Nanaandawi’miikana – Indigenous Food Sovereignty Summit
At the 13th Annual Indigenous Farming Conference, March 3rd-6th, 2016, the first day greeted us with a dusting of snow and a bonfire–an offering of sorts for the learning journey ahead. The goal was to focus on Nanaandawi’miikana (The Pathway to Healing). It convened Elders, leaders, youth, babies, and everything in between from indigenous nations as well as indigenous allies living throughout Turtle Island to think about the legacy that will be left for future generations and how to restore balance in our communities and our health. A lofty goal in our times; but the messages and actions of participants offered many tools centered around indigenous food systems.
At the Medicine Woods of Mt. Kearsarge, Liz Charbois, Education Director, explained how the Indian Museum Garden converted a 10-acre horse farm into a living museum where they steward, grow, harvest, and eat a diverse amount of foods. These foods include golden raspberries, black raspberries, blackberries, sunchoke, high bush cranberries, grapes, beach plums, hazelnut, apples, autumn olives, corn, beans, and squash. They have converted this horse farm into a working sustainability education model that reflects, as Liz stated, “Food is medicine. Eat What you grow. Don’t be wasteful.” This translates into many community meals, starting with the staff. They eat boiled cornbread, roasted squash blossoms, sunflower seed cakes, wild berry dumplings, and more.
With the Upper Midwest Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, Zach Paige spoke to repatriating indigenous seeds to “create a circular vision for our project. Share our ideas and pool our resources.”
This philosophy and practice comes out of the recognition of the responsibility needed to put seeds into a living context. As Rowen White, Seed Keeper from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne said, “These are our living relatives. It’s our duty and responsibility as indigenous people, and indigenous allies, to repatriate them from dead inanimate collections into a living framework…This is a democratic movement. We all need to take responsibility for our living relatives…rekindling the ancient memory inside ourselves. Seed saving is essential to life.”
She went on to encourage people to move towards alternative economies that reflect a regenerative capacity and view seeds as a currency of connection. She emphasized that life is abundant and generous, and so too should be our economic models. She challenged the colonized economy of ownership which is based on predatory individualism, extraction, and scarcity and imagined alternative models. “Let’s think in generosity over control and service to life over slavery,” Rowen said.
The nourishing indigenous-based foods served throughout added another level of practicing pathways to healing. Sean Sherman, the Sioux Chef, outlined his work: “What makes an indigenous food system? How can I bring this forward in a modern world?” he questioned, “It’s been quite a bit of research. Researching agricultural techniques and permacultural systems, understanding processing and where our salts sugars, and fats come from. Understanding histories in general (often hard), how people moved, the impact of European displacement. Understanding the positives because this is about health…These foods can change lifestyles and can change communities.”
Danielle Lake Driver, entymologist, promoted native pollinators—emphasizing the need to think about food and shelter for these important and endangered members of our ecosystems. In understanding pollinators, it is important to consider their lifestyle–social, communal, or solitary–as well as where they makes their homes– tunnels, the ground, and cavities. Kaitlyn Grenier followed this up by sharing plants in her garden that attract both beneficial pollinators and predatory insects to balance the system.
Central to much of the conference was the idea of intergenerational leadership. Diane Wilson from Dream of Wild Health mentioned that “we grow indigenous seeds and leaders.”
The conference encouraged not just rethinking, but practicing different ways of being–to be Guardians of the Future. Carolyn Raffensperfer, who is working on a 7th Generation Guardianship framework in law and decision-making processes explained, “The law is a set of rules a community agrees to be bound with. Who is our community? Salmon, wild rice. Wasn’t the walleye we ate last night one of the great gifts of the universe itself?…We resist laws that add to the injustice. We resist laws that prevent giving sacred food to our Elders. We resist. Some of you are standing up now and becoming Guardians of the Future.”