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Why We are Doing this:

On a worldwide scale, Indigenous farmers are already producing, up to 70% of the food eaten in communities, while industrialized agriculture , with it’s upwards of $l3 trillion in investments ( according to Pat Mooney of the ETC), cannot actually feed the world.

This is a moment in Indigenous agriculture in North America.  There is a resurgence, a recovery of Indigenous farming, native harvesting, food security, sovereignty, producers and chefs. Seed savers like Rowen White, Carolyn Chartrandand the Minneapolis based Dream of Wild Health are part of a strong movement to restore seeds, bring them out of hiding, and bring them back to the land and people.  There is a resurgence in tribal food work- the Grand Ronde Food Sovereignty Project, Hopi Permaculture Project, Oneida Nation Farms, White Earth Land Recovery Project, anda growing number of Native farmers, from Clayton Brascoupe with the Traditional Native American Farmers Association, to Aubrey Skye on the Standing Rock Reservation, gardening for his family and community.  Harvesters are working together- the fishers of the north, the wild ricers of Minnesota, and the Ojibwe Maple Syrup Producers Cooperative.    There is a growing movement on tribal food policy- led by organizations like the Native Food Sovereignty Alliance, and on the ground producers, and production facilities like those at the Taos Community Economic Development Commission. Stories are being told and shared, and international work is underway- like many of us who have come to the Slow Food Movement, a movement in over l32 countries for food which is fair, clean and just.   The seeds, the foods are coming home, or maybe we are just re-establishing our relationship with them again. 

The State of Native Agriculture

The US Agricultural census reports 60,000 Native farmers today.  These are farmers supporting their families in livestock, grains, and food production –in structures ranging from the massive Navajo Agricultural Product Industry, Gila River enterprises, Tanka Bars, to Tohono O’odam Community Action , the White Earth Land Recovery Project,  to a farmer.   This is food production at a scale which feeds people, and nations, in many ways, some sustainable- in the practice of nurturing soil, water and people, and some in a corporate model.   There would be more, but the checker boarding of tribal lands, and the fact that most tribal agricultural lands are in fact leased to Non Native interests, causes us a problem in long term food security. In short, it is clear that our food systems have been colonized, deconstructed, and our wealth taken by others.  Now is the time to decolonize our food systems.

Soil not Oil; Minnesota has Failed

Let us begin with Minnesota. Some 90% of the wetlands have been drained.  The western third of Minnesota, including the l855 treaty territory was once covered with wetlands.  Today, even though Minnesota is spending millions annually, the state is still losing more than it restores.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Commission released a daunting report noting that a fourth of southern Minnesota’s lakes and rivers are too tainted to use as drinking water. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) reported overall, 41 percent of Minnesota’s streams and lakes have excessive nitrogen, all of them in the state’s southern and central regions. The nutrient, which is used as fertilizer in agriculture and comes from wastewater treatment plants, can be toxic to fish and other forms of aquatic life. That nitrogen is a primary cause of the vast oxygen-depleted area in the Gulf of Mexico known as the dead zone.  That dead zone is about a thousand square miles, of destroyed ocean.  And, that, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg or a small part of the plume nationally and internationally. Minnesota’s industrial agriculture caused some 70% of the destruction of water quality in Minnesota lakes, and the soybean and corn mono-cropping of the state is a microcosm of national and international problems with industrialized agriculture. 

Vandana Shiva’s book, or one of them; which discusses the intersection between a fossil fuels economy, and the destruction of soil. It turns out that soil is what you need to live: good , healthy soil. The more things which end with “cide” we put on them- pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, (all fossil fuels based) combined with the more nitrogen based fertilizers which are added to the soil, the worse things get. After all, if it says “cide” one can only equate it with homicide, suicide, or genocide. In short, a cautious person would not want to have the root word “ cide” associated with something we eat. Without delving into the ecological, human health and natural world impacts of “ cide” on our world, let us say that systemically, the entire system of industrial agriculture is flawed, and it is time to move on.
It is common sense that you cannot fix a problem with the same mindset which created it, and that’s what industrial agriculture attempts to do. It will not work. Or perhaps better said by Trevor Russel, Watershed Program Director for the Friends of the Mississippi, “…Current plans to attack the problem by persuading farmers to adopt expensive and not very effective methods… are just lipstick on a pig… At some point we have to change the pig.”

You cannot treat a plant like a machine. It is a living being, and you cannot disrespect the animals, whether they have wings, fins, roots or paws.    You cannot create the condition where there are more antibiotics served and injected into healthy animals than given to sick humans in a country. It will, frankly, not work out over the long term for any of us.   


The Yurok Tribe

Mexico banned GMO corn entirely as of 2013, with a fall of 2015 court decision, despite l00 challenges by transnational agribusinesses like Monsanto,  reaffirmed the ban.  Opponents of growing genetically modified corn in Mexico, the country known for over 30 varieties of non-GM maize, have prevailed.

Elsewhere, in 2014 the Island of Kauai passed an ordinance mandating a full disclosure of all chemicals being used on the island by major agribusiness. That is , just the tip of the iceberg

The Rights of Mother EarthThe NCTCC's newest Program is the Rights of Mother Earth. We are working with our member tribes and allies on all issues involving indigenous food sovereignty, including banning GMO salmon and crops on Tribal lands and reducing chemical pesticides. The Yurok Tribe, working with NCTCC, has enacted the first Tribal GEO Ordinance in the Nation. Media release and final copy of the ordinance (formally enacted December 10, 2015) below.

Omaa Akiing; On our Land

1. On feeding China’s military personnel: China’s military is the world’s largest, with nearly 2.3 million in uniform. In 2014, China announced there will be no more genetically engineered foods served to their troops. In 2013, China began rejecting GMO corn shipments; now the concern has moved to soybeans, a big North Dakota crop. 

According to Mi Zhen-yu, a former vice president of the China Academy of Military Science, China imported more than 63 million tons of GMO soybeans from the U.S. and other countries in 2012. 

“The glyphosate residue contained in GMO soybean food oil [and GM soybean protein powder processed from GMO soybean cake, a by-product of GM soybean food oil] eaten three meals a day, continuously penetrates the bodies of most Chinese, including children at kindergarten, primary school and middle school, university students and teachers, staff members and soldiers of the Chinese army, government staff members and other consumers,” Zhen-yu wrote in an April paper titled, We Must Face the harm caused by imported GM soybeans to 1.3 billion Chinese People.” Glyphosate is the active chemical in Round Up. China’s not having it.

2. On GMO vs organic crop yields: Anthony Suau explains “Harvesting is now underway and reporting record GMO corn yields. Illinois GMO farmer Tom O’Connor is bringing in a record 200 to 220 bushels an acre. That said, the Schock organic farm in Yorktown, Illinois is also bringing in 200 to 220 bushels an acre. Identical yields are decimating the notion that the world needs GMOs and their related pesticides to feed the world.”  

This is a really interesting thought, because a lot of the media and public relations around GMO crops is based on a higher yield. It is now possible to produce the same yield organically, and—it turns out—with 45% less energy and a much smaller carbon footprint, which makes a lot of sense in a time of climate change. 

3. On GMO vs organic crop prices:  Farmers in Illinois in 2014 reported that “GMO corn is selling for $2.94 a bushel…In comparison organic corn feed is now selling from $10.50 to $14 a bushel (in some areas $18 a bushel). The increase in prices appears to be coming from the U.S.’ demand for organic dairy products: organic milk and eggs.” Seed distributors have also seen a massive switch this year from GMO to conventional seeds.

It is time for thinking about what we are doing in the future. Monsanto (which sells 90% of the world’s GMO seeds) has been busy selling us glyphosate-laden Round Up.  Some 800 million pounds of it were put in our soil, water and crops this year, with diminishing results for weed reduction and increasing persistent organic pollutants in our water supply and probably in our rain.  

In turn, Atrazine, commonly used on potatoes and other crops in the North Country is brought to us by Syngenta. I find it interesting that it is still being used in the US, although in October of 2003, it was banned in the European Union because of ubiquitous and unpreventable water contamination. 

And, that water contamination is not just in the ground water. It turns out it is in the rain. Atrizine also evaporates into the air, and in a process called “volatilization drift”, it settles back into waterways.

USDA scientists found Atrazine residues in 87.9% of the drinking water tested in 2012.

The Future:  Indigenous Foods, Farmers, and the World

Connected to the land is connected to the past,” Phrang Roy, Indigenous Terra Madre

Don’t clear crop a whole piece. We have to leavesome for the plants and animals.”  Sean Sherman, the Sioux Chef

Cool Foods

Pat Mooney, a scholar from Canadian based ETC group (Mooney won the international Right Livelihood Award from the Swedish Parliament in l987) tells the Terra Madre gathering, that “ Indigenous people work with 7000cropsandone million varieties, while the majority of industrial agriculture has whittled this down to l35 major crops and l03,000 varieties.” Mooney explains. “My generation is the first generation in the world that has lost more knowledge than it has gained,”  Why is this important? Because plants are magical beings simply stated, with complex nutrients, medicinal values, cultural and spiritual connections and feed the soil and the world. 

Corn beans, squash and tobacco grew from the body of Sky woman, the daughter of the mother of the Creator of the world,” Teena Delormier tells the gathering. She is Mohawk , and a professor at the University of Hawaii in Manoa.   She adds, “Women could veto war by withholding food. .. When settlers came to North America we were people with food security.” 

 The very foods we grow or harvest have very special powers to combine.  As Harriet Kuhnlein an internationally recognized nutritionist, from McGill University explains, "Like corn, beans and squash, some are nitrogen hungry and some are nitrogen producing: that is the relationship between corn and beans.”  

Make a meal and all is balanced. “Singularly tortillas are at 62 on the glycemic index, and beans are at 22,” Kuhnlein explains, "Put together into a meal, they are at 32. The magic of foods is a real medicine.“

"There are over 300 natural medicines in plants to reduce blood sugar,“ Daphne Miller from San Francisco State explains to the Terra Madre conference.

Indigenous People are the future of Food and Adaptation in Climate Change

Harriet Kuehnein’s study in northeast India finds that in areas where there is significant reserves of biodiversity there are lesser levels of anemia.  Similarly measurements for malnutrition, micro nutrient deficiencies, and dietary inadequacies, as well as hypertension are much lower where people live with their indigenous foods.    In one area , she found that tribal people used over327 foods of which l38 were cultivated and l85 were wild, including 83 types of vegetables and fruits and 24 mushrooms, and an amazing soup of frogs which was served as a post partum comfort food, with an extremely high vitamin content.  All of this, is, it seems better than vitamin drinks.  

Looking at rainfall and climate change in the Sahel, Toby Hodges found that tribal people had adapted their crops to continue their harvests.  As the major corporations like Monsanto, and Syngenta talk about climate change adapting varieties they are introducing; the fact is thattribal people have been adapting their varieties for the last twenty years. In another ecosystem, he notes “One village had l65 rice varieties growing and ten taro varieties ”In a time of confusion in climate, those varieties will provide some food security. In addition to that, each variety often has distinct nutritional attributes.“ "Agrobiodiversity has everything to do with health, food security and economic security for people .  How land is being used affects biodiversity and challenges acommunities ability to keep diversity,” Hodges explains.

In turn, industrialized agriculture is sucking up billions of dollars to create “climate smart varieties.” Pat Mooney- explains that, "corporations like Syngenta and Monsanto are working on this so called climate smart agriculture.“ "136 millionis the average cost for climate smart seeds per species.” 

A rhetorical question might be asked:  What if we used that for supporting indigenous and sustainable agriculture?

Restoring these traditional foods will have an impact on reducing diet-related illness in our communities.

Important projects to link to: 


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