From Ronan High School
Kaileen Howard, a Ronan High School culinary arts student, was one of 60 national winners of the Intertribal Council on Agriculture essay contest and will travel (expenses paid) to Las Vegas in December to attend the council’s youth sessions. . Kaileen is an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish, Qlispe and Kootenai Tribes. Below is his winning essay.
Food sovereignty in my community
by Kaileen Howard
If we care about our Indigenous communities, we have to start caring about food sovereignty. The health of our communities is in crisis. According to a new study, “More than 50% of Indigenous people over the age of 35 worldwide have type 2 diabetes. Indigenous people suffer from poorer health, are more likely to be disabled and have reduced quality of life and end up dying younger than their non-Indigenous counterparts” (Health | United Nations for Indigenous Peoples).
Students my age today don’t eat healthy. It may be because they don’t have the money, the knowledge to eat healthy, or the skills to cook. According to the National Indian Council on Aging, “Poor diet now causes more deaths than smoking and high blood pressure.” A 2017 study found that one in five people die every day worldwide, due to a lack of nutrients. That’s almost 11 million people a day! Think about it, about 11 million people died in a year due to lack of proper nutrition. This means they were lacking in whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, and more that the body needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Our ancestors were healthy when they ate lean meats and berries. Our bodies weren’t built to digest milk, bread, or processed foods like chips, cereal, or cheese.
We need our communities to start exploring how we can eat more locally sourced foods. There are many native plants that still grow wild and can be harvested if one knows how to find them. Some of these plants native to our area include blueberries, mint, wild onion, chokecherries, bitter root, camas, pods and more. Each of these plants served a different purpose centuries ago and still does today. Whether to be used for medical purposes or simply easy to dry and store so they can survive the winter. Hunting was also important and still is in some communities. Wild game hunting or even fishing could help a tribe survive depending on what they received. They would dry the meat and it had what we today call a jerky consistency, but it was usually more dry than jerky.
Everyone in the tribe helped each other, whatever the job. They all had jobs, including the children. My grandfather said that when he was a child, the women asked the children to watch the meat when it was on the fire, so the children had to keep the flies away from the dry meat until it was well charred at outside, but it usually took a while before that had happened. It’s every man for himself these days, whether it’s buying all the toilet paper in the stores in 2020, buying as much gas as possible and filling up their pools with it. Greed has shaped this nation and it is a sad process to watch happen. The younger generations don’t hunt as much, they don’t go out and learn to gather, they don’t know when you can harvest certain crops, they don’t know how to bead or speak the language of their tribes.
We are seeing grocery prices rise with inflation. Produce is one of the main things whose prices have jumped, along with meat. What most people don’t know is that it would be beneficial for them to hunt their own meat and process it locally. If you slow down while going through town, you might notice how many different places you can process your food. In my community, there are several meat processors and a processing center for vegetables, sauces, juices, marinades, spices, teas and broths. They even helped local farmers to sell their products, but in the form of juices, sauces, etc. This way, local farmers can sell value-added food products and locally grown produce that would otherwise not be sold in stores. Because farmers sell value-added products, they can get more profit from their crops. The processing center keeps local farmers in business through the services they provide.
Another way they help the community is by donating family food boxes to families in need each week. These boxes contain fresh produce, milk, eggs, etc. For low income families this is a great option as they have over $30 worth of local produce and getting these boxes is much cheaper than going to the store. These boxes are delivered every two weeks and are currently helping ninety-five families. Everything this place does is grown locally.
Last year, my tribe launched a new “Tribal Food Sovereignty” department and began planting Victory Gardens around our reservation. They started this to help seniors who couldn’t afford or had no one to help them get the products they wanted. Since they launched it last spring, it has since grown into four community gardens in four different cities. This is really useful especially for people who live miles away from a store. Rural towns with few healthy food resources are called food deserts. The cost of gasoline often prohibits families from traveling to areas with food resources. Having a local community garden is super helpful. In total, my tribe has grown over two tons of produce. They were able to freeze, can and dry a lot of it. The produce grown in these victory gardens range from multiple varieties of tomatoes, various varieties of summer and winter squash, corn, beans, garlic, and a number of other choices that the participants made this spring when they planted the garden. These vegetables are also very healthy alternatives to starches. For example, instead of buying noodles for spaghetti, you can make zucchini noodles instead. They are convenient and healthy, and they won’t make you feel lazy after eating.
I have many personal experiences with food sovereignty. The different examples are hunting, canning and gathering. I have learned all these examples since I was a child or very recently. I’ve taken cooking classes in high school for three years now and also took two years of home consumer science in college. Over the years this course has taught me how to cook healthier and taste better than most fast food restaurants. Just recently, I started helping my aunt preserve her own vegetables that she grows. We have canned corn, spiced apple rings, corn jam, strawberry jam, pickles, peach jam, and soon we will be canning pickled eggs since she has her own chickens. As for hunting, I practice it with my brothers and my father since I was very young. When we get a deer or an elk, we process it locally and anything that we can’t fit in our freezers, we give to my grandpa or other family members.
“The Importance of Food Sovereignty.” NICOA – Indian National Council on Aging, 24 April 2019, www.nicoa.org/the-importance-of-food-sovereignty.
Health | United Nations for Indigenous Peoples. www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/mandated-areas1/health.html. Accessed October 25, 2022.