The Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project
You might be wondering, “What the heck does food sovereignty mean?” That was my response when I first heard the term. I remember thinking, “Does that mean plants and animals will have reservations and treaty rights?” As a member of the Muckleshoot Tribe and a community nutritionist, I decided to research the term. According to the First Nations Development Institute, food sovereignty is defined as “the inherent right of a community to identify their own food system”. This means that, as a community we have the power to choose the food on our table. Then I thought of the history of our people and the current superimposed food system in our community.
It’s true that spaghetti, macaroni salad and, dare I say, fry bread are not a part of our traditional diet, nor do they consist of ingredients that are native to the Puget Sound. Roots, berries, elk, shellfish and salmon were at the center of Muckleshoot traditional food culture and have been replaced with foods from the dominant society. In just a few generations, our ability to eat our traditional foods has declined. There are many reasons for this change, both historical and modern, and many impacts on the health of our people have been identified as a direct result of this change such as heart disease and diabetes.
In 2009, I worked on a community-based project that studied the changes of our traditional food system. In order to overcome issues of access we needed to identify the challenges. In discussions with various tribal communities throughout the Puget Sound numerous obstacles were identified. Some include: a loss of rights, loss of land, state and federal regulations, colonization and cultural oppression, lack of time and money, environmental toxins and lack of education.
I also spent that time interviewing Elders and native food experts about the traditional foods of the Puget Sound. They taught me about how precious these ancient foods truly are, to honor their gift and to remember that they are our medicine. I witnessed both the passion Elders have for traditional food culture as well as their concern for our current and future place within that traditional way of life.
At the same time, I was also working as the nutritionist for the new Muckleshoot Tribal School. So one day I would sit with Elders and the next day was spent working with the youth at the tribal school. They were all so interested in native plants and foods, but struggled with identifying modern healthy eating habits. Across generations I kept hearing that people wanted more opportunities to learn about and eat our traditional foods in order to increase the health of the community. I wanted to create a program that shares our common food knowledge and creates experiences with these foods, increase access to them and reflect the voice of the community.
With all of this in mind, I sat down with my colleagues in the Traditional Plants program and designed the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project. We were able to finance the project by writing a grant and received funding from the United States Department of Agriculture.
For the next two-years, this project will:
- Assess our current community food resources and strategize what we can do today, as a community, to create a healthy food system for those to come in the future.
- Offer monthly classes within the community that share information about the benefits of traditional and other healthy foods. Workshops will focus on old traditions around utilizing traditional foods and plants in a new world. For example, in spring we will focus on herbal teas, derived from native plants, to increase health. These classes will take place at the Muckleshoot Tribal College.
- Conduct quarterly traditional foods feasts, organized with the contribution of the community. These feasts will feature the foods available within the season and will offer opportunities to learn more about when, where and how to harvest each food. In this way, preparations for the feasts will be reinforced as a time to share cultural teachings and offer an environment that supports our youth. My hope is to integrate this knowledge and build activities around working with our foods into the tribal school curriculum.
Ultimately we can recover our relationship with traditional foods and recreate a system that supports cultural continuity. I look forward to working with you all and welcome your suggestions and support. Every month I will be writing articles in the Muckleshoot Monthly in order to keep the community informed and updated about the progress of this project and how you can give your support.