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Indigenous Food Sovereignty

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

By Valerie Lenis

Indigenous Food Sovereignty is a subjective term without one single definition. But, it essentially means to have a say in where one’s food comes from. Particularly, advocating for food that is culturally appropriate and ethically sourced from a producer who can oversee the entire process, from production to trade to sustainability. Food sovereignty, in general, is defined as a transformative process that seeks to regenerate a diversity of autonomous food systems based on equity, social justice and ecological sustainability (Michel Pimbert Towards Food Sovereignty). Food activist Samuel Lopez (Tohono O'odham) emphasizes that food relationships have survived America’s history of conquest and colonization, and hold intrinsic cultural value; particularly “We take care of the food, and it takes care of us” (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian). Lopdz is one of the countless Indigenous food activists who brings to light the food-related struggles of his community and shares the work of Indigenous small-scale producers and protectors of natural resources that would otherwise go unnoticed. One instance of Indigenous people regaining control of their traditional foodways is in November of 2020, where a coalition of Mi’kmaq tribes in Nova Scotia bought 50 percent of Clearwater Seafoods, effectively giving them control of the billion-dollar company and one of the largest seafood businesses in North America (Melissa Montalivo Indigenous Food Sovereignty Movements Are Taking Back Ancestral Land).

Anabel’s Grocery supports notions of food justice by prioritizing suitably locally sourced, farm-to-table foods for our community. Though, just like any organization at Cornell, more can be done to further support efforts of Gayogohó:no’ (Cayuga) Nation and others in regards to autonomous and fair food systems. Consequences of systemic persecution have resulted in disproportionate amounts of polluted water sources and a food apartheid, defined as intersectional approach that looks at the whole food system, along with race, geography, faith, and economics (Karen Washington), in First Nations communities. Although food justice is essential to food sovereignty, Indigenous food sovereignty is centralized around reclamation of land, largely through food systems, in order to uphold cultural and traditional practices. This concept resists corporate and industrial farming which exploit reserved lands, laborers, and values of sustainability. Not just today, but every day, it is important to recognize the cultural, historical, and tangible origins of our food in order to decolonize structures that have existed for centuries.

Please consider donating to support current sovereignty efforts by the traditional Gayogohó:nǫ˺ people on Gayogohó:nǫ˺ land.

Image from the Cayuga Nation Farm, part of the Cayuga Nation Immersion School.

Sean Sherman, CEO and founder of The Sioux Chef, speaking on research and insights on Indigenous food cultures at Cornell.

Political cartoon of food sovereignty

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