Food sovereignty aims to restore access to healthy and culturally important foods to tribes

Before settlers arrived in Western Washington, Native Americans ate abundant food from the prairies, along the rivers or in the mountains. Gathering, hunting and harvesting was a partnership with nature. Before harvesting, you asked permission, said a prayer, and left a gift.

Members of the Nisqually Tribe stewarded and sustained the lands and waters that nourished us. On the Prairies, Douglas-fir and other tree species would be removed to preserve open habitat and its unique array of edible plants. Fruit plants were pruned to keep the fruit low for easier picking, which often resulted in bushier plants. Controlled fires would be lit to replenish the land with valuable nutrients.

Only what was necessary was taken and nothing was overexploited. What was not consumed immediately was processed and stored.

Today, most of us don’t know how to grow, harvest, or preserve our own food. So what happened?

In 1854, the Treaty of Medicine Creek was signed and the people of Nisqually were moved to a reservation on a rocky bluff and expected to learn to farm like the settlers. The treaty deprived the Nisqually people of access to their usual and accustomed lands, and our ancestors lost access to much of their traditional diet. Instead, the federal government provided “staples,” which included white flour, lard, and salt.

In addition to losing access to land, indigenous children were sent to boarding schools to become “civilized”, losing their indigenous identity, learning to grow and eat basic foods. Children were severely punished if they practiced any part of their culture, creating a particularly dark time in their lives. Many adults who survived the early days of boarding school did not practice their traditions and were unable to pass those traditions on as an act of love and protection to the next generation.

The shift in diet from cultural foods containing various complex nutrients to staple, industrialized foods filled with bad fats, sugars, and refined grains was devastating to the health of Native Americans. Foods that were never eaten before have led an entire population to suffer from diabetes, heart failure, obesity, high blood pressure and other diet-related chronic diseases.

The Boldt decision 50 years ago brought progress on treaty rights and tribal sovereignty, but many obstacles remain. Indigenous nations still suffer from the loss of access to our familiar lands and the healthy food they provided. We face regulations requiring harvest permits that cost money, as well as policies that regulate the provenance of food served in some of our programs.

Access to areas that have not been bulldozed, chemically sprayed, over-exploited or over-exploited is limited. Many tribal members do not have the time, money, or resources to travel to these places.

Food sovereignty aims to restore our access to healthy and culturally important foods. The Nisqually Community Garden program is an important step in this effort.

We strive to improve the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of our community by encouraging the practice of healthy traditional lifestyles and diets. Our garden produces approximately 15,000 pounds of produce per year. We also harvest traditional foods and medicinal plants from the wild and process them into medicinal and body care products. All products, medications and personal care products are distributed directly to Nisqually Tribal members, community members and staff.

Our goals are to offer greater variety, have a more accessible market, create a teaching kitchen with classes on food preservation, raise our own bees, develop a robust composting program and gardens more abundant medicinal herbs, to supply our elders. and Head Start cooks with fresh produce and harvests more traditional foods such as native berries.

Billy Frank Jr. once said, “Indian tribes are sovereign nations, and part of that sovereignty includes access to traditional foods. “We honor his memory by working toward this goal.

Chantay Anderson is the Nisqually Community Garden Program Manager.

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