Cultural Survival Q
Back to Our Roots
Indigenous Food Solutions
Vol. 44, Issue 3 â€¢ Sept 2020 US $4.99/CAN $6.99
Se p t e mber 2 02 0 Vo lum e 44 , Issue 3 Board of Directors president
Duane Champagne (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa)
All over the world, Indigenous communities are returning to traditional food production.
Kaimana Barcarse (Kanaka Hawai’i)
Photo courtesy of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.
Steven Heim Clerk
Nicole Friederichs Valine Brown (Haida) Evelyn Arce Erickson (Muisca) Valine Brown (Haida) Carla Fredericks (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara) Laura Graham Ajb’ee Jiménez (Maya Mam) Lesley Kabotie (Crow) John King Stephen Marks Tui Shortland (Ma–ori) Stella Tamang (Tamang) FOUNDERS David & Pia Maybury-Lewis Cultural Survival Headquarters 2067 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02140 t 617.441.5400 f 617.441.5417 www.cs.org Cultural Survival Quarterly
Copy Editor: Jenn Goodman Designer: NonprofitDesign.com Contributing Arts Editor: Phoebe Farris Managing Editor: Agnes Portalewska Copyright 2020 by Cultural Survival, Inc. Cultural Survival Quarterly (ISSN 0740-3291) is published quarterly by Cultural Survival, Inc. at PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Periodical postage paid at Boston, MA 02205 and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to Cultural Survival, PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Printed on recycled paper in the U.S.A. Please note that the views in this magazine are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Cultural Survival.
View writers’ guidelines at our website (www.cs.org) or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Cultural Survival, Writer’s Guidelines, PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Cultural Survival recognizes that Indigenous Peoples have long been exploited by photographers and publications. This publication does not pay photographers for images and makes no money from publishing them. We also make a tremendous effort to identify every Indigenous individual in the images that appear here. From time to time, however, such identification is not possible. We apologize to the subjects of those photos and to any reader offended by the omission.
F e at u r e s
D e pa r t m e n t s
10 Flipping the Script: Changing the Future of Food Production in Africa Phillippa Pitts
1 Executive Director’s Message
12 Indigenous Resilience: From the Mongolian Steppes to the Andean Mountains
4 Indigenous Arts Blak Lives Matter
An Interview with Million Belay
Amrita Gupta with Daniel Moss, Cass Madden, and Simon Mitambo
16 Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the Arctic Interview with Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough (Iñupiat) and Carolina Behe
18 From Soil to Sky: Mending the Circle of Our Native Food Systems
Melissa K. Nelson (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) and Maya Harjo (Quapaw, Shawnee, Muscogee Creek, Seminole)
20 Te Koanga: A Time for Planting in Aotearoa Te Tui Shortland (Ma–ori)
2 In the News
6 Climate Change Climate Hopes and Fears for a Post-Pandemic World
8 Women the World Must Hear
Chef Crystal Wahpepah (Kickapoo)
30 Keepers of the Earth Fund Grant Partner Spotlight
Asamblea de los Pueblos Indígenas por la Soberanía Alimentaria
32 Youth Fellow Spotlight Juan Pablo Jojoa Coral (Quillasinga)
33 Bazaar Artists
The Zienzele Foundation
22 Back to the Roots: Restoring Indigenous Food Landscapes in Canada Interview with Dawn Morrison (Secwepemc)
24 Preserving Our Food Is Medicine
Linda Black Elk (Korean/Mongolian/Catawba descendant)
26 “Weavers of Knowledge” Go Virtual to Provide Real Food Security
Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests
28 If Not Us? The Indigneous Youth Homecoming Movement in Indonesia Interview with Mina Susana Setra (Dayak Pompakng)
ii • www. cs. org
Cover photo: The Cultural Conservancy seed spiral with native seeds grown at Indian Valley Organic Farm, Novato, CA (see page 18). Photo by Maya Harjo.
E xecut iv e Di rector’ S messa ge
Returning to Our Roots to Rebuild Our Futures
am proud to present our Fall issue on Indigenous food solutions. We bring you stories that highlight and elevate our traditional foods, their spiritual significance, and our connection to our ancestors and the natural world through our food. Today, more than ever, we turn to our local, Indigenous knowledge and ancestral ways to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic to heal and to rebuild our futures. We turn to our traditional agriculture and Indigenous agroecology to ensure our food sovereignty and food security for our communities and to restore delicate ecological balances on our lands to mitigate climate change. This issue of the CSQ is dedicated to all those working on returning to our roots, restoring traditional landscapes, practices, and heirloom varieties to solve some of today’s greatest challenges. Colonial systems and structures impede on our ability to govern ourselves. Hundreds of years of land dispossession, environmental contamination, discrimination, and systematic marginalization have undermined Indigenous Peoples’ abilities to be self- sufficient. As Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough (Iñupiat) and Carolina Behe (Inuit) point out, Indigneous food security is directly linked to our right of self-government and self-determination. Land title and participation in decision making are fundamental in securing our futures. Mina Susana Setra (Dayak Pompakng) speaks to the challenges Indigenous communities in Indonesia face whose lands have been degraded and taken, compared to those whose lands are still intact and home to hundreds of varieties of traditional foods. Million Belay of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa relays the importance of food and water conservation and the cultivation of local varieties in the sustainability of farming. The return to our ancestral ways also means respecting the interconnectedness of all things and ensuring reciprocity with the natural world. Dawn Morrison (Secwepemc) states, “Our economy begins with giving rather than taking. We do not view our food as a resource to be exploited. We eat food and it becomes us, therefore it is our relative. Our reciprocal relationship with the land, water, people, plants, and animals that provide us with our food in subsistence economies is the one of the most sustainable adaptation strategies of humanity. Giving,
Donors like you make our work around the world possible. Thanks so much for being part of Cultural Survival. Cultural Survival Staff Galina Angarova (Buryat), Executive Director Mark Camp, Deputy Executive Director Yesmi Ajanel (Maya K’ich’e), Program Assistant Avexnim Cojtí (Maya K’iche’), Community Media Program Manager Jessie Cherofsky, Advocacy Program Researcher Danielle DeLuca, Advocacy & Development Manager Shaldon Ferris (Khoisan), Indigenous Radio Program Coordinator Sofia Flynn, Accounting & Office Manager Nati Garcia (Maya Mam), Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship Coordinator Adriana Hernández (Maya K'iche'), Executive Assistant
sharing and trading, and cooperating in reciprocal relationships is the basis of Indigenous food sovereignty.” Te Tui Shortland (Māori) writes, “Seed is not a commodity; it is the source of life. Gardens and forests are seed sanctuaries. When you respect the seed, you are connected to the sacred thread that connects us all.” And Linda Black Elk (Korean/Mongolian/Catawba descendant) reminds us that the preservation of foods is just as important as production. I am inspired by the new generation of Indigenous farmers, the youth who have chosen to return to their traditional lands and learn about heritage food production from their elders. They are working hard to ensure that community members and those most at risk have access to healthy foods. I am deeply grateful for the support that The CS Fund, The Agroecology Fund, and Universal Unitarian Service Committee have committed to make this groundbreaking issue of the CSQ possible. International solidarity is vital for the survival of Indigenous Peoples and all our relations. There is a special need to support Indigenous-led solutions. Since 1972, Cultural Survival has been supporting Indigenous communities in asserting their rights and in protecting their lands. Now, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous communities need our support to continue protecting lands and ensuring the health and safety of their people.
Dev Kumar Sunuwar (Kumar/Sunuwar), Program Associate, Community Media Grants Project Danae Laura, Bazaar Program Manager Maria del Rosario “Rosy” Sul González (Kaqchikel), Indigenous Radio Program Coordinator Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez, (Mixe/Ayuuk ja’ay & Zapotec/Binnizá), Keepers of the Earth Fund Project Manager Jamie Malcolm-Brown, Communications & Information Technology Manager Teresita Orozco Mendoza, Community Media Training Coordinator Cat Monzón (Maya K’iche’), Executive Assistant Cesar Gomez Moscut (Pocomam), Community Media Program Coordinator Edson Krenak Naknanuk (Krenak), Lead on Brazil Gabael Otzoy Xocop (Maya Kaqchikel), Information Technology Assistant Diana Pastor (Maya K’iche’), Central America Media Coordinator Agnes Portalewska, Communications Manager Angelica Rao, Human Resources Coordinator Sócrates Vásquez García (Ayuuk), Community Media Grants Coordinator Miranda Vitello, Development Associate
INTERNS AND VOLUNTEERS Erica Belfi, Alexandra Carraher-Kang, Somaya Jimenez-Haham, Karianne Laird, Jesús Nazario, Phillippa Pitts
There are so many ways to
In Solidarity, Galina Angarova (Buryat) Executive Director
Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 1
i n t he new s U.S.: State Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Native Hawaiians
July 3rd protest at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, organized by NDN Collective.
The Hawai’i Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in favor of Native Hawaiians, allowing them to seek damages for decades of waiting for homestead leases. The Kalima class action suit, which was filed in 1999 on behalf of 2,700 plaintiffs, is one of the longest running court battles regarding how the State of Hawai’i administers the homelands trust.
Canada: Zurich Insurance Drops Trans Mountain Pipeline July
Insurer Zurich opted not to renew cover for the Canadian government’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, which ships oil from Alberta to British Columbia. The pipeline has been opposed by environmental campaigners and Indigenous communities.
U.S.: Black and Indigenous Unity in Fighting Against Pipelines July
Photo by Willi White, NDN Collective.
U.S.: Racist 1916 Ruling Overturned by Supreme Court
U.S.: New Name and Mascot for Washington NFL Team
On July 13, after decades of activism, the Washington R•dsk•ns announced in a press release that they will be retiring their name and mascot while they conduct a review to come up with a replacement.
In 1916, Alec Towenssute (Yakama) was charged with illegally fishing on a river just outside the boundaries of the Yakama Nation Indian Reservation despite a treaty granting the Yakama the right to fish in traditional fishing locations. Racist language used in the ruling further disparaged Yakama sovereignty. The ruling was recently overturned by the Washington Supreme Court.
U.S.: Keystone XL Project Delayed by Supreme Court Ruling July
Duke and Dominion Energy announced in early July it has canceled plans to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600mile project that would have traversed West Virginia to eastern North Carolina. The project had been opposed by Indigenous and Black leaders due to the irreparable harm it would cause to rural BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities.
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that multiple pipeline projects will be able to maintain their construction tracks, notably excluding Keystone XL. This ruling has canceled the “Nationwide Permit 12,” which had previously authorized pipelines running across bodies of water. The Keystone XL pipeline’s construction will be delayed until its impact on the surrounding environment is assessed.
U.S.: Supreme Court Rules Large Part of Oklahoma is Native Land
Guatemala: Land Returned to Maya Ixil
In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that approximately half of Oklahoma is Native American land on the basis of a treaty between the U.S. and Creek Nation. This decision means that only federal authorities can charge Native Americans committing serious crimes on the land.
2 • www. cs. org
On July 20, Maya Ixil people celebrated a victory for the recovery of ancestral lands in Nebaj when the Guatemalan Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the Maya Ixil communities, returning 1,148 caballerias of land (516 square kilometers). The Ancestral Authorities began the process of recuperation in 2016.
U.S.: Indigenous Protest Against President Trump at July 4th Rally July
Around 400 Native Americans and allies held a protest at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota when President Trump held his Independence Day rally there. Their main message was for the Black Hills, which were stolen from the Lakota Sioux Tribe, to be returned.
U.S.: Victory for Vermont’s Native American Tribes July
A bill to issue free permanent housing and fishing licenses to Vermont’s Indigenous population was signed into law by Governor Phil Scott on July 12. The law recognizes past treaties and agreements made, and allows the Native American Tribes to access their right to natural food sources without financial obstacles.
Brazil: Supreme Court Unanimously Rules for Indigenous Rights August
On August 8, Brazil's Supreme Court unanimously ruled the Bolsonaro administration is violating Indigenous Peoples’ rights to health. For the first time Indigenous people filed a lawsuit against the Brazilian State on their own.
Cultural Survival’s advocacy program launches international campaigns in support of grassroots Indigenous movements as they put pressure on governments and corporations to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of their communities.
Brazil: BRAZIL FAILING TO PROTECT THE HEALTH OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
U.S.: Federal Court Backs Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe
Cultural Survival issued an open letter to President Bolsonaro and members of this administration voicing concerns about Brazil’s negligent lack of protection for Indigenous health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic. The letter recommended that Bolsonaro follow the WHO Guidelines and Recommendations for COVID prevention and treatment. This should include the provision of resources and protocols ensuring that all Special Indian Health Service of the Ministry of Health (SESAI) districts and facilities are enforcing procedures to properly track, treat, and isolate those infected with COVID-19. Currently, SESAI is not following the WHO Guidelines and Recommendations, in violation of the 1988 Constitution, ILO Convention 169, and the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Brazil has signed. Indigenous individuals infected with COVID-19 are not properly taken care of and the virus is rapidly spreading to the rest of the communities. According to the Articulaçåo dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil, Brazil’s Native population’s mortality rate due to COVID-19 is twice as high compared to the national population.
Global: Cultural Survival Launches Global Map Documenting COVID-19 JUNE
A map documenting Indigenous cases of COVID-19 around the world was launched by Cultural Survival in June in an effort to bring light to the way the pandemic is disproportionately impacting Indigenous Peoples. “If not counted, we do not exist. The situation with the COVID-19 pandemic is not an exception. While being disproportionately affected by the pandemic, Indigenous Peoples are still struggling to be heard and receive support from their own governments,” said Galina Angarova, Cultural Survival’s executive director. Many state governments are not adequately disaggregating data on coronavirus infections by ethnicity, gender, and Indigenous status, despite clear indications that the coronavirus disproportionately impacts communities of color. Cultural Survival is using Google maps technology to document COVID-19 outbreaks in Indigenous communities as well as related human rights issues in order to highlight the injustices Indigenous Peoples are facing.
Read more news at www.cs.org/latest.
On June 5, 2020, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts celebrated a victory in federal courts. The decision from a Washington, D.C. district court stated that a 2018 decision by the U.S. Department of Interior that revoked Mashpee land rights was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.” The Department of the Interior has attempted to argue that the Tribe was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934 for purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act and therefore could not hold land. On March 27, 2020, in the midst of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell was informed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that the Tribe’s reservation would be “disestablished” as ordered by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Although the district court decision is a victory, the battle is not over. The next step is for the Department of the Interior to draft a new plan for Mashpee Wampanoag land that follows the judgement made. In the meantime, the Tribe continues to ask Congress to pass the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act (HR.312), which would permanently protect the Tribe’s land.
Global: Cultural Survival Releases COVID-19 Manual for RADIO Stations JUNE
Indigenous Peoples are struggling with access to information as mainstream media frequently broadcasts only in majority languages, further increasing inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups. For this reason, community radio has been playing a crucial role in sharing culturally and linguistically relevant information in an effort to reduce the effects of COVID-19. Cultural Survival has created a prevention manual available in 56 Indigenous languages to support essential activities of these radio stations. Included are general guidelines for good communication beyond prevention, tools to reduce the spread of the virus within radio stations, and the promotion of the important role community engagement agents play. Examples of other information include how radio stations can be a voice to call for a calm and unified community prevention strategy, or become educators and be a space for community teachers attempting to reach children without internet access. Community radio also has the ability to promote and defend human rights during a time when governments are prone to abuse their power.
Cultural Cultural Survival Survival Quarterly Quarterly September 2020 • 3
indi geno u s a rts
blak lives matter
Indigenous Australia’s Solidarity with the U.S. Movement for Black Lives Cristina Verán
A Tarneen Onus-Williams.
Photo by Charandev Singh.
Neil Morris. Photo by Snehargho Ghosh.
Photo by Mick Richards.
4 • www. cs. org
ustralia’s Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Peoples have long identified with the term Black; more specifically, as Blak (or Blackfullas). A deep affinity with African-Americans in particular—from the founding of an Australian chapter of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s to the subsequent embrace by Blak youth of U.S.originating hip-hop culture—exemplifies a continued feeling of connection to a global Bla(c)k experience. Accordingly, as the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) movement spread across Turtle Island, decrying the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement, the issues it centered on quickly resonated with Blak Australia—for which the crisis of Aboriginal Deaths in Custody had already solidified as a rallying cry. During the first half of 2020, a series of mass protests and other public expressions of solidarity rose up both as counterparts to those happening in the U.S., but also to remind their own country that Blak Australian lives matter, too. These three creative forces, Tarneen Onus- Williams, Neil Morris, and Warraba Weatherall, are among the leading voices bringing attention to these urgent concerns through art and activism. Tarneen Onus-Williams (Gunditjmara, Bindal, Yorta Yorta, and Torres Strait Islander) is a queer activist, writer, filmmaker, and social worker living in Wurundjeri Country who, as a member of Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, co-organized the massive BLM protests in the city of Melbourne this past June. They credit friend and mentor Gary Foley (Gumbainggir), a longtime activist and onetime member of Australia’s Black Panthers, for the inspiration. “[Gary] said, ‘You need to capture the moment and use this opportunity to talk about and bring focus to what’s happening here.’” Indeed, as Australian mainstream media sent reporters to
cover the death of and subsequent protests for George Floyd in the U.S., they continued to all but ignore the subject of Blak Deaths in Custody at home—until the local protests rocked Melbourne and other cities throughout the country. “My family members have always been activists fighting for Aboriginal rights,” Onus-Williams says, “whether it was out in front of the local real estate office demanding access to housing for our people, or at the steps of some multibillion dollar company to protect our land.” In that vein as well, they discovered their creative voice of protest in filmmaking, as another means to bring these concerns to both local communities and larger audiences. OnusWilliams most recently co-directed, wrote, and produced (with filmmaker/DJ Paul Gorrie) the documentary short, Young Mob Questioning Treaty, which debuted at the 2019 ImagineNative Film Festival in Toronto. The idea for this arose from their personal experience, having served on the Victorian Aboriginal Treaty Working Group, and wanting to capture voices of other Aboriginal youth critical of the treaty process. Unlike prominent activists of prior generations, who were “mostly men and heterosexual,” OnusWilliams points out that today, major rallies and initiatives are largely organized by women, as well as queer and/or non-binary community members. Another vital development is in coalition building among the diversity of groups representing at BLMrelated events; not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but also (those defined in Australia as) South Sea Islanders—with roots from Vanuatu, West Papua, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea—and, notably, the country’s emergent African diaspora, which links back to countries like Somalia and South Sudan. Neil Morris (Yorta Yorta) is a rap artist and musician based in the town of Mooroopna in Shepparton, Victoria, whose music solidifies him
as a potent voice fighting for decolonial justice in Aboriginal communities. He launched his current project, DRMNGNW, with the song, “Australia Does Not Exist,” in which he reminds audiences about the histories of countless Indigenous nations surrounding them—none of which were called Australia. As a “young hip-hop nerd,” Morris says, he felt kinship and solidarity with the Afro-diasporic communities in America, whose music, especially from the artist Nas, he was drawn to. Until about 2010 alas, the gatekeepers and most widely promoted artists of Australia’s own scene were almost exclusively white. He sees the more recent Indigenous hip-hop proliferation as parallel to the resurgence of the Indigenous rights movement there overall, making possible what he describes as “more and more young Aboriginal Australians feeling strong in their voice—and in the music.” Morris credits his time at university for provoking a deeper interest in the history of Aboriginal activism, which comes through in his musical endeavors. His Yorta Yorta community was “the first to uprise against the mission system,” while his own family tree has included notable figures at the forefront of such political movements, such as Sir Douglas Nicholls, who was “heavily involved in forming” the Aboriginal Advancement League—and was also not only the first and only Indigenous governor of an Australian state (South Australia) but also the first Indigenous Australian person to be awarded knighthood. As to his activist objectives through hip-hop, Morris says, “My music is made for the front lines. As a First Nations person, I have known police as those who’ve intended to intimidate and harass our Aboriginal community, which currently experiences the highest incarceration rate in the world. I want to bust (lyrics like) this out, whenever I see these officers: Lest we forget the frontier wars/ And the genocide blueprint, it does live on/ Deaths in custody, it does cease not/ More prolific then ever, forced by bigots/ Still they gallivant and they rob us/ Children again and again stolen/ In the blink of an eye/ They are with us, and then they are gone/ Still, we amidst all these storms/ 230 years on pillage and scorned, culture ignored/ Fictions insidious, adorned/ All of our sacredness shaken and torn.” Brisbane-based artist, researcher, and university lecturer Warraba Weatherall (Gamilaroi) found his first creative
calling in street art, becoming part of LandWriters, a collective also known as Graffiti Writers for Land Rights. What started with getting his own tags up on walls evolved into a body of work that now includes massive public murals, site-specific installations, and sculptures on display from galleries and museums to community walls and protest events. Through a parallel journey into academia, he also engages in research through which to ground his arts practice in its history-referencing, decidedly political objective: to use art to assert ideas about issues facing Aboriginal Australians, as a catalyst for conversation, to spark change, and in an effort to counter how, all-to often, “Indigenous artists making political work (particularly within the street art movement) are censored.” From teaching art to incarcerated youth to researching his own ancestors branded as criminal outlaws by the colonial government (Australia was founded by and for criminals expunged by the UK) Warraba Weatherall’s work has sought to create counter-narratives to the dismissal and demonization of Aboriginal communities. Its continued focus, he explains, looks at “institutional racism in the Australian judicial system and its lineage from the colony, as well as the racial pseudo-science (such as phrenology) which formed much of the early dynamics of policing.” What often gets left out of that discourse, he says, is that prison designs “were often tried out first in the colonies, on Indigenous Peoples.” His 2017 exhibition, Institutionalized (Metro Arts Gallery) featured works that examine and critique this history as having been a power apparatus for regulating Black bodies. “The murder of George Floyd, and so many other deaths at the hands of law enforcement in the States,” Weatherall agrees, “has sparked a worldwide movement for Black Lives, and it indeed resonates with us in Australia.” But he also emphasizes the importance “to keep focus on the movement language that we use here every day: Aboriginal Deaths In Custody, the struggle for self-determination, protecting ancestral knowledge, and so on,” underlining that the lives of Blak Australians must remain front and center to the fight for social justice on their own lands.
“Treaty" in Auslan Sign Language. Mural and photo by Warraba Weatherall.
— Cristina Verán is an international Indigenous Peoples’ issues specialist, consultant, researcher, strategist, curator, educator, media maker, UN correspondent, and founding member of the UN Indigenous Media Network. Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 5
cl i mat e ch a n g e
Climate Hopes and Fears for a Post-Pandemic World
Photo by Kynan Tegar.
Leonardo Valenzuela Pérez
e are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indigenous communities have been among the most disproportionately affected by this COVID-19 crisis. Climate negotiations are one area of major uncertainty right now. The United Nations Climate Change Conference, originally scheduled for mid-November in Glasgow, Scotland, was postponed for one full year. Indigenous observers are fearful that the economic impact of the pandemic may negatively affect advances made by Indigenous Peoples in the last decade. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) asked six Indigenous leaders about the impact of the pandemic on their lives and communities, as well as their hopes and fears for Indigenous climate justice in post-pandemic times. Calfin Lafkenche (Mapuche), coordinator of Minga Indígena, Chile The pandemic has affected our traditional ways of life. Our way of life is communitarian, and today authorities are asking us to keep distance, to avoid contact with other communities. Young Indigenous folks working and studying in cities have been dramatically affected because their classes have been suspended and they do not have a job anymore to afford rent. Many of them have returned to their communities, reconnecting with collective processes of territorial protection and recognizing the generational gap that has driven our people away from the teachings and wisdom of their elders. We fear that the pandemic will lead governments to overlook international climate agreements and contributions. Consultation rights will be under a lot of strain because communities are not currently allowed to gather and participate meaningfully in the assessment of new extractive projects, and we fear that many of those consultation rights could be threatened in the name of economic recovery. I hope that this pandemic will help people realize the crucial role that Indigenous Peoples play in terms of conservation and food sovereignty. We expect civil society to be much more open to our traditional knowledge and practices, understanding that when we protect our territories we do it in the name of the well being of all of us, not just Indigenous Peoples. Our goal is to care for everyone above anything else. 6 • www. cs. org
Eileen Mairena Cunningham (Miskitu), secretariat, Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, Nicaragua This crisis has disproportionately affected Indigenous Peoples’ health, evidencing their lack of access to adequate health service infrastructures and discrimination. The pandemic has taken the lives of Indigenous elders who are keepers of our traditional knowledge, languages, and spirituality. Those losses are already having a profound impact on our intergenerational dialogues. In addition, the imposition of militarized states has led to increased violence and repression against Indigenous Peoples. Right now climate negotiations have mostly been paused. Their virtual participation and consultation have emerged as a threat to Indigenous rights given the existing technological gaps and the lack of guarantees for effective representation. Extractivism has not paused during the pandemic, and in some cases those processes have been intensified. We fear that government economic recovery plans will emphasize the role of extractive industries. The pandemic has also brought some unexpected benefits to Indigenous communities. The lockdown and shift of governments’ attention away from our territories has empowered Indigenous organizations to find autonomous solutions and regain territorial control. Young Indigenous leaders in places like Colombia, México, Myanmar, and Chile have led community-based health initiatives tied to innovative territorial and environmental management strategies. International Indigenous Peoples’ networks have been revitalized with global and regional exchanges that are going to be key for the future of Indigenous climate justice from our territories. Helen Biangalen Magata (Kadaclan), communications officer at Tebtebba, Philippines Different Indigenous communities have been on opposite sides of the spectrum during the pandemic in the Philippines. Some communities refused government relief because they had enough food and it is taboo to accept what you don’t need. Meanwhile, many Indigenous Peoples living in cities are daily wage earners and
during quarantine government relief was insufficient, putting them at high risk of both COVID and government repression. Some communities have seen a continuation in trends of militarization and invasion of their communities by mining companies who are taking advantage of the lockdown to impose their projects. This pandemic is obviously a climate change issue, but it does not seem obvious to many governments and institutions. In terms of climate finance, I am afraid that post-COVID there will be a shift of funding to aid limited to direct projects for economic recovery, overlooking crucial Indigenous climate action initiatives. I hope that the pandemic will allow Indigenous communities to reconnect with each other and with nature; to go back and learn how to preserve food for longer, learn old chants from the elders, beat the gongs. I hope this time will be useful for Indigenous Peoples to become healthier and for duty bearers to understand their obligation to put people and their rights at the center of their work. Kynan Tegar (Sungai Utik Dayak Iban), filmmaker, Indonesia We closed off our community with a ritual called “Ngampun.” We believe human greed in the management of natural resources caused an imbalance that brought about this pandemic. Tight-knit communities like ours are very vulnerable because we live in a communal longhouse and interact constantly. People from outside the village are not allowed to come in, but our lives remain normal, our livelihood is sustained by our forest and our land: we plant and harvest a rice paddy, pick fruits and vegetables from the forest, hunt game, and fish in the river. Climate change is already threatening our food security with unpredictable vegetation cycles. It is predicted that companies will clear land to regain their pandemic losses. Companies clear land through burnings that often become out of control and cause disastrous forest fires. Indigenous Peoples are scapegoated and their small-scale traditional burnings end up being restricted by the government. Traditional burnings help fertilize land. With the banning of those practices, Indigenous food production is seriously undermined. This pandemic must be a turning point for us to realize the importance of maintaining balance in nature and our environment. Indigenous communities that still protect their nature are an example for the world. They can close off and have the capacity and knowledge to continue their community life indefinitely, procuring everything they need from the land. Lidia Thorpe (Gunai/Gunditjmara), Australian federal senator The pandemic has exposed the systemic racism and inequality that Aboriginal people in Australia have experienced since colonization. It has exacerbated negative and punitive interactions between First Nations’ Peoples and the justice system, including the Black Lives Matter issues of incarceration and deaths
in custody. It has exposed the poor access Aboriginal people have to health information and services, including access to testing and prevention measures. COVID-19 has meant that First Nations grassroots activists can’t be out protecting and defending country and there is less public attention on climate justice issues. We are concerned that the pandemic has meant that issues that are equally important to First Nations Peoples, such as the climate crisis, have taken a back seat. Mining, oil, and energy industries are continuing their business as usual, disrupting land, water, and Aboriginal values. During the lockdown, Australians are spending more time immersed in nature, getting out of their homes and exercising. We hope that this reconnection to nature will trigger greater appreciation for Australia’s incredible natural environment and its Aboriginal values and the need to protect them, and that the protection of natural and cultural values will be at the heart of economic recovery and jobs for Aboriginal people. Tunga Bhadra Rai (Rai), national coordinator of Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities Indigenous communities have enforced customary law to prevent the spread of the virus, mobilizing young people to control access to their communities. Collectivism and reciprocity have been vital, as well as the use of traditional knowledge and healing practices to treat non-urgent health problems while access to hospitals is limited in remote areas. During these times of isolation, traditional occupations like carving, knitting, weaving, and agriculture have seen a resurgence, energizing community life. We fear that authorities will use the pandemic to shift the focus away from climate action, diluting the advances of Indigenous Peoples. Communication technology gaps and mobility restrictions are preventing effective representation. The lack of in-person meetings during the pandemic will have long-term consequences for meaningful consultations with Indigenous Peoples and the protection of rights. Mobility restrictions are preventing Indigenous Peoples’ access to their forests and other communitarian lands and territories for their cultural and livelihood practices, while posing an opportunity for land grabbing and illegal land occupation by corporations. Indigenous Peoples are returning to their ancestral lands, reconnecting with older generations and resuming learning processes interrupted by migrations. Lockdowns offer a crucial opportunity to reconsider where the world is going, reckoning with the evident fragility of the contemporary global economy and ways of life. Lessons from the pandemic should serve to understand that we need a paradigm shift that puts human rights and Indigenous rights above corporate greed. — Leonardo Valenzuela Pérez is a human rights researcher at UUSC in Cambridge, MA. He holds a Master of Science degree in Human Settlements and the Environment. This article was written in collaboration with UUSC as part of a series highlighting the resilience, wisdom, and power of Indigenous communities as they face the climate crisis. Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 7
women th e wo r ld m u st hear
For the Love of Native Foods
Chef Crystal Wahpepah Erica Belfi
hef Crystal Wahpepah’s (Kickapoo) love for cooking Indigenous foods goes back 25 years. “I always made Indigenous foods within my household and with my family, and, of course, my children,” she says. “What really made me pursue [my career] was probably around 10 to 12 years ago when I was approached to cater.” Wahpepah’s catering business, Wahpepah’s Kitchen, is located in Oakland, California, where she was raised. Based on her Kickapoo heritage, she serves Native American cuisine influenced by traditional family recipes that have been passed down to her over generations. “I learned it from my grandmothers and my aunties. When I took the job offer [to cater], I had seen something that wasn’t really available for the community. And so, one thing led to another.” As the number of people she served grew, Wahpepah made it her career. “It just kind of fell into place,” she says. Having grown up in an urban area around Native American people from many distinct nations, Wahpepah learned to cook a variety of dishes. Over the years, she has received recognition and was inducted into the Native American Almanac as the first Native American Woman Entrepreneur Catering Business in Oakland, CA. She received the Indigenous Artist and Activist Award, and was the first Native American Chef to be featured in an episode of Food Network’s “Chopped.” In Oakland, Wahpepah completed the Bread Project program, a work-readiness, employment support, and professional development program for marginalized individuals in the 8 • www. cs. org
San Francisco Bay Area; she then went on to La Cocina in San Francisco, a nonprofit working to solve problems of equity in business ownership for women, immigrants, and people of color. She has also served as a chef mentor in Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance’s Food and Culinary program. As a caterer, Wahpepah recognizes that food is an essential cultural cornerstone for many communities. “When I’m presenting these foods, it’s almost like taking these foods back. You’re presenting what is meant to be cooked for your people and also for your community,” she says, referencing the growing Indigenous food sovereignty movement. Food sovereignty can mean many things, but generally includes addressing issues of food security and health by using Indigenous knowledge, values, and wisdom to cultivate ingredients and cook foods. “For me,” Wahpepah explains, “it is representing the foods that grow here and keeping them going for our future and for our community.” Throughout her menu, Wahpepah relies on many foods that are native to the North American region, including wild rice, blue corn, berries, and salmon. “I offer a lot of different Native foods. And how that fits into my food and with my menu is representing these dishes as Indigenous foods and representing me as a Native business.” Her choices are an effort to both return to Indigenous foods as well as support other Native business owners in the local area and as far afield as Minnesota, Colorado, and Oklahoma. While this often takes more time and work, especially as food availability changes with the seasons, Wahpepah maintains that it’s an important aspect of her cooking: “Once you have it all together and you’re providing all the native ingredients for your dishes, it’s pretty awesome. It’s an awesome feeling and it’s awesome knowing that your community and people that you cater to are eating something that literally has been sourced in this country for many, many years.” A decolonized diet has numerous health benefits. By keeping tradition alive and using foods that are native to the land, Wahpepah believes Indigenous communities can continue to benefit. As part of a decolonized diet, her dishes sustain the whole body. “I believe our ancestors are actually asking us to make these foods. So once you feed your community with it, you can taste the healthiness; you can taste the benefits of it, especially mental, physical, and emotional. [People] want to enjoy all these different foods, especially how we grew up with traditional foods. But some don’t really know what to do with them or how to make them. In this time and age, I think we’re very fortunate to have so many people keeping the tradition alive. That’s where I source my foods from—other Indigenous people that are making these.” As she cooks, Wahpepah remembers her family, including those who taught her when she was younger. “I like to always include memories of my grandmother and my aunties because I believe that I would never have been an Indigenous chef without them. And so, there are certain dishes that I make that remind me to keep my grandmother’s memory alive. For instance, I make sweet corn soup with venison, which was All photos courtesy of Wahpepah’s Kitchen.
one of her favorites. That was probably one of the first dishes I ever made. Along with my auntie, who loved cooking with hominy, and loved cooking with blue corn . . . everything that I grew up with and everything that you see on my menu has a lot to do with my family’s influence. Of course, it comes with my Tribal influence as well. I use a lot of berries in my foods and I freeze and dry a lot of berries because it was one of the best times of my childhood. I add things that make me happy. Wild rice reminds me of my aunts from Minnesota. Blue corn reminds me of my aunts from Oklahoma. And so, everything that you see is actually representing who I am and what I see as beautiful in certain times in my life.” The current coronavirus pandemic has put Wahpepah’s business on hold. Since the shutdown, she has had to think outside of the box to keep her business going. In order to reach customers in the meantime, Wahpepah’s Kitchen will be making several individual food items available for sale and shipment. “We’re giving it our all. I’ve been in this business for a long time. It’s something that I have worked hard on and built from the ground up. And so, we’re just trying to keep it moving,” Wahpepah says, remarking that she is hopeful these steps will help her business going forward. Despite the challenges of the current times, Wahpepah is eager to encourage more Indigenous chefs to pursue their passions. “My advice to aspiring Indigenous chefs is to know where your foods come from. Educate yourself to actually know the reasons why our foods are not so accessible. Know the reasons why we don’t have very many restaurants. Know the reasons why we do what we do.” Knowing where the ingredients come from and how to represent cultural traditions, and understanding food sovereignty are all important aspects of the work. “It requires a lot of knowledge and a love of educating yourself,” she says, adding, “Our foods are beautiful. Have fun and be creative. But at the same time, represent these beautiful foods in an honorable way.”
R e cip e s Berry pudding • 1 cup fresh mixed berries or frozen berries • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey • 3 tbsp corn meal In a small saucepan add berries and let berries come to boil on low heat. Add maple or honey cornmeal until mixture thickens, then serve on almost anything.
Corn cakes • 2 cups cornmeal • 1/4 tsp coconut oil • 1 tsp salt • 1/2 cup sweet peppers • 1 cup coconut milk • 1/4 cup cranberries Mix cornmeal with salt. Add coconut milk, sweet peppers, and cranberries until thick, and then it’s ready to add in a baking pan with coconut oil. Makes six round sweet pepper corn cakes.
Learn more about Chef Crystal Wahpepah and her catering business at wahpepahskitchen.com. Left: Signature salad with berries and edible flowers with a touch of maple sage vinaigrette. Right: Fruit platter filled with Indigenous goodness: smoked eel, salmon, lamb sausage, seaweed corn cakes and amaranth wild rice bars.
Cultural Cultural Survival Survival Quarterly Quarterly September September 2020 2020 •• 99
Flipping the Script
Changing the Future of Food Production Interview with in Africa AnMillion Belay Phillippa Pitts
or decades, Million Belay has worked locally, regionally, and internationally to change the way people think about social, Million Belay cultural, and food systems in Africa. An expert in conservation, food sovereignty, biodiversity, and Indigenous cultural rights, Belay is general coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, in what he describes as the biggest social movement on the continent with over 40 members in 50 countries, reaching more than 200,000,000 people. In this interview, Belay explains why his knowledge-based food production philosophy (agroecology) outperforms industrial scale farming and how its implementation benefits communities economically, socially, culturally, and spiritually. Phillippa Pitts: What is agroecology, and how is it different from large scale commercial farming? Million Belay: I think of it in terms of a narrative. Agro-
ecology is a different narrative than industrial agriculture. For example, how do you address the problem of increasing food production? The industrial and cultural paradigms address increasing food production through various mechanisms, mainly using chemicals, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds. This narrative defines agriculture, especially African agriculture, as a shortage of food and a shortage of calories. It says, “African governments and African farmers are not producing enough food, so businesses should help them.” Business comes in as a big actor. “African soil is very badly degraded and needs a lot of agro chemicals.” So, chemicals. “The seeds in the farmers’ hands are tired and not productive.” We need to bring hybrid seeds and genetically modified organisms. “What is lacking is calories.” We need to produce more calories. “Land in the hands of small farmers is not productive.” It has to be owned by those who can produce more food from it, so land should be in the hands of businesspeople. And this leads to land-grabbing. This is how the narrative is framed in industrial agriculture, and it has very powerful actors to support it. This is the kind of development that scientists, governments, and corporations all benefit from. Now, as we know, there is a food crisis, a nutrition crisis, water pollution, biodiversity loss, and erosion of culture and
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Growing sorghum in Ethiopia.
human rights are compromised almost everywhere. In this kind of environment, we need a different kind of paradigm, a different narrative. Agroecology is a circular mode of production; it uses what was produced. What was produced in the farm comes back to the farm. There is no waste within the ecological system. It’s kind to nature, to the earth, and to the biosphere because there’s no use of chemicals in most cases. It focuses not on the farm itself, but on the surrounding area. It talks about the links between the farm and the consumer, the local economy, the local markets, fisherfolk, pastoralists. What differentiates agroecology from organic food culture is talking about those social movements to really challenge the way the food system is run. PP: Could you share an example of an agroecology success story? MB: One example is from Ethiopia. It was a project that I
was involved in personally around 1996 with the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD). The project was kind of an experiment. With the agreement of the farmers and the local government, ISD decided to look at three farms in three scenarios: one group of farmers didn’t plant anything. The second group used agrochemicals, mainly fertilizers. The third used compost and food and water conservation activities and planted green material to have enough biomass for compostmaking. The comparison was across five crops—beans, teff, wheat, barley, and maize—for over 20 years. The first one or two years, the farmland which was treated with artificial fertilizers did well. But over the years, the land treated with compost and soil and water conservation activity did much, much better than the land that was treated with artificial fertilizer or with no treatment at all. The local government liked it so much that it was extended from three communities to eight communities, then scaled up to 93 communities, and then the whole of their region. And later, it was accepted as one of the programs of the Ethiopian government. That’s one story. There’s a story also from Malawi from two individuals who observed that their local people were eating a very small range of vegetables with mainly maize. Their health was very compromised, so they called a meeting of women to ask them to identify vegetables that could be eaten and that they could grow. In fact, there were over 300 vegetables from the local area. They brought the majority of these plants and tried them in their permaculture farm grounds. They grew. They did really well—so much so that the community around those
All photos courtesy of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.
Agroecology brings innovation and sustainability in corn production.
permaculture farms started to grow them too. And that increased income. It increased biodiversity, increased nutrition, increased health, and is very beneficial to the environment. At afsafrica.org, we have over 50 cases there. It works. And then we asked if this kind of farming could actually address the Sustainable Development Goals. Out of 17 SDGs, it addresses 12 of them. It really ticks almost all of the boxes. PP: How does Indigenous knowledge play into this? Is it an important part of agroecology? MB: Food is very spiritual to a lot of communities. In some
places where the land is very degraded, communities have a second land—a sacred land—that they don’t touch. These are spiritual places, but these places are also a repository of plant and animal diversity. Knowledge about the food that you have is boundless in terms of the land, the farm, the materials and inputs used, the farming practices implemented, the animals and the labor that are used. Farming is a knowledge-based activity, and this knowledge comes from their ancestors, from the previous generations to the present generations. After the farming, there is the harvesting practice. And after the food is harvested, how is food processed? There’s a lot of knowledge in storing food, taking food out of storage, preparing it, baking it, and serving it. The range of spices that are used to store the food and process the food and serve the food, all of that is knowledge, and women’s knowledge is the basis of it in so many communities. Local communities will not give you the scientific name for microbes or abstract knowledge of fermentation. They won’t tell you that when yeast acts on a carbohydrate, alcohol and carbon dioxide and water are produced. But they know that fermentation occurs and what level of yeast to use. Traditional learning as a topic is huge, and the level of erosion of cultural knowledge is so high. One of the main reasons is the breaking of relationships between cultural elders and the new generation. People used to govern their relationship with each other and with their environment in their cultural way, but that is eroding. My projects aim to link the two generations. That link is a very important thing.
PP: What needs to happen to ensure this knowledge isn’t lost and that these initiatives can take hold? What should people be wary of? MB: Everywhere you go, people talk about transforming the
food system. Everyone talks about using COVID as an opportunity to transform the food system. But what you don’t find in those narratives, in those conversations, is culture. Even in the spaces where you would expect that people know about these issues, it’s not mentioned. One thing that we should do is bring that culture into our discourse as much as possible. That’s why we love to talk about food sovereignty. One of the key differences between food security and food sovereignty is the cultural appropriateness of food. What does it actually mean when we say that food should be culturally appropriate? It has to recognize the value that our mothers place on food and their knowledge about food, food processing, food storage, even food serving. That’s cultural knowledge, because the way food is prepared by somebody in Latin America, or somebody in Africa, even in different African countries, is different. Second, everybody talks about youth empowerment and bringing youth to agriculture. But we have to connect the two generations with intergenerational learning. There are so many ways of bringing youth to their culture, in not boring ways. The Indigenous and Conserved Communities Area Consortium are trying to integrate the cultural diversity of these concepts into key international processes. Indigenous institutions all over the world are trying to do that too. We have to organize celebrations as much as possible. As the Alliance for Food Sovereignty Africa, we have them every two years. This year, because of COVID, we are thinking of organizing virtual celebrations around food culture as much as we can. In Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Benin, Togo, what happens is we meet with the schools and youth groups and we ask them to come somewhere with their diverse seeds. They exhibit their seeds in so many creative ways, with their cultural dances and attire, musical instruments and music. Over the years, we have had fantastic examples of a song that was forgotten by a community, then sung by the youth; a kind of poetry, which was part of the culture of the local community, that comes back through the youth going back to their culture, digging into their stories and bringing them back. Seeds that were considered lost are exhibited by the youth and coming back. Songs, clothing. . . . Christianity has contributed to the degradation of our culture. We know we’ve lost a significant amount of these cultural practices and these spiritual practices. But if you go back to your own communities and dig out some old celebrations and ask people, you would be surprised what comes out. Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 11
From the Mongolian Steppes to the Andean Mountains Amrita Gupta with Daniel Moss, Cass Madden, and Simon Mitambo Indigenous communities—the planet’s first farmers—have always been at the forefront of agroecological practices. Even as they’ve been dispossessed of their land, they’ve sought to exercise food sovereignty, preserve biodiversity, and protect for future generations the territories they steward. On every continent, Indigenous Peoples resist the industrialized model of agriculture forced by colonization and globalization. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are leading recovery efforts, mobilizing mutual aid, and pressing for policy change. To strengthen these urgent and creative actions that safeguard community food security with healthy foods, the Agroecology Fund, a multidonor fund supporting agroecological practices and policies, lent support to 59 grassroots organizations around the world, many of them Indigenous-led. Here are just a few of their stories.
s the pandemic tore through South America, thousands of Peruvians fled the cities for their villages in the Andes and Amazon. With urban infection rates soaring and economic activities at a standstill, COVID-19 sparked a reversal of decades of urban migration. While life is difficult in the
rural areas, communities there continue long standing traditions of growing a diversity of food, and have remained protected from the most devastating effects of the pandemic. “Healthy lands produce healthy foods, and farming native crops is much better because we know these strengthen our immunity and resistance to diseases like COVID-19,” said Ricardina Pacco Condori, a local expert from the community of Paru Paru. One of these areas is The Potato Park, a biocultural heritage territory located 3,300 meters above sea level in the district of Pisac, Cusco, Peru. Home to five Quechua communities (Amaru, Chawaytire, Pamapallaqta, Paru Paru, and Saccaca), the Potato Park conserves more than 1,300 varieties of potato, the greatest diversity of potato found anywhere in the world. By conserving Andean biodiversity, the Potato Park protects Indigenous rights and livelihoods. “We are working to prepare new chakras (farm plots) for planting, although we know that we will not have enough seeds to share with all these farmers who have returned. Still, we are very glad to see our young people returning and are excited for the opportunity to share our knowledge with the next generation,” said Nazario Quispe Amao, a local expert from the community of Chawaytire. In a time of crisis, the ancestral values of solidarity, reciprocity, and balance lead to food security. These communities, with intact local food systems based on Indigenous values,
For the Quechua community in the Andes, the potato is food, medicine, and a cultural symbol. Photo courtesy of Potato Park.
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All photos courtesy of margaret King.
Indigenous cattle are adapted to the long winters of Buryatia, conditions which are far too harsh for most introduced breeds of livestock.
have organized to respond to the crisis. On May 13, the Association of the Communities of the Potato Park distributed more than one tonne of native potatoes to returning migrants and other vulnerable groups in Cusco. Lorenzo Huayta Bayona, president of the Association, said that “the potatoes that we brought to our brothers and sisters who lack food in Cusco is a demonstration of Ayni, the Andean principle of solidarity and reciprocity that we have practiced since Incan times. Our food systems are profoundly connected to the principles of Ayllu (community), Ayni, and Chaninchay (equity), and these define our economy, health, and well being.” Peru is blessed with a shining example of how to ensure food security in a time of crisis. Yet, for these Indigenous food systems to be the backbone of healthy food for the entire Peruvian population, dramatic changes in agricultural and food policies are required. The Peruvian State has demonstrated an increasing preference for agro-industry and high value commodity exports like artichoke, pomegranate, and blueberry, even as Peruvians in the city and country alike count on staple crops like potato, maize, and quinoa produced by smallholder and Indigenous farmers. These producers need and demand public support. The pandemic has demonstrated the need for a shift back toward the Indigenous agriculture that has sustained the region for centuries. “The most significant wealth that we have as a country is our traditional Andean agriculture and food system, not only for the high quality food it produces, but because it carries the values that we badly need to pull us out of this crisis. This is the right moment to revalue and strengthen it,” said Cesar Argumedo, director of Asociación ANDES, the NGO that supports the Potato Park with research, coordination, and capacity building. Aniceto Ccoyo Ccoyo, a local farmer from the community of Saccaca, agreed: “The government should recognize the legacy of our ancestors and promote agriculture and food systems with biocultural values.” Photos by Alexandr Khamaganov.
In Mongolia, foals are bathed in sacred airag, or fermented mare's milk, after they are branded—a ritual that speaks to the spiritual connection between herders and their animals.
inters are long and unforgiving across Central Asia, with temperatures often dropping to -40F. In Mongolia, nomadic herder families spend months huddling around the coal and wood-burning stoves in their gers (yurts), subsisting on little else but soups with dried meat. Their livestock are largely out on their own in the snow-covered rangelands. Less than one percent of Mongolia’s vast expanse is arable, and people’s fates are closely intertwined with the animals they can raise—traditionally cows and yaks, horses, sheep, goats, and camels. Although 40 percent of Mongolia’s population practices pastoralism, in the neighboring Republic of Buryatia, that treasured way of life is disappearing. Part of the Russian federation across the border, its grasslands have been plowed for decades to fulfill former Soviet wheat production goals. Moscow’s appetite for industry and modernization forced high-yielding Western cattle breeds into Buryatia throughout the 20th century, intended to supply the USSR with milk and meat. With abundant hay, grain, antibiotics, and stables to shelter in, this experiment might have been a success. However no such conditions exist in Buryatia, then or now. Just like the introduced crops, the “improved” hybrids of Angus and Simmental did not pass the resilience test in their new climes, putting Buryat livelihoods and food security in jeopardy. In Buryatia, the former Soviet Union’s historic ethnic repression and waves of land privatization post-collapse endangered culturally significant livestock and the nomadic
Left: The Peace Building Center supports learning and exchange between pastoralists, veterinarians, and genetic scientists to revive populations of native livestock.
Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 13
pastoralist lifestyle. Maligned as unproductive, the genetic material of native cattle nearly vanished, a casualty of stubborn development plans and misguided policies. The Buryat cow, a woolly, stocky breed, evolved in the Lake Baikal watershed to withstand some of the Earth’s harshest conditions. It survives knee-deep in snow, feeding on little else but what pasture it can find. A few years ago, the Peace Building Center in Kyrgyzstan and the Baikal Buryat Center for Indigenous Culture began to collaborate on a project to revive Buryat cattle populations, with support from the Agroecology Fund. “We belong to nomadic nations where aboriginal animals were a real part of people’s lives. One of the reasons we chose to work with agroecology and Indigenous livestock breeding is because this is the most tangible area where traditional knowledge can be applied,” said Indira Raimberdieva, executive director of the Peace Building Center. Efforts by Mongolian and Buryat pastoralists have brought their native cattle back from the brink. A few years ago, a team of researchers and herders identified a herd of around 200 Buryat cows in a remote area in northern Mongolia. Incredibly, these isolated cattle had preserved their original genetic characteristics. The herders collaborated with animal geneticists from Moscow to understand the existing population’s adaptive traits, and to implement a scientific breeding program and repopulation campaign. Their studies thus far have provided important baseline data for livestock conservation, moving the herders closer to their goal to revive the genetic base of the Buryat cow. Buryats see the revival of the Buryat cow as a pathway to restore their depleted landscapes through traditional pasture use, and to reclaim their own rights and identity. For them, a return to the agroecological, nomadic way of life, featuring the resilient cattle breeds their forefathers herded, is the route to improved food sovereignty and a renaissance of their Indigenous culture. As Raimberdieva put it, “Aboriginal livestock breeding is an important indicator of the well being of Indigenous people and a key factor in the provision of economic independence, natural landscape preservation, and spiritual identity.” The Siberian Buryats continue to seek wisdom from their Mongolian counterparts, whose traditional breeding, herding, and pasture management practices are still largely intact. The Buryat cattle population is growing, but is currently only 300-head strong. Visiting Siberian herders, veterinarians, and scientists marveled at the ways that the Mongolians have safeguarded nomadic pastoralist culture. They took part in a branding ritual that demonstrated the Mongolians’ spiritual connection with their animals and landscape, which the Siberians seek to revive in their own country. Through learning exchanges like these, Indigenous Peoples from across the Pamir, Tien-Shan, and Sayan-Altai regions engage in intergenerational and cross-border transfers of knowledge. Throughout the world, the biodiversity of the planet’s flora and fauna is being lost at an alarming rate. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 30 percent of all native livestock breeds are currently at risk of extinction. At the same time, recent research finds that Indigenous Peoples protect nearly 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity, despite comprising less than 5 percent of the 14 • www. cs. org
world’s population and managing only a quarter of the planet’s territory. The fragile ecological balance they maintain ensures our planet remains habitable. The pandemic, wrought in part by our industrialized food system, has forced a rethink of priorities, said Raimberdieva. Her country, Kyrgyzstan, was confronted by its dependence on food imports and lack of food security. “Many communities have realized the need to survive at the level of local landscapes, local social networks, and natural systems of values and priorities. We now respect the efforts of livestock breeders, farmworkers, hunters, craftsmen, and all others who create things with their own hands to the benefit of themselves and the others.” Respecting these communities and their practices helps us all. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizes that improved landscape stewardship of the sort practiced by the nomadic pastoralists in Central Asia is fundamental to cool the planet. When Buryat bovines are thriving once again, strengthening genetic biodiversity, agroecological herding practices across Central Asia, and territorial integrity, we will be a step closer to a healthier, more resilient future.
astern Kenya is a dusty red landscape where communities herd livestock and grow much of their food in small gardens and fields, working communally at harvest season. Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 has disrupted ways of life here. People’s movements are limited by a government curfew; they cannot reach their fields to harvest their crops, graze animals, or save seeds, and gathering to help at neighboring farmsteads is no longer possible. The risk of hunger is very real. But for now, Indigenous communities have come together to support each other and those who cannot grow their own food. The pandemic has also revived age-old traditions, bringing a newfound respect for inter-generational knowledge. In recent weeks, the Mijikenda, Kikuyu, Kamba, Maasai, and Tharaka Elders held separate ceremonies to invoke ancestors’ help, as reported in The Star. In Tharaka, Elders performed a ritual known as Muriira to build solidarity and protect the community from the coronavirus. Traditionally, Tharakan Elders would conduct the Muriira when they learned about an illness or pestilence originating in neighboring areas and communities that could pass into Tharakan territory. “We have our own traditional ways of responding to these events that have helped us to be resilient in the face of many challenges. These traditional responses are part of the reason the Tharakan people are still here, despite huge locust swarms that have threatened our crops and diseases like chickenpox that have threatened our people,” wrote Simon Mitambo, in a piece for Terralingua. Mitambo is the Regional Program Coordinator of the African Biodiversity Network, a regional network of organizations seeking African solutions to the environmental and socio-economic challenges that face the continent. The African Biodiversity Network seeks to advance Indigenous knowledge, ecological agriculture, and biodiversity related rights.
Left: The African Biodiversity Network helps youth learn about traditional foods and plants from their elders. Right: Tharakan elders conduct a ritual to protect their communities from the coronavirus. Photos by Simon Mitambo.
As part of the Muriira ritual, people prepare locally grown varieties of millet and gather fortifying wild herbs for the Elders to use. Women and men from the community prepare large batches of gruel made with the seeds and local honey. With the ritual dish, the Elders visit homesteads through- out the territory to ward off threats and pray for restored ecological balance. This year, the ritual was adapted for social distancing. For decades, traditional governance has been at odds with mainstream governance. Colonial education and Western missionaries have eroded traditional Kenyan culture and confidence. What is particularly extraordinary is that the ritual has created harmony within the Tharakan community. Some Christians, who are usually hostile to the Elders who continue to practice traditional spirituality, even donated seeds and herbs to the ritual. “This surprised me, and I asked the Elders why. They said it is because in this time of crisis, their minds appear to be opening to the ways of their forefathers. They seem to be seeing the value in our rituals and what they can do for us again,” said Mitambo. Through the African Biodiversity Network, Elders from different clans and communities have begun to engage with children and youth in schools, so that they may gain some ancestral knowledge in addition to their formal education. In recent years, there has been a revival of Indigenous foods and practices; traditional foods and heritage seeds are returning to these communities. Indigenous seeds are best suited to the land and rapidly changing climate in this region, and people who revived these seeds receive good harvests and eat well. There is more awareness among the youth that their traditional foods are nourishing and build immunity. Changes have begun to be seen at the landscape level as well. The Elders helped identify sacred natural sites, and through community dialogues, people remembered how the rivers and plains looked a long time ago and made plans to revive these places, reinstating the traditional laws that protected them for hundreds of years. The return of the Muriira and the ways it is engaging communities is a sign of something bigger still: a tide turning against the industrialized colonial practices that have long exploited Indigenous territories. Tharakan Elders remind us that just as all our ancestors once did, if we really want to survive on this planet, we must be wary of outsiders claiming their foods and technology will save us, and look out for each other as we live in harmony with nature.
What Lies Ahead
he COVID-19 crisis lays bare our dependence on an unreliable globalized food system. The history is well known: Western models of industrial agriculture have systematically dismantled and erased Indigenous traditions. With the instability caused by COVID-19, the United Nations warns that global hunger is expected to double by the end of 2020. New technologies can of course be helpful, but only if they uphold the message of Indigenous communities— our survival depends upon strong ties to community and Mother Nature. Learning to honor that cultural fabric and strengthen nature-based farming lies at the heart of a global agroecology movement. The Indigenous communities described here are core to that wide-ranging, diverse movement. At a recent Agroecology Fund global gathering, participants from the Potato Park, the Peace Building Center, and The African Biodiversity Network had the opportunity to exchange knowledge and experiences with agroecology practitioners from around the world, while learning from their colleagues in India, who are participating in a dynamic, state-supported natural farming program. Collective action to amplify agroecology and change how we feed our communities in these uncertain times is critical. The Agroecology Fund facilitates opportunities for dialogue, debate, and advocacy, to strengthen the connections among agroecology practitioners, researchers, donors, and policymakers. At the upcoming UN Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of Parties in Kunming, China, in 2021, these Indigenous-led groups will seek to enforce the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a key organizing mechanism to express their communities’ priorities, worldviews, and collective identities. When we bring Indigenous worldviews back from the margins and hold them up at the center, a just and equitable food system will be within reach. — Amrita Gupta leads communications at the Agroecology Fund; Daniel Moss is the executive director of the Agroecology Fund; Simon Mitambo is regional program coordinator of the African Biodiversity Network; and Cass Madden is senior researcher at Asociación ANDES. This article was written in collaboration with the Agroecology Fund. Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 15
Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the Arctic Berry picking. Photo by Chris Arend.
r. Dalee Sambo Dorough (Iñupiat) is the International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Carolina Behe is the Indigenous Knowledge and Science Advisor for the Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska. Cultural Survival Indigenous Rights Radio Producer, Shaldon Ferris, (KhoiSan) recently spoke with Behe and Dorough. Cultural Survival: How do you define food security? What are the threats and challenges to maintaining it among Inuit communities? Carolina Behe: Quite a few years ago, Inuit in Alaska defined
food security themselves. In that definition, it’s really clear that food security is characterized by a healthy environment and is made up of six different dimensions: accessibility, availability, stability, Inuit culture, health and wellness, and decision making power and management. Those six dimensions need tools to support them, and those tools are policies, knowledge sources (meaning both Indigenous knowledge and modern science), and true co-management. We visualize all of that in a drum. The handle of the drum is food sovereignty. Without food sovereignty, we cannot have food security. We have to understand the relationship between all of these pieces and that if even one piece is out of balance or not there, we will not have a healthy environment—we will not have food security. Dalee Sambo Dorough: There are multiple threats to the food security of our communities, including climate change and pollution. These issues are compounded by the lack of understanding that the rest of the world, including our respective governments across the Arctic, have about the important and profound relationship that we have with the environment and all of the animals that we harvest, hunt, and fish. Inuit rely upon the marine environment; we are also one of the species within our Arctic environment. Our perspective of living in harmony, having a healthy relationship with the environment, is now facing multiple threats, making it difficult to briefly answer these questions because there are so many 16 • www. cs. org
different things that are adversely impacting us and our food systems, our food security, and our food sovereignty. CS: How is food sovereignty linked to self-governance? DSD: Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights, as well as Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, first and foremost affirms the right of all Peoples to self-determination, which is recognized as a prerequisite for the exercise and enjoyment of all other rights. Included in Article 1 is a very important, sweeping sentence: “In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.” If you think about that in the context of Inuit food security, it’s directly and intimately linked with our right of self-government and our right of self-determination. Self-determination, our role in policymaking and decision making, is directly tied to our food security. This is one of the significant conclusions of the work that the Inuit Circumpolar Council has done. Everything that we manifest in terms of our distinct cultural identity, our language, our customs, our practices, our food sources, our sense of intergenerational responsibilities—everything. It’s clear that there is a direct and intimate relationship. CB: The very first sentence of the definition for food security that Inuit in Alaska developed says Alaska Inuit food security is the natural right of all Inuit to be part of the ecosystem, to access food, and caretake, protect, and respect all of life, land, water, and air. There’s a right to that responsibility. Inuit have been here for thousands of years, successfully being part of this environment and holding their relationships within that environment. There’s a real contrast between Inuit approaches and the way that the federal or state government approaches that relationship within the environment. Federal and state policy often center on control and siloed approaches, such as single species management. For Inuit, all of it is interconnected and values help shape the relationships held. For example, you don’t try to control the weather, you respond to it. All of this stresses the need to understand the interconnections All photos by Joshua Cooper.
—to understand that the health of the whale depends on the health of the hunter just as much as the health of the hunter depends on the health of the whale. CS: What supports or impedes Inuit food sovereignty? CB: A large part goes back to Inuit management practices.
Throughout Inuit homelands, people share food with each other. If there’s a place here in Alaska that is having trouble with being able to collect food one year, other Inuit communities around Alaska quickly share food with them. Within a community, people take care of each other. That’s something that strongly maintains food security. Values from Inuit management practices, like basing decisions on an understanding of cumulative impacts and respect for everything within that ecosystem, requires an understanding of connections across social, cultural, biological, and physical pieces of the world. There is a need for systemic change at the national international level, at international forums for the equitable engagement and inclusion of Indigenous knowledge in order to inform more holistic and adaptive decision making. CS: What are some positive case studies of Indigenous food solutions? DSD: One of the most important positive examples is that
we’re still here; the fact that Inuit have the ingenuity to adapt to this environment where no other humans have been able to survive. As our founder, Eben Hopson, has stated, “Our language contains intricate knowledge of the ice that we’ve seen no others demonstrate.” We have been able to maintain ourselves out there on the land and on the coastal seas in a sustainable fashion, in a way that has allowed us to continue and to renew ourselves season after season after season. At the core of all of this is our knowledge, knowledge that has been accumulated over centuries and is still being accumulated by the individual hunters and through their relationships with others and also their sharing with others throughout the Inuit world. Indigenous knowledge has really become a record of our customs, our values, our practices, and our expressions of our relationships with the environment around us, which has generated the kind of food security that we seek to protect and that we seek to continue to have within our communities. CS: What is the role of Inuit Peoples in managing Arctic marine resources? DSD: As distinct Peoples reliant upon the ocean and coastal
seas, we should be playing a central role in the management of the marine environment across the whole of the Arctic. In Alaska, the United States government’s treatment of the rights of Alaska Natives was misguided and misinformed. The result was the adoption of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Implicit in that act was a promise that they would deal with what they refer to as Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights. In my view, to date, they have not dealt squarely with Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights or more specifically the harvesting rights of Inuit. In our particular case, they’ve chosen to work within a framework that is imposed by Westerners and not to embrace the distinct and inherent rights of Inuit in Alaska to be secure in their own means of subsistence. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act has been one of the biggest burdens that not only Alaskan Inuit have faced,
but all Alaska Native people have faced by virtue of the imposition of the provisions of our so-called land claims agreement in 1971. We’re still dealing with this because the government has not explicitly affirmed our rights to hunting, fishing, and other harvesting activities. This fundamental challenge has to be overcome. CB: In Alaska there is no true co-management. There are cooperative agreements. This differs from a co-management structure in which both groups are at the table to collectively make decisions together; to have both Indigenous knowledge and science equitably engaged; to have Indigenous values and management practices at the forefront. Within Alaska, the state and federal management practices are often single species-oriented, which lacks a holistic understanding of how everything is interconnected. That creates quite a conflict. Even the fact that we refer to them as species becomes a way of objectifying the parts of the environment that people have relationships with. This siloed approach is further emphasized by the multiple agencies involved in managing different animals and habitats, managed under different mandates, and/or under different interpretations of the same laws.
Processing seal meat. Photo by Jacki Cleveland.
CS: What does the future of Indigenous food sovereignty look like in the Arctic? CB: In the food security conceptual framework, the drum,
remember that all of the pieces are interconnected and needed. In Alaska, it was clear that what is really unstable is the lack of decision making power and management—and that directly links to food sovereignty. That is what led us to our current project. We’re doing a comparison within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of Canada and Alaska to look at what impedes or supports Inuit food sovereignty. Within Alaska, it’s very clear that that lack of co-management, the lack of decision making power is at the height of it. Whether it’s climate change, conflict of interest, or the burden of conservation, all come back to decision making and looking at whose values are being put at the forefront when making those decisions within Inuit homelands. Within Alaska and internationally, it is often a dominant culture, economically driven, and people far from the Arctic making decisions and policy recommendations based on information and values that do not reflect Inuit, the Arctic, or a holistic understanding of the world. The Food Sovereignty and Self-Governance report and resources on the food security framework can be accessed at iccalaska.org.
Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 17
L–R: Maya Harjo holding teosinte, ancestor to corn. Planting Coastal Live Oak acorns with Mauricio. Rowen White holding blue corn. The Cultural Conservancy team weeding and teaching in cornfields. Photo by Maya Harjo
From Soil to Sky A Melissa K. Nelson and Maya Harjo
t an autumn Learning Lodge in Coast Miwok, Southern Pomo Territory, Elder Leroy Little Bear (Blackfeet) shared with us a powerful teaching: as Native Peoples, “we find our cultural resilience in the medicine of the land.” As a place-based, Indigenousled intertribal organization, The Cultural Conservancy takes this teaching to heart. It is a reminder that when things are difficult, we can look to the medicines of the land to strengthen us, and in times of disease or hunger, they are our blessings. Food is medicine. So how do we, as Native communities, best cultivate the medicines of the land and honor the resilience of our cultures? Here in Coast Miwok Territory on the flanks of Mount Tamalpais in mid-summer, many medicines are revealing themselves: bay nuts, acorns, thimbleberries, manzanita, and madrone berries are all ripening with the long days and summer heat. We recognize the Native foods of this land and the First Peoples who have millennia-long relations with these plant and animal relatives, which they harvest for food, medicine, craft, tools, and historically, most of their material culture. While the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo (represented by the sovereign nation of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria) have the first rights to harvest and utilize these medicines, many of these Native foods are locked up on private property or protected areas where harvesting rights are off limits. Thanks to the global Indigenous movement and national struggles and victories like Standing Rock, the Buffalo Treaty, the recent recognition of Muscogee Creek land rights in Oklahoma, mascot name changes, and the Black Lives Matter movement (to name a few), there is a growing awareness in mainstream society about the importance of respecting the sovereignty of Native Americans and their lands. For Indigenous Peoples the world over, the right to our lands and foods is primary. Food sovereignty is political and cultural, nutritional, and cosmological. It is about honoring the Indigenous foods that give us life—whether plants, animals, fungi, salt, or other place-based gifts from the land. As we have learned from relatives David and Wendy Bray (Seneca), the Haudenosaunee calls these foods “our life sustainers.”
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Mending the Circle of Our Native Food Systems
The Cultural Conservancy has been supporting and advocating for Food Sovereignty since we supported the restoration of a Victory Garden in the Presidio National Park with native seeds in the late 1990s, followed by our participation in a historic Native American delegation to Slow Food Terra Madre in 2006, and through urban gardens, workshops, and cultural demonstrations with intertribal and global Indigenous communities over the past 25 years. The Cultural Conservancy supports Indigenous food sovereignty through local farms, a growing Native Foodways Program, national and international networks, a podcast series, and global grantmaking. Our long term commitment is to mend the circle of Indigenous health and wellness through the revitalization of Native agriculture and foodways, from seed to plate, soil to sky, song to recipe, and ancestors to future generations.
Today, we are grateful to be a partner at the Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden at the College of Marin in Novato, California, where we have grown a large variety of heirloom Native foods since 2012. We were originally invited to become a farm partner by one of the farm’s founders, Wendy Johnson, a Zen farmer and educator. We uplift this invitation as an important example of the kind of land rematriation work that needs to happen more—a non-Indigenous managed farm prioritizing sharing space and turning over fertile land to Native Food Sovereignty work. On less than half an acre, we grow native foods and medicines, save rare heirloom seeds, and revitalize California native plants, improving local Native communities’ access to the land, food, and seeds that foster deeper connections to cultural traditions. From origin stories to family histories, each resilient seed we grow at the farm has an ancestral story to tell. We are guided by the seed-keepers before us whose stewardship cared for the seeds, such as the Bray Family from Seneca Nation, who gifted us the responsibility to take care of Onëo-gen, the sacred eight-row Seneca white corn that we have been growing for more than seven years. This year, our fields are full of Chimayo chile peppers, Lakota squash, Hopi purple beans, Tohono O’odham tepary beans, Cherokee purple tomatoes, and many more heirloom varieties from Native communities across Turtle Island, each carrying thousands of years of knowledge and story. Photos by Mateo Hinojosa except as noted.
The Cultural Conservancy’s Foodways Program
The farm in Marin County is stewarded by our Native Foodways Program, a 12-year-old program that supports the Food Sovereignty of the Bay Area Native community through the revitalization of traditional Native foodways. From Indigenous agriculture to cultural land stewardship, we support a spiritual and reciprocal relationship to ancestral lands. This is especially needed in the Bay Area, where intertribal urban communities and displaced California Indian Peoples have been economically, politically, and culturally dispossessed of ancestral land and place-based traditions. By providing community access to our farm and the foods it produces, our work mends the broken circle of traditional lifeways by offering opportunities for Native communities to reconnect with their ancestral knowledge systems, practices, foods, and seeds. Our programming includes a robust food distribution program, a Native seed library, Native youth internships and apprenticeships, educational events, workshops, and demonstrations on Indigenous agriculture, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Native sciences, and more. This work ultimately aims to heal historical trauma and return physical, mental, and spiritual health to Native community—all based in loving, reciprocal relationships with the land and her many gifts.
Food is a community endeavor. To cultivate and feast good food, we need community: farmers, seed-keepers, fishers, gatherers, knowledge holders, chefs, basketweavers, hunters, and more. We are grateful to be part of the Native American food movement through a series of networks and have supported the creation of the Slow Food Turtle Island Association. After years of informal networking and collaboration with each other and the Slow Food movement, Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) spearheaded this effort to bring us together in a historic meeting in Taos, New Mexico in 2016 to formalize our Native American food network. We are organized as an association directly linked to Slow Food International in Bra, Italy. Slow Food Turtle Island Association represents diverse intertribal communities in the U.S. and Canada concerned with health and well being, land use and farming, food policy, and the protection and revitalization of rare, heirloom food varieties and associated cultural practices. The Slow Food Turtle Island Association supports the general ethos of Slow Food to promote good, clean, fair food for all, with a focus on the First Foods of the Native Peoples of Turtle Island. The Slow Food Turtle Island Association is also linked directly to the Indigenous Terra Madre Network, which defines itself as a network of Indigenous communities, partners, and organizations. It was born out of the wider Terra Madre network to bring Indigenous Peoples’ voices to the forefront of the debate on food and culture, to institutionalize Indigenous Peoples’ participation in the Slow Food movement and its projects, as well as to develop both regional and global networks. There have been three Indigenous Terra Madre global conferences, with the last one hosted by the Ainu of Japan in Hokkaido in the fall of 2019. Nationally, we are also honored to collaborate with the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance and its Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, led by the dynamic
Rowen White (Mohawk). Together, we document rare seeds and seed rematriation work and produce short videos about protecting and sharing heirloom Indigenous seeds and plants. Similarly, we have collaborated with Braiding the Sacred, a hemispheric network focused on Indigenous corn growers working to preserve and perpetuate traditional varieties of sacred corn.
The Native Seed Pod
The Cultural Conservancy sees a direct link between Food Sovereignty and Indigenous media, as we are traditional storytellers and artists who love to share the beauty, sights, sounds, and stories of our Indigenous foods in embodied ways. Audio and video recordings are powerful mediums through which we tell our stories, share our work locally and globally, decolonize media, and animate our Indigenous voices. To recognize the extraordinary wisdom and Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Indigenous farmers and food activists, we started the Native Seed Pod podcast series in 2018 to serve as “an antidote to the monoculture.” Sixteen episodes (and counting) of in-depth conversations with hunters, farmers, seed-keepers, chefs, and more can be found at nativeseedpod.org.
Sharing Good Water: The Mino-Niibi Fund
The Cultural Conservancy’s Mino-Niibi (“good water” in Ojibwe) Fund for Indigenous Cultures provides small grants through re-granting to Indigenous-led organizations in Turtle Island, Abya Yala (Central and South America), and Moananuiakea (Pacific Oceania). We support grassroots Native organizations working to revitalize their cultures, traditions, lands and livelihoods, most of whom are concerned with Food Sovereignty given climate disruptions and other uncertainties. To address these concerns, we have supported Aymara quinoa growers’ agrobiodiversity projects on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia; Maya corn farmers in Guatemala; cultural exchanges between Pueblo, Mayan, and Zapotec youth learning about traditional agriculture; Hawaiian orchard stewards and traditional fishermen on Big Island; and young Inuit hunters in Nunavut. The Cultural Conservancy’s Native basket of food projects extend from the local to the global, from the wild to the cultivated, from individuals to networks, and from kitchens to soundwaves. We strive to enact Indigenous food justice and cultivate health and well being at many levels. By weaving traditional foods and cultural foodways into all of our programs and activities, we elevate the medicines of the land and our sacred responsibility to protect and care for them. — Melissa K. Nelson, Ph.D. (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) is a Native ecologist, writer, media-maker and Indigenous scholar-activist, and the president and CEO of The Cultural Conservancy. Maya Harjo (Quapaw, Shawnee, Muscogee Creek, Seminole) is a farmer and educator, and the Native Foodways Director at The Cultural Conservancy.
For more information, visit www.nativeland.org and www.nativeseedpod.org.
Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 19
Te Koanga A Time for Planting in Aotearoa Awatea Organics is a research and training farm specializing in growing heritage organic food, seed, and medicine at Te Rewarewa Ma–ori land in Whangarei, New Zealand. Photo by Te Tui Shortland.
Te Tui Shortland
his year and at this time, more than ever, we give thanks to Ranginui (Sky Father) for the life giving rain and the celestial beings who signal to us the time to plant, of what the climate will be, and our harvest for the year. To our Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) for the richness of the soil, the respect that it teaches us, the clay that provides nutrients, the millennia of soil life. And Tane Mahuta (Māori god of the forest), the web of life giving and medicinal plants, the superorganism we know as the forest; the blossoming trees and our bird companions who tell us the time to gather kaimoana (shellfish/seafood) and the warmth of the coming seasons. We acknowledge Haumietiketike (god of wild foods) for the fern root that replenishes the soil for our sacred potato. Tawhirimatea (god of weather) for the cleansing winds and the soft, caressing winds that teach plants to stand tall and be strong. To Rongo-mā-Tāne (god of peace and cultivations) for the spiritual relationship embodied by our daily work in our maara (cultivations), for the plant companions we have co-evolved with across continents to Aotearoa, the flavorsome and nutrient rich foods. For the pollinators who teach us community. And for the seed. The fourth lunar month, September, is named after the Goddess of Spring, Mahuru. She re-emerges as the days grow longer, land begins to warm, and the trees blossom. The kōwhai (small-leaved trees with yellow flowers) begin to bloom and it is time to plant kūmara (sweet potato) for sprouting in Te Tai Tokerau Northland region. A spring day in the maara is a day of all seasons; the wind blows, the rains shower down, and some mornings the mist sits over the land until the sun is high in the sky. Rainbows are a common daily blessing. The frosts and the floods of winter have passed. Tama-nui-te-rā (the sun) emerges from the watery underworld of winter to fertilize the earth.
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As the land warms, it is the time to observe our surroundings, to plant seeds and watch through their revolutions through the seasons. Te Koanga (Spring) is the perfect time to observe the plants cycling through the rise and the fall of the moon. As the energy waxes and wanes through the three months of spring, life on the land responds. The plants speak to us every day about the season and the climate. Growing in an Indigenous agroecological way follows organic practices, which means the soil and water cycles must be at their optimum to avoid disease and pests. Through the moon, we observe the water cycle, the ideal times for sowing, transplanting, nourishing, and harvesting. At equinox, we recognize the turning point of the waxing powers of spring. It is a time to grow heritage foods that hold the memories of our ancestors and to build a loving relationship with our plant companions.
Te Rewarewa Maara Cultivations
Defined by the boundary markers of Wharekiri stream, Mangakowharo, Puketatua, Te Toko, and the Harbour edge, Te Wiwi, and Te Putahi, the Te Rewarewa ancestral lands are four kilometers from the central business district of Whangarei, New Zealand. It is a 165-acre land block administered by an Incorporated Society. Cameron Sowter (Te Mahurehure) and I run the maara at Te Rewarewa with a purpose of reconnecting people to the land and supplying tasty, nutritious heritage organic food to the local community. When you visit you get a sense of peace, a chance to commune with yourself and rediscover your roots through food. There are biodynamic kitchen gardens, rows with heritage companion planting, and terraced gardens with a mix of Haumietiketike species. Our business, Awatea Organics, specializes in growing heritage organic food, seed, and medicine, as well as cultivating farmers. Reviving ancestral seed guardians and responding to the seed famine in Aotearoa is our mission. We co-evolve our maara with Rongo-mā-Tāne, the plants, and insects. We follow the ancient principles of mimicking nature, establishing biodiverse resilient ecosystems of delicious and nutritious food. At Awatea Organics, we believe the future of food is culture. Hand raised and hand harvested heritage produce reconnects people to their ancestors and follows Indigenous practices with an intergenerational focus. We grow supporting harmony amongst diversity, observing and responding to how plants and insects thrive together. Mimicking nature is an Indigenous way of cultivating food. Since establishing the Te Rewarewa cultivations, we have brought back pollinator species and bird life to the area. As Indigenous organic farmers, we ensure harmony amongst diversity. We ensure balance amongst the predators and pests, that soil health and the cycle of return is at an optimum, and that the water cycle is fostered. It is time to reclaim the role of plants and trees in the water cycle, in the climatic balance of the Earth and the value of the farmer; to protect and enhance natural ecosystems, protect and improve rural livelihoods, and foster the resilience of people, communities, and ecosystems. A large part of our efforts is in “growing out” heritage seed. This is when a farmer grows and saves seeds each harvest, such as peruperu (potato), to the point of security of supply.
We started this initiative after hearing so many stories of lost heritage seed and receiving heritage seed with very low integrity. The seed is the cycle, the past, the future, the connection to soil, the memories of all time. If we look after the Earth, we can grow food for the next 100 years. It is also imperative, now more than ever, that we share seeds across our generations with other Indigenous farmers following Indigenous practices, acknowledging the genealogy of the seed and one another. We have co-evolved with our diverse potato seeds over centuries and across continents. Seed freedom represents abundance, protection of Indigenous food systems, nutrition for the community, and the promotion and protections of indigenous seed innovations. By using organic practices to build resilience in our seed and adjust to the local climatic conditions, we ensure the future sustainability of the harvest. Seed is not a commodity; it is the source of life. Gardens and forests are seed sanctuaries. When you respect the seed, you are connected to the sacred thread that connects us all. We grow native greens, which are a staple to the Indigenous daily diet: Ruruhau, a native brassica; puha, a variety of milk thistle; kokihi, a native spinach; and ku–mara vine greens. We grow the native squash kamokamo, which is speckled green when picked and eventually turns bright orange when hardened. They are delicious boiled with butter. We save seed and we nurture the soil to pass on to future generations. The maara is a place where people are rediscovering their roots through food. The COVID lockdowns have been a wake up call to how people cannot access healthy food due to the unhealthy food system. Providing food and medicine to communities concerned for the life and dignity of the farmer and Mother Earth is our mission. Hand raised and hand harvested food is the future of an ethical and ecological economy. — Te Tui Shortland (Ngati Hine, Ngapuhi, Ngati Raukawa ki te Tonga) is founder of Awatea Organics, director of Te Kopu, Pacific Indigenous & Local Knowledge Centre of Distinction, and a Cultural Survival board member. Polynesian ancestors of Ma–ori brought –mara (sweet ku potato) with them when they arrived in New Zealand in the 13th century. Photo by Te Tui Shortland.
Cultural Survival Quarterly Septem September 2020 • 21
Back to the Roots
Restoring Indigenous Food Landscapes
The Wild Salmon awn Morrison (Secwepemc) is the founder and Caravan raises curator of the Working Group on Indigenous Food awareness Sovereignty. Since 1983, she has worked in and of the important studied horticulture, ethnobotany, adult education, role that and restoration of natural systems in formal instiIndigenous tutions, as well as through her own personal and community Peoples play in healing and learning journey. Morrison has been dedicating the conservation her time and energy to land- based healing and learning, of wild salmon. Photo courtesy of Dawn Morrisson.
which led her to her life’s work of realizing herself more fully as a developing spirit-aligned leader in the Indigenous food sovereignty movement. She has consistently organized and held the space over the last 15 years for mobilizing knowledge and networks towards a just transition from the basis of decolonizing food systems in community, regional, and international networks, where she has become internationally recognized as a published author. Her work on Decolonizing Research and Relationships is focused on creating a critical pathway of consciousness where Indigenous Food Sovereignty meets social justice, climate change, and regenerative food systems research, action and policy, and planning and governance. Cultural Survival recently spoke with Morrison.
Cultural Survival: Tell us about your research and work with Indigenous food sovereignty and regenerative food systems. Dawn Morrison: Following the traditional teachings and
Indigenous ways of knowing, our research is participatory and largely based on oral history, storytelling, and traditional knowledge that Indigenous Peoples have entrusted to us. Based on the wisdom, knowledge, values, and strategies shared, we have developed the Decolonizing Food System: Cross Cultural Interface Framework to apply Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing to better understand how Indigenous food sovereignty can inform the movement towards a more regenerative, holistic health paradigm in the land and food system. We transcend linear Western science-based methodologies and observe ancient cultural protocols that guide the way we see and learn about the world and our relationships to the land, water, people, plants, and animals that provide us with our food. We also lead research, action, and policy proposals in partnership with various Tribal and non-Tribal government 22 • www. cs. org
agencies and organizations where we facilitate a deeper understanding of how Indigenous food sovereignty interfaces with colonial policy and governance. One of our projects is the Wild Salmon Caravan, a project that celebrates the spirit of wild salmon through arts and culture and raises awareness of the important role that Indigenous Peoples play in its conservation. Wild salmon is the most important ecological keystone species in the 27 Nations of Indigenous Peoples who inhabit the westernmost province of Canada. The Caravan travels to ceremonies, feasts, and community forums hosted by Indigenous communities where we discuss the importance of revitalizing inter-tribal relationships. The strength of Indigenous fisheries governance knowledge lives in the river systems and wild salmon migratory corridors that connect us all. The 5th annual caravan will begin on September 19 with a procession led by Indigenous knowledge holders and an art exhibit to inspire and educate about the need to dismantle structural racism in the food system policy. An online panel discussion will follow to engage Indigenous thought leaders on the topic of Indigenous Peoples and wild salmon conservation. In addition, the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty is developing a third project, the Indigenous Food and Freedom School. The School is an emancipatory learning circle model that builds on the knowledge, wisdom, and values gained over 15 years of leading the movement. It engages two cohorts from diverse cultures in the underlying systemic issues impacting Indigenous Peoples’ access to land, water, and infrastructure to grow food. And it highlights the need to balance privilege and power enjoyed by mainstream society where White people enjoy the highest level of comfort and three to four times the level of food security. One of the cohorts is situated in East Vancouver, in one of Canada’s most food insecure and poverty stricken neighborhoods. We were awarded a residency at Strathcona Park, one of Vancouver’s most historic parks, where we are advocating for the restoration of Indigenous foodlands in a decolonial anti-racist framework. The Working Group proposes to test the Decolonizing Food System: Cross Cultural Interface Framework in an intermediary role between the Coast Salish, who have never ceded or surrendered their title and rights to
L–R: Wild blueberries. Photo by Marcy Leigh.
Drying salmon. Photo by Phil Douglis.
Wild cranberries. Photo by Theodore Garver.
the land in Vancouver, to facilitate transformative engaged research with the cohorts and communities. According to Cease Wyss, a Squamish matriarch, the Strathcona Park neighborhood was once home to important traditional foods like blueberries, cranberries, and huckleberries, as well as huge cedar trees that were nourished by a whole network of fish bearing streams that would enter into the ocean nearby. Wyss’ local and traditional knowledge and decolonizing approach to permaculture and ethnobotany will guide the restoration of soils and forest ecosystems, and will serve as an important strategy for mitigating the impacts of climate change and social injustices experienced by Coast Salish and urban Indigenous Peoples in the neighborhood.
resource-based economies. When we go out to harvest Indigenous foods or to plant a seed, we give an offering. Our economy begins with giving rather than taking. We do not view our food as a resource to be exploited. We eat food and it becomes us, therefore it is our relative. Our reciprocal relationship with the land, water, people, plants, and animals that provide us with our food in subsistence economies is the one of the most sustainable adaptation strategies of humanity. Giving, sharing and trading, and cooperating in reciprocal relationships is the basis of Indigenous food sovereignty.
CS: What does Indigenous food sovereignty look like? DM: Indigenous Peoples have lived the reality of Indigenous
to some of the world’s biggest social and ecological crises. We are among the most vulnerable and experience a huge disparity in social determinants of health. We must shift the paradigm away from a productionist, resource-based economic model towards a just transition to a regenerative tribal economy spawned by Indigenous food sovereignty. There is a need to dismantle the White supremacist narratives of colonial agriculture and corporate capitalist economy in order to dismantle the institutional frameworks established in colonial governance. Deep and meaningful truth and reconciliation cannot happen in the same system that was designed to dispossess Indigenous Peoples. What’s most positive in my mind is the expanding number of people of color who are coming together to make the changes needed and to support Indigenous Peoples in revitalizing the intertribal networks of giving, sharing, trading, and cooperating, where the strength of our knowledge lives. I have a lot of hope for people. Humans want to work together. A lot of historical trauma has prevented people from doing that. But, there is tremendous healing happening right now, too.
food sovereignty for thousands of years and have made major contributions to the food security of all Peoples. The Working Group has identified four central themes that have emerged in our work since 2006. The first principle is the sacred responsibility to uphold the relationships to the land, water, people, plants, and animals that provide us with our food. Indigenous food sovereignty is given to us from the Creator, who placed us here and gave us our original instructions. Our right to adequate amounts of culturally appropriate foods in the forests, fields, and waterways is based on natural law and should not be constrained by colonial laws and policies. We eat food, it becomes us. Food comes from the land, so we are a part of the land. Our food gives us a sacred life energy and nourishes and heals our bodies, minds, and souls. The second principle is the participatory action-oriented nature of food sovereignty. We must participate in Indigenous food related activities on a day to day basis to achieve food sovereignty and uphold our sacred responsibilities. This includes hunting, fishing, farming, gathering, preserving, preparing, sharing, and trading foods in a cooperative subsistence economy. The third principle is self-determination and freedom from corporate control of the land and food systems. Selfdetermination is the ability to take care of ourselves and be self-sufficient in a web of relationships with our extended families, communities, and networks that transcend the individualistic values of capitalism. The fourth principle is decolonizing policy, planning, and governance. While Indigenous food sovereignty is grounded in practice, it is being negatively impacted by the mechanistic worldview of the Western-based system of agricultural research and resource extraction that is favored in colonial frameworks. Indigenous food sovereignty cannot be achieved within the same institutional frameworks that were designed to dispossess us. CS: What does a reciprocal relationship mean to you? DM: Reciprocity in our relationships is very important. It is in
direct contrast to the neoclassic mindset underlying capitalist
CS: How do we dismantle structural racism in food systems? DM: Indigenous Peoples play a key role in finding solutions
CS: Tell us about some of your local Indigenous food sources. DM: We’re in a crisis with the health of our Indigenous
land and food system. Our wild salmon that once existed in huge abundance for thousands of years have been reduced to historically low numbers. This is a result of colonialism, capitalism, and greed. Our moose and elk were extirpated during the fur and food trade days when our part of the world was first being colonized. Many Indigenous nations have declared a state of emergency for food security because of declining access to traditional foods; many of the Nations and communities in northern, remote areas don’t have access to grocery stores and have always relied on this food. The climate crisis is changing our water cycle, which is one of our most important medicines that nourishes and regenerates the forests, fields, and waterways where our salmon, berries, and culturally important animals inhabit. Many of our families in my home Secwepemc territory still practice traditional harvesting and do what we can to protect the remaining fragments of those corridors.
Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 23
PRESERVING OUR FOODS IS MEDICINE
Dehydrating kale. Below: Linda Black Elk showing off her zucchini carving skills.
Linda Black Elk
hen we say “food is medicine,“ we do not mean it as a metaphor or a catchphrase. If we eat the things that we are supposed to be eating, we will not suffer from the diseases of colonization. Traditional foods have the medicine that our body needs to prevent and heal illness. These foods do not just feed and heal us physically, but also mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Traditional food is spirit food. Fermented foods are essential to keeping us healthy during the age of COVID-19. Lightly fermented foods like maple vinegar and wozapi (berry sauce) are amazing for restoring and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Other fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and low sugar yogurt are important in the fight against COVID-19. Many of us have been preparing for lean times. I believe that each individual should have enough food to last for four months minimum. If you have a family of five, that’s quite a bit of stored food. So how do we do this? What kinds of preservation methods are going to work? Drying plants and meat is the simplest method of food preservation. It’s exactly what it sounds like—allowing air to dry food for long term storage. Different plants dry at different rates. Foods like apples and squash can be cut thinly, whereas nettles and other herbs can simply be dried on paper towels or cookie sheets or hung up. I dry everything, including summer and winter squash, nettles, lambs quarters, onions, ferns, berries, apples, root vegetables, echinacea, and sage, simply by laying them out on paper towels or by hanging them in bundles throughout my home or garage. For air drying meat, my family sets up an insect screen and dries meat inside the screen on laundry racks or racks made from tree branches. Lots of people do not realize that you can safely air dry meat, but Indigenous Peoples have been doing this for thousands of years. You do not even need smoke, although I love the flavor of smoked meat and it certainly keeps the bugs away if you do not have an insect-proof area. If you have a bunch of carrots from your garden, instead of composting all the carrot tops, you can dry them and use them as a parsley substitute. Put them in all of your homemade spice blends, which you can add to absolutely everything from macaroni and cheese to roasted chicken. If you have an abundance of apples on your tree, apple chips are delicious and easy to make. You can eat them as a snack, or you can 24 • www. cs. org
reconstitute them to use in all kinds of recipes, including a “dried apple pie” that will brighten any freezing cold winter day. If you have tons of zucchini, just cut it up and dry it so that you can have a filling, nutritious, and delicious addition to pasta dishes, soups, and gratins. Dehydration is a faster and warmer way of drying foods, medicines, and meat. I use a dehydrator when I’m in a hurry for certain fruits and thicker veggies or some quick jerky, and when my countertops, ceiling, and walls just do not have enough room to hold more. Dehydration produces a different texture for many plants. Apple chips, for example, are more leathery and soft when air dried. If you want them a bit crunchy, a dehydrator works perfectly. I’ve never been able to air dry banana chips, but dehydrated banana chips are amazing. All you do is slice them and put them in the dehydrator. Dried soup mixes like corn (I prefer dried hominy), peas, carrots, celery, or potatoes can all be dried and then mixed together so that you can just add a scoop to your next soup or stew. These are simple, yummy, and you can cater these mixes to your specific tastes. I add tons of dried garlic. Dried rice and beans are essentials in my kitchen and I love that they make a complete protein in the absence of meat. Plus, you can add anything to a bowl of beans and rice to make a meal: nettle, dandelion, hot chilies, or a scoop of dried soup mix. If you’re drying your homegrown beans, harvest the entire plant after the vines have turned completely brown and lay them on a tarp to dry in the sun until completely dried (this could take a week or more). Shell the beans into a shallow bowl or bucket (I use foil turkey roasting pans), and allow the beans to dry even further before packing them for long term storage. My friends in Mexico taught me to do this and I have never had a problem with moldy beans. Storing wild rice for decades can be kind of tricky. It’s already parched and dried, but it will remain edible for three All photos by Linda Black Elk.
to five years. You can extend the shelf life of wild rice by doing a second parching, and also by packing it into bags with an oxygen absorber. Have you ever tried freeze dried vegetables and fruits? In my opinion, freeze dried foods are infinitely more tasty than air dried foods and they last for up to 25 years. Freeze dried food also retains more nutrients than dried or dehydrated food. The downside is freeze dryers are expensive, but is an excellent way to preserve the bounty of your foraging, gathering, and gardening. I recently noticed that there were some vegetables on my kitchen counter that had to get eaten or preserved right away. I cut up all those veggies: cucumbers, onions, rainbow carrots, green peppers, dill, and a single leftover jalapeño. In a separate bowl I mixed apple cider vinegar, maple sugar, and a little salt, then I poured it on top of the vegetables. I left it in the bowl on the kitchen counter overnight. The next morning, I put it all in a jar and stuck it in the fridge. These “refrigerator pickles“ will last three to four weeks. A note about long term storage: oxygen is the enemy of food preservation. If you want to preserve dried, dehydrated, or freeze dried foods for the long term, you might want to invest in some mylar food storage bags and oxygen absorption packets. Your dried foods can last up to 30 years like this, and they’ll be as fresh as the day you stored them. We all need to learn to preserve foods and medicines without the use of electricity. I certainly love to use a dehydrator, a freeze dryer, and even a freezer, but none of these methods will be useful in the case of mass electrical outages. Plus, isn’t it nice to preserve the bounty of Mother Earth without the use of fossil fuels? When you know how to do things, you feel secure, safe, and wealthy.
R e cip e s Simple Sauerkraut • 2 medium heads of fresh cabbage • 1/4 cup kosher sea salt • Optional (for flavor): add caraway seeds, chopped jalapeño, red chilies, or whole garlic cloves • Glass jars with tight lids Chop the cabbage as desired. Cover with the salt and mix in, grinding the salt into the cabbage with your hand. Stuff as tightly as possible into jars and seal. Keep on the kitchen counter for a few days to speed up the fermentation process.
Easy Kimchi • 2 pounds Napa cabbage cut into bite size pieces • 1/2 pound daikon radish • 1/4 cup sea salt Salt the cabbage and daikon. Let it sit for 2–3 hours. Drain well. Then mix together: • 3 tbsp garlic minced • 2 tsp ginger minced • 1/2 cup chopped green onion • 2 tbsp salted shrimp or fish sauce (optional) • 3–8 tbsp kimchi pepper powder, depending on how spicy you want it. • 3–4 tbsp water (enough to make a paste) Mix the above ingredients into a thick, but not dry, paste. Mix it into the salted cabbage/daikon. Stuff as tightly as possible into clean glass jars. Leave out to ferment.
We have “independence anxiety” because capitalism has conditioned us to be afraid of the natural world. Teach your children so that they’ll always have these skills and they’ll never have fears about food scarcity. None of this is hard; it’s just a matter of doing it. Not only will you feel empowered, but you’ll also be honoring your ancestors, who had to do these things to survive.
“Refrigerator pickles” will last three or four weeks.
— Linda Black Elk (Korean/Mongolian/Catawba descendant) is an ethnobotanist specializing in teaching about culturally important plants and their uses as food and medicine. She is Food Sovereignty Skills Instructor at United Tribes Technical College. She is the author of Watoto Unyutapi, a field guide to edible wild plants of the Dakota people. Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 25
“Weavers of Knowledge” Go Virtual to Provide Real Food Security
Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests
n the mountains of Talamanca in Costa Rica, a family has cassava and banana crops; another, corn and yams. A “weaver of knowledge,” a woman in charge of maintaining the database and accompanying the producer families in their community, collects this information and sends it via WhatsApp to the central team of the Kábata Könana Women’s Association. In the central office, these women establish a route for the exchange of products. The result: the families in the Indigenous territory have all the food they need, harvested according to ancient methods, on their own land. This is how the Indigenous “Estanco” of Virtual Produce Exchange works, a solution that uses new technologies and ancestral farming practices to guarantee food security for the Bribri and Cabécar communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. In late June, two vehicle routes carried out the first exchange of products and seeds, in which 110 families from the Talamanca Cabécar territory participated. Sacks of cassava, yams, tiquisque, beans, rice, plantains, avocados, corn, chocolate, pinolillo, star fruit, mango, and ñampí entered and left the houses. “When we saw that the pandemic was approaching our territory, we knew that we had to organize ourselves so that no family would be short of food. Indigenous people have always planted and exchanged food, and this has been a time to further strengthen these traditions,” says Maricela Fernández (Bribri), president of Kábata Könana. The initiative operates under the Indigenous cultural principles and values of ñakimá (solidarity), julákimá (exchange), klabé (collectivity), and käpakö (dialogue). This food exchange is part of the Indigenous Plan for Attention to Recovery from the Pandemic that the Bribri Cabécar Indigenous Network prepared to address the A virtual food exchange organized by Indigenous women via WhatsApp is providing food to families in need.
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impact of COVID-19. The plan also includes rapid response and community containment; coordination committees with government institutions; an axis of cultural production; and an economic axis of post pandemic recovery. The cultural production is led by the women of Kábata Könana with the support of an Indigenous youth group. In addition to the Estanco, the team is creating a work guide for government institutions, a production inventory of families using Indigenous dialogue methodology (kápakö) combined with sé sërke, the cultural experience system; the implementation of their cultural production system and its five categories (witö, teitö, sä deli, sa chá, and chamukelö); and the startup of a Living Museum for the Protection of the Seed which, in the future, will become a tourist attraction and would give sustainability to the entire project. The Indigenous Estanco of Virtual Produce Exchange is a joint effort of the Kábata Könana Women’s Association and the Association for the Integral Development of the Talamanca Cabécar Indigenous Territory, in conjunction with the Bribri and Cabécar Indigenous Network. The project is developed in association with the Love for Life organization and the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, and has the support of the German Agency for International Cooperation. — Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests is a platform of territorial authorities that administer or influence the main forest masses of Mesoamerica. Indigenous governments and community forest organizations in the Alliance seek to strengthen their own dialogue, focused on community management of their natural resources. They jointly seek to influence governments and international cooperation so that biodiversity conservation strategies appropriately integrate the rights and benefits of Indigenous Peoples and forest communities.
Cassava, bananas, star fruit, limes, and corn grown by families in Talamanca for the virtual food exchange.
Interview with Maricela Fernández Fernández
live in the Gavilán community in Talamanca Indigenous territory, Costa Rica. As an Indigenous territory and local government we closed the gate [when the COVID-19 pandemic started] so that outsiders do not enter and so there is control. We started organizing with other community organizations, the development association of our local government, women’s organizations, and young people. Thanks to the strict vigilance on the territorial border by our authorities, there are no positive cases of COVID-19 here. We organized ourselves to create a production plan in the territory together with the local government and women’s association to be able to supply our families in terms of food security. That is how the Estanco Indígena was born. We are working with [the exchange] in solidarity with one another so nobody lacks food. We are supporting each other. When buying products, the development association offers transportation. The bus takes a group of people to buy their products, then they disinfect themselves, the bus, and their masks before entering into their territory. People leave their territory once a week; they are not allowed to go out every day. This is a strategy implemented by other organizations, which is where the idea of implementing a virtual market through WhatsApp came from. It is well known that during COVID we cannot gather in large groups of people. [So] we have a woman in each community, who we call a “weaver of knowledge.” She goes one by one to visit houses and gets information from families. She asks what they need, about what products they have in our ancestral traditional knowledge and what they are called, and what their functions and applications are. When the weaver of knowledge has cellphone reception in the community, she transmits this information to another colleague who receives the data in the office through WhatsApp. Then they send it to others, and information is shared. In order to use WhatsApp we need credit, which means spending money. How do these expenses get covered, and how do you deal with people who do
All photos by Kábata Könana.
not have a signal for WhatsApp? We work in the most vulnerable communities where there is no electricity. By installing solar panels we provide training to a group of women on topics like gender equality. When we were not able to travel anymore due to this pandemic, we had to stay within our territories. We are currently working on solar panel trainings, communication, and transportation. We have had some challenges in implementing the virtual market. We do not have enough resources and we have to find new ways to provide supplies to our weavers. There is no reception here and we have to go to another woman’s house in order to get information. Also, when we get products like fruit, vegetables, and seeds, we need resources, especially when we want to move that product to another community. We have been working with two other women’s organizations; one of the organizations in the city stopped working due to the COVID. We have all seen good results for the Estanco—the food producers demonstrate that solidarity is the key to overcome all that’s happening. There is such a great effort put into being supportive from our own community, giving a hand when people need it the most and not only when we are selling them our products. We are also working on some ancestral practices, which is something that Indigenous people have been doing for years. This does not depend only on money, but through exchanging our products and being supportive. People have seen photos of the work we do in the communities via WhatsApp. People want to meet with us and buy our products because they want to help us increase the economic income for the communities that produce healthy organic produce. I am sure this market will continue after the pandemic and we will be okay. I’m sure many producers will be able to sell their products. It is time to go back to our lands to produce and guarantee our food sovereignty for our families. Indigenous spirituality is fundamental to food production based on our traditional knowledge, so we can show the world a different way.
Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 27
IF Not Us . . .?
The Indigenous Youth Homecoming Movement In Indonesia
Most of our communities are still doing their traditional farming and they are safe. Their food stock is full for the next two years. But not in communities whose territories are used for mining—they don’t have any surplus. We are trying to ensure that the communities keep planting so they can also deliver support to the communities in crisis. We really want to implement the principle of reciprocity.
Youth organized community garden.
CS: What is the Indigenous Youth Homecoming Movement? MS: A few years back, Indigenous youth had a big gathering
ina Susana Setra (Dayak Pompakng from West Kalimantan) is an Indigenous, environmental, and land rights activist. She is currently the deputy secretary general of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), an Indigenous organization based in Indonesia. AMAN spans 33 provinces with 2,271 member communities serving 19,000,000 people via 21 regional and 119 local chapters. Their mission is to ensure that Indigenous Peoples are politically sovereign, economically independent, and culturally dignified. Cultural Survival recently spoke to Setra.
Cultural Survival: Tell us about AMAN’s work on Indigenous food sovereignty. Mina Setra: AMAN has been working on Indigenous issues
since 1999, cross-checking issues on Indigenous rights. These days, the issue of food sovereignty is very, very important, especially during COVID-19. Everywhere now, governments are struggling to ensure food security for their nations. Food sovereignty is really important for Indigenous Peoples. We are trying to ensure the right to land for Indigenous people so they can manage their territories. There’s so much potential in Indigenous territories that have not been utilized or managed yet. It is really important for the communities to manage our territories, because if we don’t, then somebody else will. Governments or companies come to take away our land and exploit it for business. During this pandemic, we can see clearly that in these territories where the land is already gone there is more crisis and hunger compared to the Indigenous communities who still have land and forests that they can manage for farming. We decided that we are not going to wait for the government to come to support us. Communities have established their own response teams. We have 118 teams working with the communities making sure that every community starts with planting so that they have crops in 3 months to harvest.
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and they decided to start this movement, calling their colleagues from the cities to return back to their communities to help defend, protect, and manage their territories. They realized if everyone leaves the community to go to school in the cities and they don’t return back to their communities, who is going to manage their territories? Since the movement started, there is much progress. The first initiative was establishing Indigenous schools everywhere; now we have 55 Indigenous schools all over Indonesia. Many children attend the formal schools as well, but after school they have lessons from the elders. They learn traditional knowledge. They go to the forest with the elders, they practice traditional farming, learn about traditional medicines and dancing rituals, and learn their cultures. This is to ensure that the children are connected with their ancestors, with their elders, with their communities, ensuring they have strong ownership of their identity, especially now in modern times when the cell phone easily makes people forget everything. Many young people have lost their way because of that. The Indigenous schools help connect children with their communities and their territories.
Youth planting with elders in community gardens. All photos courtesy of AMAN.
The other initiative is establishing farming areas and herb gardens. The youth realized that traditional knowledge, especially related to traditional medicine, has slowly vanished because many forests are already gone. And elders who are knowledge keepers, they are less and less. The youth started to document this knowledge about different plants for medicines by interviewing the elders. They started their own gardens by working together with the elders. They went to the forests and collected seeds and planted and labeled them in the gardens. It’s amazing to see how this connection between the youth and elders really helped, especially now during the COVID-19 crisis. Many elder healers gathered and started making different kinds of ingredients to boost the immune system because we realized that if you have a strong immune system, maybe you can prevent COVID-19. We managed to prevent the virus from getting into the communities. And because no one is infected inside the communities they can still do their farming, and their daily activities. COVID-19 provided an opportunity to show that our way of life is the best choice we have. It’s been proven that we can rely on our agricultural systems during this crisis. We do not depend on anybody else. The youth also realized they can earn income from farming. Groups in North Sulawesi and West Kalimantan managed to make $15,000–$25,000 USD from each harvest, which is much more than they can earn in the cities. After they see that this works for them, they don’t want to go back to the city. They just live in the community and start doing different kinds of things. They have the gardens, music, dancing, making instruments, or handicrafts. I’m so proud to see how the youth are working in Indonesia. The youth also developed a smartphone movement to document, interview, and make videos in the community. They train the other youth. They promote the gardens and farms on Facebook and different kinds of ways. We are also doing a global campaign with the global coalition, Guardians of the Forest to spread the word about the Homecoming Movement. Again, who will manage our territories if not us? CS: What are the local foods that are key for food security? MS: In Indonesia, our main food is rice. During the Suharto
era, a campaign was promoted that if you don’t eat or harvest rice you are not “civilized.” In Indonesia, Indigenous Peoples have so many different kinds of food. We are trying to bring back varieties of food into our communities. We’ve tried to make different kinds of food to become a trend again. You know, people started eating cassava again, bananas are a main food. We need to ensure that varieties of food in Indonesia or in our communities are still available. Even for rice, we have so many different varieties. Two years ago the Indigenous youth did research on the Indigenous food system in Indonesia in seven different communities who have their land intact compared to communities with mining, urbanization, oil palm plantations, or other forestry plantations. Indigenous communities of the Dayak Iban of Sui Utik in West Kalimantan compared the food system in Sakai communities in Sumatra, whose communities are under threat because their territories are already gone due to palm oil plantations or mining for oil and gas. The Sakai communities only have five varieties of
Dayak Meratus youth in South Kalimantan after foraging in the forest.
food, while in Sui Utik, the Iban communities in West Kalimantan whose lands and forests are intact, have hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of food. Even only for rice, they have 69 ancestral varieties alone. Some of these varieties’ seeds are very old from their ancestors. They call it Padi Pon, and they usually plant this last after they have planted different varieties and do it with rituals. Indigenous communities’ identities are really tied to their agriculture systems. The whole livelihood system in communities is related to the agricultural system. From listening to the sound of the birds that give them the sign of when they should plant, they clear the area, make it fertile, and start planting. In the middle of the year they have a harvest and then they have rituals for harvest ceremonies, like thanksgiving to the ancestors. Then in August, they will start clearing and planting. The whole system of the year is related to agriculture. If that’s gone, much of our culture will be gone as well. Each step for ladang (the Dayak Peoples’ traditional farming system), has their own rituals. If that is gone, all of our rituals will be gone as well. CS: What does the future of Indigenous food sovereignty look like in Indonesia? MS: We just met with the Minister of Agriculture to talk
about Indigenous food sovereignty and how governments can protect Indigenous Peoples in doing our own farming system. Because of the recent forest fires, many Indigenous Peoples could not do their farming systems anymore and were accused of causing the fires. But the cause of the forest fires are mostly companies who burn huge areas for the palm oil plantations, whereas Indigenous Peoples only manage one or two hectares. Many people misunderstand the Indigenous farming system. We were accused of chopping the forest because we keep moving our farming areas. We have our own territorial management system where there are already allocations of land or areas for farming; we are allowed to farm only in that area. What Indigenous people do after they clear out the area, they wait until all the materials are really dry, and then they burn it to avoid a lot of smoke. Usually it’s out very quickly. They also put a barrier so the fire will not spread into the forest. Because of the fires in Indonesia, many Indigenous Peoples are afraid to do their farming again because they are afraid they will be criminalized. AMAN has our lawyers working to get them out. We are having many dialogues with the government to make sure that they do not criminalize Indigenous People for doing traditional farming.
Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 29
KOE F G r a n t Pa rt n e r Sp ot l i g h t
Asamblea de los Pueblos Indígenas por la Soberanía Alimentaria
aize has been a main food staple that has sustained Indigenous cultures for millennia, and for that reason, Indigenous Peoples consider it a sacred plant that contains knowledge and history and should not be commodified. Maize grows in diverse conditions and altitudes, but Indigenous territories are threatened by megaprojects and policies that benefit corporations. Climate change is further affecting food systems, making crops more vulnerable and increasingly leading to Indigenous communities’ abandonment of the countryside. Genetically modified corn and the laws that promote its cultivation are one of the main factors undermining Indigenous knowledge about corn. The dispossession of land and water from communities to supply extractive megaprojects such as mining, oil, and transport projects additionally puts communities at risk. In spite of these problems, various strategies are being carried out at local and international levels. At the local level, Indigenous communities are asserting and maintaining their traditional knowledge and forms of production, applying new, productive strategies to fertilize land and use natural methods of pest control. The daily work in the field is the most arduous; to conserve the corn you have to sow it, care for it, and harvest it. Indigenous and campesino communities carry out this work every day, despite low prices of corn and the loss of harvests due to climate change. Mexico-based Asamblea de los Pueblos Indígenas por la Soberanía Alimentaria (APISA) is an alliance of Indigenous Peoples and organizations who aim to promote and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and strengthen their capacities to achieve food sovereignty through agroecology, selfdetermination, and development rooted in culture and identity. APISA used a Keepers of the Earth Fund grant to host the 4th International Indigenous Corn Conference and 22nd Corn and Native Seeds Fair on March 7–8, 2019, in the community of Vicente Guerrero, Tlaxcala, Mexico. The Conference brought together 120 Indigenous farmers, knowledge holders, food sovereignty activists, tribal leaders, youth, and older individuals from Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Puerto Rico, the United States, and Canada. The participants shared information, seeds, traditional knowledge, and strategies to protect corn and other traditional foods. To strengthen all community work, at the international level organizations and individuals are advocating for international policies to protect maize, Indigenous rights, and lands. There has been much joint work and conferences such as this one held in Tlaxcala, to pay tribute to efforts to protect corn diversity. Cultural Survival recently spoke with Alicia Sarmiento Sánchez (Nahua), a campesina who is part of the board of directors of the APISA.
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Celerina Tzoni Solís, member of the women's collective Maíz de Colores, with Sócrates Vásquez García (Ayuujk Jääy), Cultural Survival community media grants coordinator.
Alicia Sarmiento Sánchez:
For the past four years we have been working with Indigenous and campesino communities on agrobiodiversity and food sovereignty that is rooted in the planting of native corn. We are creating training modules for community leaders to multiply this knowledge. In these modules we teach soil and water conservation, selection, improvement, and protection of native seeds. We cover fertilization with agro-ecological products and the use and knowledge of medicinal plants. The milpa-based diet, the rescue of preHispanic food, is something we advocate for at APISA with Indigenous and campesino communities in the states of Quintana Roo, Oaxaca, the State of Mexico, Tlaxcala, and Sonora. We have been defending corn for many years. I am also part of the Vicente Guerrero group in Tlaxcala, and from there we began to protect the corn. Right now, we are focusing on the federal corn law with many organizations. The Federal Law for the Promotion and Protection of Native Corn is a law already approved by both the Senate and federal deputies. This law has three essential objectives: the first is to recognize native corn as national cultural heritage, declaring related activities associated with its cultivation as essential. This is part of the right recognized in Article 4 of the Mexican Constitution; this new law reaffirms parts of the articles of the Constitution. Another objective of this law is to recognize native corn as a national food heritage, declaring its protection and everything related to its production, marketing, and consumption. The State has to guarantee the human right to sufficient, quality, and nutritious food; this is also established in Article 4 of the Constitution. This law gives us the right to healthy and nutritious food. It also establishes institutional mechanisms to facilitate the fulfillment of its objectives, and seeks to create a National Corn Council to monitor the implementation of this law. I believe it will allow our corn seeds, and especially native seeds, not to be modified. It had to start from the Indigenous and campesino base. We have to protect what is ours, because if we allow this law of plant varieties to be modified, imagine what we would face—we would lose a lot of things. It does not matter if the free trade agreement passes if you can say that there is this law already. Right now we are monitoring the implementation of the law and how the National Council of Native Corn will be appointed. It is very difficult for all of us to join this council, and we want to make sure that trusted and committed people are part of it. There are also proposals to create state and municipal councils so that they are protecting corn, too. We do not want to leave it in the hands of a national council only—we have to have state, municipal, and if we can, some community councils. One of the things is to be aware of how the law is progressing and to seek this appreciation of corn as a food and cultural heritage, from our human rights to the right to culture and gastronomy. Indigenous Peoples and campesinos need to be aware because our corn really has ancestral value. Our food is like a brother, a father, a mother to us, and we have to
Top: Diversity of corn cultivated (Garlic corn, Black, Yellow, and Blood of Christ corn). Middle: Corn fair organized by Asamblea de Pueblos Indígenas por la Soberanía Alimentaria in Tlaxcala, Mexico. Bottom: Tlacoyos made of purple corn by women from Maíz de Colores.
continue taking care and protecting it. The government has the obligation to comply with what this law says. It needs to support native seed funds, to support our campesino families and our sisters and brothers, so that our country has that value that it needs to have for many years. It is of great importance that our ancestral knowledge and wisdom of our Peoples is protected. It is important to note that many colleagues do not agree with the law—not because they do not agree with the content, but because in Mexico we are full of laws that sometimes are only kept on the books and are not implemented. I think that it is the responsibility of each one of us to see and demand that these laws are complied with and that they really benefit our food sovereignty. In the face of this pandemic, we know that if we do not produce our own food, we will not survive this crisis that is still ahead. Cultural Survival Quarterly September 2020 • 31
yout h f e llow sp o tlig h t
Strengthening Quillasinga Peoples through Traditional Medicine Juan Pablo Jojoa Coral Ruda plant (Ruta chalepensis) helps relieve coughs and respiratory problems. Elders use it to purify air.
The Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship, as part of the Community Media Grants Program, supports young Indigenous leaders between the ages of 16–26 who are eager to learn about technology, program development, journalism, community radio, media, and Indigenous Peoples’ rights advocacy. This is the third year of the Fellowship Program, which has awarded grants to 22 youth to date. Juan Pablo Jojoa Coral (Quillasinga), age 19, is from the Pachawasi reserve of Colombia and is a member of Radio Quillasinga 106.1 FM.
y parents are Quillasinga. The Quillasingas live in the páramos of southern Colombia in the Andes. Its landscape and fresh air are our greatest wealth. We have created natural reserves to promote the message of reforestation to share with children and youth so that the Andean worldview is not lost. The Quillasingas are agricultural producers. This is a culture that allows us to live in harmony with our mother earth. The Quillasinga people cultivate and protect the plants for domestic use that are presented in the chagras (chagra comes from the word kichwa chakra, which is related to the land for cultivation) and are located near the house, where our grandparents use organic fertilizers to help our mother earth be fertile. The foods of chagras are also used for spiritual ceremonies, sharing with grandparents and youth so that our culture as Quillasingas is not lost. Women have a very important role in the preservation of the chagra; they are the reproducers of new seeds and they know how to use them. They are sensitive to knowledge getting lost. Whenever a grandmother leaves, information that has not been collected goes away. All plants are connected with our mind, body, and spirit. They have their own moving essence. In the era of my 32 • www. cs. org
Juan Pablo Joja Coral with his grandmother collecting information about local plants.
ancestors, in the Andes mountains, for millennia the only remedies my grandparents had to cure their ailments were of plant origin and came from nature, so they began to cultivate and learn more about the plant with its benefits and healing properties. I am very interested in ancestral medicine because my grandparents heal my parents and my parents heal me. I want to share that knowledge so that we know our own medicine. Our mother earth is the most important thing we have, since our food comes from her and we have to cultivate and take care of it. If each one sows, no one would suffer from hunger. In 2019 I started working on my farm, Pachawasi (Pacha is time and space, earth and world; wasi is home), renovating places where you can contemplate the landscape and sow. I decided to deepen my knowledge about the land and applied to study agricultural crops. My fellowship project is to produce six radio programs that collect the wisdom and knowledge about management of medicine from each mother or father, as well as my experience with medicine and the experience of other
youth. Medicine is important for our people because it is the medicine of our grandparents and it puts us in connection with the higher being that heals our body, mind, and spirit. The most important thing is that our natural medicine can be found in our territory. The project contemplates the compilation of oral information of three plants for ceremonial use: ayahuasca, mother coca, and grandfather tobacco in the Siona, Cofán, and Huitoto regions where people have settled in the Amazon in the departments of Nariño and Putumayo. My grandparents and their grandparents have transmitted the ancient medicines to us through oral tradition. This generation has to know that we are a tree; that our land is the roots, the trunk is the community, and the leaves are each one of us who is feeding and contributing to it every day. That the seed is your food and that the food is your medicine. The Quillasinga people will follow their means of subsistence cultivating their organic products while preserving their traditional cuisine. They will continue to strengthen the chagras. All photos by Juan Pablo Joja Coral.
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The Zienzele Foundation Women Weaving a Safety Net for Orphans in Zimbabwe
ienzele Foundation co-founder Prisca Nemapare grew up in rural Zimbabwe. From an early age she was a driven student, winning scholarship after scholarship as she blazed her path towards a doctoral degree in nutrition, followed by a successful career as a university professor at Ohio University. Today, she co-leads an organization devoted to ensuring that the health, economic, and political crises in Zimbabwe do not prevent others from finding their own way forward. In the years since Nemapare’s childhood, a dictatorship overthrew Zimbabwe’s democratic government. For decades, social and economic tensions kept the country on the brink of civil war. The AIDS crisis devastated thousands of families, infecting over a quarter of the population. More than 1.3 million children were orphaned by the epidemic, left in the care of grandparents or in one of 50,000 child-headed households. Yet the Zienzele Foundation—named with the Nbdele word for self-reliance—is devoted to empowerment, not charity. In the words of the organization’s other co-founder, Nancy Clark, the foundation works with “groups of women who knew how to garden, but didn’t have seeds.” Hailing from rural villages, these women could craft extraordinary baskets with strikingly inventive and intricate whirling designs, but they had no market at which to sell them. That is where Nempare and Clark could help. For 20 years, the Zienzele Foundation has purchased baskets directly from women who care for AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe for resale in the United States. With the equitable prices paid to them in Zimbabwe, caregivers can buy food and other household necessities. Moreover, unlike many fair trade goods, the proceeds from international sales also benefit the makers’ communities. Every cent of Zienzele’s profits is reinvested in the Masvingo region, paying for AIDS-orphaned children’s school tuition, national exam fees, and other needs. The organization retains only one paid staff member; volunteer representatives in each school district take charge of the rest. In Zienzele’s first year of operation, their work sent 50 children to school. Today, 20 years later, the Foundation supports over 1,000 students and sends extra assistance to between 50 and 70 child-headed households every year. Education in Zimbabwe is not free. Its rapidly inflating costs push even the highest achieving poor students out of school and block their entry to national universities and economic opportunity. But, as Zienzele has proven over and over again, with access to education, these students become teachers, economists, All photos by nancy clark.
Top: The Zienzele women of Mawadze village making their beautiful sisal baskets. Above: The Zienzele students of Mupagamuri village. Left: Basket handmade from sisal fiber.
businesspeople, and future leaders. They are a future worth investing in. “I am actually one of the beneficiaries,” said Innocent Mpoki, who represented Zienzele at Cultural Survival’s first virtual Bazaar on July 25. “The Foundation has been helping me stay in school for the last 20 years, since I was in first grade. Currently I am a graduate student in New York City, where I am studying for a Master of International Affairs at Baruch College.” In his presentation, Mpoki highlighted the wealth of cultural knowledge woven into the baskets. Every basket is made from entirely natural materials: grass harvested from the savannah; sisal fibers used to bind each row; dyes derived from tree leaves and bark, which shine against the natural white of the untreated grass. Each design is unique to its weaver; some are monochrome and minimal, others are vibrant and sun-soaked. The baskets are strong enough for daily use, but light enough to hang on a wall like the works of art they are. Led by the indefatigable initiative of the women on the ground, Zienzele’s programs have only grown and diversified over the past two decades. Through capacity-building microloans, the Foundation now supports women’s efforts to create gardens, cultivate livestock, sell textiles, and construct community centers that can serve as local markets. Their work provides spaces where women can teach the next generation to weave baskets and maintain communities, making their futures stronger by keeping their heritage alive. Missed the virtual Cultural Survival Bazaar? Watch it and support Indigenous artists at bazaar.cs.org/live. Cultural Cultural Survival Survival Quarterly Quarterly September September 2020 2020 •• 33 33
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