Great Lakes Food Sovereignty Summit, Oneida WI

On October 26-29 2015, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, in collaboration with the First Nations Development Institute, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, the International Indian Treaty Council, North Central IPM Center, and CHS Foundation hosted the 2015 Food Sovereignty Summit. This event brought hundreds of Native farmers, ranchers, gardeners, policymakers, and food producers together to share their successes and challenges, and to network. Below I’ve included a sample of the panels and activities– you can access the full agenda here.


The Oneida color guard opened the conference, followed by opening remarks by Christina Danforth, Chairwoman of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Lori Watso, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community gave an opening keynote talk highlighting the importance of regaining food sovereignty as the key to better health and nutrition in Native communities. After listing a series of poor health statistics that describe many Native communities, she emphasized that “The only way to ensure we have clean foods is to be food sovereignty and to produce our own foods. That’s how we stop these raging statistics and that’s how we heal ourselves.” The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux tribe, as part of their philanthropic efforts to improve this nutritional crises has begun the “Seeds of Native Health” initiative to fund food projects in Native communities. After focusing on the sad health and nutrition statistics, and new efforts to provide communities with funding to work against this, Lori ended the session by calling on the audience to tell everyone some of their best news coming out of their communities, and to tell her what community organizations needed to sustain the work that they do. A number of people spoke up: a San Carlos Apache man working on a grass fed beef project; the Little Travers Odawa community who just purchased a tribal farm; a Ute rancher working to provide healthy meat to elders and head start; Grace Ann Byrd described the Nisqually gardens; Ella Robertson from the Sisseton Wahpeton tribe described their honey bee project and co-op for local gardeners; Pete Metoxen from Oneida describing community gardens and canneries; Jorge Magdelene from Jemez Pueblo described the 7 acre community garden being tended by local children; Woody White from the Ho-Chunk nation describing the Whirling Thunder farm and their collaborations with local universities and institutions to bring in additional knowledge to their environmental studies camp; Melissa from the Crow Nation who started a program to teach youth how to hunt, gather and grow food; and others. The answer to what they needed to sustain their projects was similar across the board- more funding, more hands-on help on the ground.


Grace Ann Byrd from the Nisqually Tribe in WA describing her community’s efforts to raise and distribute food (while a buffalo looks on…). Later in the day, Dianne Amiotte-Seidel from the Intertribal Buffalo Council presented about programs to get buffalo meat into schools. She described how Lakota and other Plains people were confined to reservations in the mid-19th century, at which time Indigenous people began to eat much more beef Buffalo meat has fewer calories, more omega 3 and less omega 6 fatty acids. Dianne is working with tribes to try to incorporate more buffalo meat into school lunches. Challenges to these efforts include not having access to enough USDA certified slaughter plants, the higher cost of buffalo meat for schools, and having enough buffalo in tribal herds to feed schools. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


The first breakout session I attended highlighted the experiences of Native youth involved in gardening and food initiatives. After their session, two of the youth, Tehonwenniserathe Levi Herne from the Akwesasne Freedom School, and Bernice Stevens from the Oneida Nation were interviewed as part of local news story. Levi described the Mohawk language immersion program at the Akwesasne Freedom School, and his own 1/4 acre garden that he tends and preserves the food from. Bernice is part of the Oneida Food Youth Group, which took part in a food handlers safety course, and lessons on creating a product– like a trail mix created from scratch and marketed to local organizations. The program also took the youth on medicine plant walks, and them other food preservation skills like canning. Joseph Cadotte from the Bad River Tribe’s Youth Wild Rice Stewardship program (not pictured here) also described their programs to teach youth about environmental science and traditional foods through wild rice camps that included trips to gather rice and conduct water tests; and lessons on processing rice in traditional and modern ways. (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Full house! Enjoying lunch. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

On Day 2, one of the morning sessions included a presentation by Cheryl Shippentower from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) described how in 2006 the tribe developed a community based mission for the environment department, to protect, restore, and enhance their first foods—water, salmon, deer, cous, and huckleberry–for “the perpetual cultural, economic, and sovereignty benefit of the CTUIR.” Their department is arranged around these foods, and is based on the creation story, in which the Creator talked to these foods, who stepped up presented themselves in this order; salmon and fish categories, deer and other hoof animals, then plant foods, then huckleberries. For this reason, the foods are served in this order in ceremonies. Some of these foods are men’s foods, considered as brothers to them and gathered and served specifically by them—like water, salmon and deer. Some are women’s foods, their sisters, gathered and served specifically by them, like plants and berries. Cheryl noted that in the past the department had focused a lot on water quality, and had been successful in restoring once-extinct salmon to the Umatilla River. Now they are turning their attention to women’s foods as well. Cheryl walked us through some of the roots, bulbs, and berries gathered by women and the issues facing these food plants—mainly loss of habitat from unregulated grazing, fire suppression (require for some of the plants to grow well), energy development (windmills built where camas roots once grew), limited access to gathering areas (private ownership of property, fences), and competition with the general public who also want to grow berries. Invasive grasses and extreme weather events are also impacting berry plants. Using ArcGIS and cultural knowledge, the tribe partnered with federal agencies to create maps in order to preserve and restore gathering locations, and develop a coordinated management of selected species on BLM lands and in the Umatilla Nation Forest. The maps are only available to tribal members and the forest service, in order to prevent over harvesting by new gatherers. In addition the tribe is working on thinning forests in areas that were once good huckleberry habitat.


Afternoon panel “Pushing the Envelope: Changing the landscape with Law and Policy.” Leotis McCormack, from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Commissioner and Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Member spoke about the struggle to translate cultural issues into policy, and quantifying tribal interests as ecosystem based functions. The Inter-Tribal Fish Commission fought dams along the Columbia River that blocked access to fish. To his left, Denisa Livingston from Dine Community Advocacy Alliance and Danny Simpson, former Navajo Nation Council Delegate, presented about the process behind passing the Navajo Junk Food Tax. Denisa described how there are currently 25,000 Navajos with diabetes, and 75,000 who are pre-diabetic. For Navajo Nation, $325 million is spent per year for the basic treatment of diabetes and $2.5 billion is spent on the treatment of diabetes related complications. In an effort to curb some of these costs and suffering, the Dine Community Advocacy Alliance decided to target the types of foods that their fellow community members were consuming, and crafted the Healthy Dine Nation Act of 2014. The Navajo Nation charges 5% sales tax on all food. This tribal legislation eliminates that tax on healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and nut butters, hominy, beans, and bottled water water. In addition, an extra 2% tax was added to junk foods like soda and chips (for a total of 7% tax on these foods, and 0% tax on healthy foods.) The tax collected will go into Community Wellness Development Projects, like gardens, farmers markets, healthy recreation programs, and educational materials about which foods are taxable and non-taxable. According to Danny, the Navajo Nation president, under pressure from lobbyists from beverage companies initially vetoed the Act, but it signed when he was presented with it a second time, and the Healthy Dine Nation Act (known informally a the Navajo Nation Junk Food Tax) was officially passed in the summer of 2014. Mike Wiggins (to the far left on the panel with the checkered shirt), who was at the time the Chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, presented about his community’s efforts to fight mining and protect their water. The Tribe fought to establish a 70 mile radius around the reservation in which they would need to be at the table to consult and comment if extractive industries attempt to move into this area. Thus far they have fought an open pit taconite mine, as well as a 26,000 pig CAFO that would have contaminated their watershed. He highlighted that Ojibway people are “food producing dynamos,” and in order for that to continue to be possible, the Tribe needed to fight to maintain the health of the environment they were ensured access to in their treaties. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


Kenny Tahawiso:ron Perkins and Mary Iotenerahtatenion Arquette presented on behalf of the A:se Tsi Tewa:ton “We All Make New Again” program in the Akwesasne Mohawk community, which came about as a result of a Natural Resources Damages Assessment, awarded to the community as a result of contamination released into the environment by General Motors and Alcoa. The program focuses on 4 areas of traditional cultural practice that were impacted by the contamination: water, fishing, use of the rivers; medicine plants and healing; hunting and trapping; horticulture and traditional foods. To revive and share knowledge in each of these areas, each program has a master teacher and apprentices. Kenny and Mary were presenting on behalf of the horticulture program and laid out their 4 year commitment: including learning modern and traditional agriculture,  developing individual techniques, aiming for community scale gardening, and becoming a resource center and seed saving hub for the community. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


After dinner, Oneida social dancers performed and engaged the audience. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


Dan Powless from Bad River singing a poster representing the breadth of attendance. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

And of course it wouldn’t be a successful Native food summit without the Native chefs! Dinner included a spread of different traditional foods by two featured Native chefs: Arlie Doxtator (Oneida) and Ben Jacobs (Osage). You can read more about Arlie in the post about the food summit in April.  This was Ben’s first time at one of these summits (post about his restaurant, Tocabe, coming soon)


Oneida chef Arlie Doxtator and Osage chef Ben Jacobs on a panel describing their businesses and cooking philosophies (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Arlie Doxtator preparing whitefish donated by Red Lake (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Whitefish, donated by Red Lake (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Chef Arlie’s fish, about to go into the oven (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Baked whitefish (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Arlie chopping cucumbers (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


sunflower sprouts, grown at Tsyunhehkwa (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Dish by Chef Arlie Doxtator: baked white fish, pureed cucumber sauce (including honey, apple cider vinegar and onion), and sunflower sprouts, with a sprinkle of sumac (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Chef Arlie Doxtator plating dishes for hungry conference attendees (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Jerusalem artichoke, a tuber indigenous to North America that is a healthy alternative to potatoes. They are high in fiber and inulin, and won’t spike your insulin the way potatoes will. (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Jerusalem artichokes, all cleaned up (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Chef Arlie, pouring freshly baked jerusalem artichokes (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


baked jerusalem artichokes (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Venison, jerusalem artichokes, and sage. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


Chef Arlie adding gravy to roasted venison and jerusalem artichokes (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Ben Jacobs chopping vegetables (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Chef Ben preparing buffalo meat (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Buffalo meat with squash and peppers (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Chef Ben preparing berries and syrup (photo by Elizabeth Hoover


Chef Ben preparing wild rice. (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


Wild rice in kanutchee– hickory nut broth. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


Chef Ben serving conference participants (photo by Elizabeth Hoover)


The conference concluded with a tour of Tsyunhehkwa, who was just finishing up their white corn harvest. Here, Kyle Wisneski, who is in charge of field crops and animal husbandry on the farm. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


White corn. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


Corn harvester. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


Don Charnon, Horticulture Farmer at Tsyunhehkwa, standing by one of the apparatuses used for drying down the white corn. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


Don Charnon and Dan Cornelius inspecting the corn harvester. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


Chickens at Tsyunhehkwa. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover


organic, grass-fed cow. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Categories: Minnesota/Wisconsin, Native ChefsTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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