other senior
groups in the United States.

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.

First Nations to Present Recent Findings on Predatory Lending

On September 26, 2012, First Nations Development Institute consultant Shawn Spruce will appear in front of New Mexico’s Indian Affairs Committee to discuss tax time predatory lending practices. The meeting, at the University of New Mexico-Gallup, is to make key legislators and tribal leaders (as well as tax-preparation businesses) aware of how firms take advantage of Native American taxpayers within and around communities with high Native populations.

Consistent with First Nations’ mission to advocate for Native peoples, Spruce will emphasize the need for consumer protections for Native American taxpayers and enforcement of existing legislation, since some tax-preparation firms are exploiting Native American taxpayers. In his presentation, he will draw primarily on data collected by First Nations that captured the experiences of Native American filers at for-profit tax-preparation businesses in New Mexico. With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation, First Nations carried out a “mystery shopper” study in New Mexico this past tax season, which culminated in a report titled More Tax Time Troubles (publication forthcoming).

The comprehensive report highlights a number of deceptive practices and poor quality preparation that Native tax filers encountered. The most troublesome finding was that some tax preparers manipulate clients into signing up for costly products like the Refund Anticipation Check (RAC) or Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL). Three of the 10 participants in our 2012 study were automatically signed up for the RAC option by way of questionable methods used by the preparers. Furthermore, seven of the 10 were offered a RAL loan and all 10 shoppers had some type of exposure to this expensive option through aggressive marketing.

Spruce will present at length about one shoppers whose experiences were especially problematic. One tax-preparation firm made a refund anticipation loan to our mystery shopper several days after the IRS website indicated that her refund had been issued to the firm. She was later told that the refund was, in fact, deposited in the firm’s account on the IRS indicated date, but that they only have one person who processes checks and it had taken that long to cut a return check. This ordeal resulted in the mystery shopper filing a formal complaint with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.

Sarah Dewees, First Nations’ senior director of research, policy and asset-building, said, “We acknowledge that tax-preparation firms can provide a valuable service, but we expect them to act ethically and in the best interest of their customers. Our research suggests this is not always the case, and instead tax preparers are taking advantage of some Native American tax filers.”

She continued, “This presentation before the Indian Affairs Committee will be crucial to fight for consumer protections for Native Americans. Our More Tax Time Troubles report will provide legislators and tribal leaders with solid evidence that predatory lending continues to be a problem in many New Mexico communities.”

The More Tax Time Troubles report will be available in October 2012. Please check for updates on its release.