Delberta Frazier and companion digging in Santee. Photo courtesy of Center for Rural Affairs.
The Santee Sioux people largely lack access to healthy, culturally-appropriate foods that could help them combat health challenges, according to a new report by the Center for Rural Affairs. “Digging In: Supporting a Healthy, Sustainable Food Future in Santee Sioux Nation,” examines food access and cost, diet-related disease prevalence, and cultural food traditions in the Santee Sioux Reservation in northeast Nebraska. According to the report, the Santee Sioux people currently face numerous barriers to food access, including unemployment, poverty, limited food outlets, and a loss of cultural connection to food.
“The Santee Sioux community is working hard to improve health and economic outlooks,” said Wyatt Fraas, Farm and Community program assistant director at the Center for Rural Affairs. “By asserting a desire to rebuild a sovereign food system, they can create a healthier community, revitalize traditional foods, create a self-sufficient food system, and develop a more resilient Nation.”
The report details how the Santee Sioux people were a sovereign food nation prior to American colonization. They existed in a closed loop agricultural system in which they produced and preserved their own food from their own land, independent of outside governments and systems. This system ensured they had access to an abundant source of healthy food year-round. The report reveals that the Santee Sioux people currently lack access to healthy, fresh, and culturally appropriate foods, rely on food assistance programs to meet some of their basic food needs, and have a strong interest in revitalizing their traditional food and agriculture systems.
Strategies are identified to enable the Santee Sioux people to create a food sovereignty plan and a self-sufficient food system. They include public education and outreach activities to engage more community members with the food system, such as gardening, farming, livestock management, hunting, or foraging for wild edibles and medicinal plants. Creating new access points to traditional and healthy foods such as community supported agriculture initiatives, food hubs, and grocery co-operatives was also recommended. Areas for policy consideration include strengthening farm to institution networks and land use policy reform to dedicate a portion of the land for the local food system.
The Center for Rural Affairs has engaged in community food work with the Santee Sioux Nation since 2011. “We hope this report serves as a resource to start conversations about the Santee Sioux food system and brings the community together to understand its needs, envision a better food future, and lay the foundation for realizing that future.”