Contributing author: Jason Flatt
The world’s Indigenous Peoples face severe and disproportionate rates of food insecurity. While Indigenous Peoples comprise 5 percent of the world’s population, they account for 15 percent of the world’s poor, according to the World Health Organization.
But through seed saving initiatives, financial support, mentorship, and community feeding programs, many organizations are working to protect Indigenous food sovereignty—the ability to grow, eat, and share food according to their own traditions and values.
“We must care for this [natural] abundance as it will nourish our families—both physically as well as spiritually,” said Maenette K. P. Ah Nee-Benham, Chancellor of the University of Hawai’i at West O’ahu at a Food Tank Summit in partnership with the Arizona State University Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems on the wisdom of Indigenous foodways.
In honor of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9, Food Tank is highlighting 28 organizations from around the world protecting and cultivating Indigenous food systems. Through what many of the following organizations call rematration, they strive to return Indigenous lands, seeds, foods, and histories to Indigenous Peoples and protect them for future generations.
1. Aboriginal Carbon Foundation (Oceania)
The Aboriginal Carbon Foundation is building a carbon farming industry in Australia by Aboriginals, for Aboriginals. The Foundation offers training and support for new Indigenous farmers so they can learn how to capture atmospheric carbon in the soil. The carbon farming projects generate certified Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCU), which major carbon-producing businesses must purchase to offset their carbon emissions. Income generated by ACCUs is reinvested in Aboriginal communities by the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation and its participating farmers.
2. AgroEcology Fund (International)
The AgroEcology Fund (AEF) galvanizes global leaders and experts to fund biodiverse and regenerative agriculture projects worldwide. Projects funded by AEF have included Indigenous food sovereignty initiatives, agroecology training institutions, and women’s market access networks on every continent. With the support of governments and financial institutions, AEF hopes that agroecology will become the standard model for food production worldwide within thirty years.
3. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (Asia)
The Asia Indigenous People Pact is an alliance of Indigenous organizations across southern and eastern Asia. Collectively, the Pact promotes and protects Indigenous lands, food systems, and biodiversity. Their alliance is bolstered by regional youth and women’s networks, as well as support from international institutions, including the United Nations and Oxfam.
4. Association of Guardians of the Native Potato from Central Peru (South America)
The Association of Guardians of the Native Potato from Central Peru (AGUAPAN) is a collective of Indigenous farmers. Each farmer grows between 50 and 300 ancestral varieties of potato, which are indigenous to the Andes Mountains of modern-day Peru. AGUAPAN farmers preserve the crop’s biodiversity in their native communities and band together to advocate for economic, gender, education, and healthcare equity.
5. Cheyenne River Youth Project (North America)
The Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, South Dakota has served Lakota youth for more than three decades. Its Native Food Sovereignty initiative offers public workshops on Three Sisters gardening of corn, beans, and squash. They also offer classes on Indigenous plants, gardening, and cooking. Their Winyan Tokay Win (Leading Lady) Garden serves as an outdoor classroom to reacquaint Lakota children with the earth. Their other programs use food grown in the garden for meals and snacks. They also sell surplus crops at their weekly Leading Lady Farmer’s Market.
6. Dream of Wild Health (North America)
Dream of Wild Health runs a 10-acre farm just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their Indigenous Food Share CSA program and farmer’s market booths sell produce and value-added products grown by Native Americans. During the summer, Dream of Wild Health offers a Garden Warriors program where children can learn about seed saving, foraging, farmers market management, and other aspects of food sovereignty. They also host the Indigenous Food Network (IFN), a collective of Indigenous partners who advocate for local and regional policy changes. The IFN also hosts community food tasting events featuring prominent Indigenous chefs.
7. First Peoples Worldwide (International)
First Peoples Worldwide was founded by Cherokee social entrepreneur Rebecca Adamson to help businesses to align with First Peoples’ rights. Now a part of the University of Colorado’s Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, First Peoples Worldwide continues to ensure that Indigenous voices are at the forefront of decision-making processes affecting their own self-determination. The organization works with businesses and institutions to assess their investments and guide them in incorporating Indigenous Peoples’ rights and interests into their business decisions.
8. Indigikitchen (North America)
Mariah Gladstone’s Indigikitchen uses Native foods as resistance. Her cooking videos offer healthy, creative ways to eat pre-contact, Indigenous foods. The recipes abstain from highly-processed grains, dairy, and sugar, ingredients that did not become standard in diets of the Americas until European colonization. Indigikitchen hopes that its recipes inspire Indigenous cooks to connect with Native foods.
9. Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (North America)
The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas provides model policies for Tribal governments to help promote and protect food sovereignty. They also co-organize the Native Farm Bill Coalition with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, and the National Congress of American Indians. The Initiative hosts annual Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summits, where American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian youth can learn about agricultural business, land stewardship, agricultural law, and more.
10. Indigenous Food Systems Network (North America)
The Indigenous Food Systems Network (IFSN) is a convener of Indigenous food producers, researchers, and policymakers across the 98 Indigenous nations of Canada. IFSN supports research, policy reform, and direct action that builds food sovereignty in Indigenous communities. The organization’s Indigenous Food Sovereignty email listserv offers its subscribers everything from stories and legends to recipes and policy reform tools.
11. Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty (International)
Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty is an international organization based in Rome, Italy connecting the world’s Indigenous People to agricultural research and advocacy groups. With Indigenous communities from China to India and Thailand to Latin America, Indigenous Partnerships forges dialogues within Indigenous communities to ensure free, prior, and informed consent between research and advocacy partners. Indigenous Partnerships also seeks to incorporate global and local Indigenous knowledge into non-Indigenous knowledge systems.
12. Indigenous Terra Madre (International)
Indigenous Terra Madre is a global network of Indigenous Peoples sponsored by Slow Food, an international institution based in Rome, Italy. The network amplifies Indigenous voices and protects the biodiversity of the crops Indigenous communities cultivate. By providing a platform for Indigenous communities to pool power and resources, Indigenous Terra Madre fights to defend the land, culture, and opportunity of all Indigenous Peoples.
13. Intertribal Agriculture Council (North America)
The American Indian Food Program by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) helps Native American and Alaskan Native agribusinesses and food entrepreneurs expand their market reach. The Made/Produced by American Indians Trademark promoted by the IAC identifies certified American Indian products and is used by over 500 businesses. IAC’s other major American Indian Food Program, Native Food Connection, helps market Native American foods and food producers across the United States. IAC also offers technical and natural resource assistance to connect Native businesses with U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and conservation stewardship resources.
14. Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska (North America)
Through its Alaskan Inuit Food Sovereignty Initiative, the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska is convening Inuit community leaders from across Alaska. The Initiative seeks to unify Inuit throughout the state to advocate for land and wildlife management sovereignty. The Initiative also strives for international cooperation to promote food sovereignty across Inuit Nunaat.
15. Mantasa (Asia)
Mantasa is a research institution in Indonesia dedicated to expanding the number of indigenous plants consumed by the Javanese people. According to Mantasa, only 20 plant species comprise 90 percent of Javanese food needs. Their research is incorporating new wild foods from Indonesia’s vast biodiversity into Javanese diets to improve food security and nutrition. Mantasa also helps promote these foods to consumers and local farmers to increase their popularity.
16. Muonde Trust (Africa)
In Mazvhiwa, Zimbabwe, the Muonde Trust invests in Indigenous innovations in food, land, and water management. The Trust seeks out individuals with new ideas and provides peer-to-peer support to help bring those ideas to life. Muonde Trust currently supports innovations in indigenous seed saving and sharing, livestock and woodland management, irrigation systems, and constructing kitchen spaces.
17. Native American Agriculture Fund (North America)
The Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) is the largest philanthropic supporter of Native American agriculture. The Fund offers grants to Tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions to support healthy lands, healthy people, and healthy economies. In 2020, NAAF is offering US$1 million in grant funds specifically for youth initiatives and young farmers and ranchers. NAAF is also centralizing COVID-19 relief information for Native farmers, ranchers, fishers, and Tribal governments.
18. Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (North America)
The Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA) places Indigenous farmers, wild-crafters, fishers, hunters, ranchers, and eaters at the center of the fight to restore Indigenous food systems and self-determination. NAFSA’s primary initiatives are the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network, the Food and Culinary Mentorship Program, and their Native Food Sovereignty Events. Each of these initiatives centers around the reclamation of Indigenous seeds and foods.
19. Native Seed/SEARCH (North America)
Native Seed/SEARCH preserves and proliferates indigenous seeds through their Native Access programs. Their Native American Seed Request program offers free seed packets to Native Americans living in or originating from the Greater Southwestern Region. The Bulk Seed Exchange allows growers to pay it forward by returning 1.5 times the seeds they receive to be put towards future Native American Seed Request packs. While Native Seed/SEARCH sells an assortment of popular seeds to the general public, its collection of indigenous seeds are only available to Native farmers and families. They hope these seeds will revitalize traditional foods and build food sovereignty.
20. Navajo Ethno-Agriculture (North America)
Navajo Ethno-Agriculture is sustaining Navajo culture through lessons on traditional farming. The seasonal courses focus on land, water, and food as students cultivate, harvest, and prepare heritage crops. During COVID-19, Navajo Ethno-Agriculture suspended its courses and is focusing on supplying neighboring farms with heritage seeds and farm equipment. They are also offering food processing and packaging services to protect and rejuvenate soil.
21. North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (North America)
Founded by the chefs of The Sioux Chef, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NāTIFS) is reimagining the North American food system as a generator of wealth and good health for Native communities. The organization seeks to reverse the effects of forced assimilation and colonization through food entrepreneurship and a reclamation of ancestral education. NāTIFS is establishing an Indigenous Food Lab in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a training center and restaurant for Native chefs and food. NāTIFS plans to eventually spread this model across North America.
22. Oyate Teca Project (North America)
In response to dire food access on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota, the Oyate Teca Project offers year-long classes in gardening, food entrepreneurship, and traditional food preservation techniques. Oyate Teca helps make local foods available to the community by selling produce grown in their half-acre garden at farmer’s markets. The project also serves as an emergency food provider for families and children.
23. Tebtebba (Asia)
Tebtebba is an international organization based in the Philippines committed to sharing global Indigenous wisdom. Its Indigenous Peoples and Biodiversity project strengthens Indigenous organizations’ research, policy advocacy, and education on biodiversity. The project also works directly with Indigenous communities to strengthen their governance structures, protect their land, and improve their food security.
24. Sierra Seeds (North America)
Rowan White and her organization, Sierra Seeds, are dedicated to the next generation of farmers, gardeners, and food justice activists. Her flagship program, Seed Seva, offers a multi-layered education on seed stewardship and Indigenous permaculture. The program is offered online, allowing anybody to access White’s wisdom. Additionally, Sierra Seeds offers a Seeding Change leadership incubator, where emerging food justice leaders meet virtually to support one another while developing individual projects.
25. Storying Kaitiakitanga (Oceania)
Storying Kaitiakitanga – A Kaupapa Māori Land and Water Food Story is a project of Dr. Jessica Hutchings and other Māori researchers and storytellers. The project was developed as part of the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge to collect the stories of Māori food producers across the food system. Storying Kaitiakitanga is exploring how traditional Māori principles and practices can inspire more sustainable food systems for the next generation. Stories include beekeepers, yogurt producers, and business development service providers.
26. Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (North America)
The Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) is a grassroots Lakota organization building food sovereignty on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota. Their reservation-wide Food Sovereignty Coalition is dedicated to reconstructing a healthy local food system. They have greatly increased food production on the reservation and train residents and students on Oglala food histories, current local foods, gardening, and food preservation.
27. Wangi Tangni (Central America)
In Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast, the women of Indigenous Miskita communities receive native plants from Wangi Tangni to grow for food, medicine, and reforestation. The organization provides communal and legal support for women, many of whom do not speak Spanish. The organization’s overall mission is to promote political participation and gender equality through sustainable development projects such as indigenous plant rematriation.
28. Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (North America)
The public schools of the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico and Arizona partner with the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project to build gardening spaces and provide nutrition education. The partnership is intended to reintroduce traditional knowledge and practices into students’ educations about food. The Project hopes that the community gardens will also inspire more Zuni to grow their own food and reduce rates of obesity and diabetes in their communities.