Behind the Scenes: Digital Native Food

The Garden Warriors Good Seeds website was an idea born from two different approaches on Native communities and Food Sovereignty projects. The idea was that the two of us could combine our talents and strengths, as scholars and filmmakers, together on a single project. While Dr. Hoover had already established contacts in the Native Food community and I already knew a handful of folks especially from the Pacific Northwest, I was able to contribute my ability as a documentary filmmaker with video, audio, and digital skills.

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I also suggested that we make a blog, which evolved into a website, and has become massively popular with over 32,000 page views over the last two years. When I suggested to make a blog, I agreed to help out with the digital work of both website and video development based on Dr. Hoover’s work with people who are doing the farm, garden, and harvesting projects on the ground. With additional assistance from Brown University’s library resources, we hit the ground running and this site has now become a large repository of information for Indigenous Food Sovereignty Projects.

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Christina Elias, Mashkiikii Gitigan Medicine Garden. Photo by Angelo Baca.

This was already a successful outreach tool to many communities, including Native youth all over the country, a demographic that we were also trying to reach with these Native Food projects. The two already popular blogs “Into America: The Ancestor’s Land” and “Native Tribal Scholars Program” were evidence that this medium was a good way to network and bring people together in a digital community. These platforms are significant to bringing awareness, promotion, and established presence in the online world in digital form accessible all over the globe at any time of day in any place that gets internet access. We have learned that people all over the world, not just here in the United States, are very interested in Native American communities, food, projects, and the work that goes into them as evidenced by the numerous hits on our site that grows exponentially everyday and their comments.

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Bob Shimek, director of White Earth Land Recovery Project. Photo by Angelo Baca.

In addition, we wanted to share our adventures and reports with people about the work that other Native communities are doing at the moment. Dr. Hoover, as well as myself, know that research done in Native communities are often not reported back very well or at all. In her research in the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, this was a common problem where in the past, scientists and researchers did work there but didn’t always do a satisfactorily good job with communicating the results to the community. In my own experience in teaching and education with Native communities, both Western and Indigenous ways of knowing and communicating various ideas, projects, and concepts are always a challenge so making a visual blog with written ideas, pictures, videos, and other links made sense to keep people who were involved in the project to remain connected. As Native people and researchers, we wanted to do a better job than the majority of those researchers who do work in Indigenous communities the best we could with this project.

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Stephanie Berryhill, Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Project. Photo by Angelo Baca.

In fact, Native communities often felt they were doing food projects alone and were experiencing obstacles and difficulties in isolation but the blog has helped them to see that these communities have similar experiences and they were beginning to share solutions and problem-solving strategies together. It also served to make new connections to other people who are involved in various food movements, broaden their food sovereignty views, and get connected to individuals, groups, and organizations interested in parallel work. We wanted this to be a useful tool and an online hub of dynamic activity to inspire, motivate, and educate Native communities into action for their own “growing” and finding their own way in Food Sovereignty. In short, we hoped it would be a way to share and bring hope for better community, improved eating, and healthy living.

I wanted to take this time to thank the Native communities that we visited and worked with during the Summer of 2014. It was truly an honor to be working wonderful and talented people who cared about Native food sovereignty projects with many communities and did a fantastic job bringing many of these dreams of feeding the people to life. It was also an opportunity to learn about our relatives of plant and animal peoples, spirits that have given of themselves to feed our own people, and sacred connections as ancient and respected as other beings who help us live, and continue to share the world. To me, it humbling and honorable work.


The next generation of Oodham reporters turns the camera on us. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

I find that many people are interested in the “behind the scenes” or “making of” perspectives of various film and video projects so I think some photos of many of our stops in different places with many people seem to be in order here . This will complement the places we reported on in the blog to get a feel for the actual filming and recording process during interviews and obtaining footage for the upcoming documentary film. I think the film itself will have a life of its own and do a lot of the work we hope in same way that this website does already. Dr. Hoover has already garnered some awards for this research so maybe we can achieve something similar in the documentary film realm as well (fingers crossed*). We often see what is in front of the camera and the results of the visual imagery produced as photo or video form, but rarely do we see who is behind the camera and how they do it. This post offers a brief glimpse of that process and the exhaustive, but rewarding, effort of that labor. Although a year and half has now passed, we remember the time like it was yesterday.

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Grace Ann Byrd, Nisqually Tribe Community Garden. Photo by Angelo Baca.

It was also an honor to work with Dr. Elizabeth Hoover, my partner in this and many other important things, whom I was privileged to be with everyday driving in the car for over 30, 000 miles in three months across hill and dale around these United States and back again. I didn’t mind driving most of the way as she pecked on keyboards and listened to audio recordings diligently while I watched landscapes, plants, and animals pass us by. My job was to help her with what she needed and get us there safely, and once in a while pick up a camera and shoot. We ate and tasted incredible things, talked to amazing people, saw events that might never happen again, and were pushed to the limits in terms of workloads, schedules, and exhaustion. She had incredible patience with me, taught me a great many things, and was a true north star in my own life, my best friend, a compass that gave me direction and purpose as we journeyed through life together in the unknown. It was an incredible experience and one I will never forget. The future is again unknown but the sun will rise and the seasons will change once more. We both know that the world is bigger than we are and we wanted to work for the greater purposes of the food and the people as there is always more to be done. “Thank You” to Elizabeth for an adventure of a lifetime 🙂


Elizabeth and Angelo at the Cheyenne River Youth Project “Leading Lady” Farmers Market, July 2014.

Thank you also to the Brown University community for their support and sponsorship, the Salomon grant awarded to this project, and additional support from the Ford Foundation. Also, thanks every generous and welcoming host to all the Native communities we visited. All of them made me proud to be Indigenous! You make all your ancestors and relatives proud too for all you do. Ahee’hee’ (Thank you).


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