Help Native American communities gain food security - Albuquerque Journal

Help Native American communities gain food security

November is Native American Heritage Month. We celebrate their culture and many other important contributions the Natives have provided. Yet, we must also discuss how one in four Native Americans experience food insecurity compared to one in eight Americans overall. The harsh reality is that Native Americans were forced off their lands and placed on reservations that lacked the resources to sustain their way of life, including hunting, fishing and foraging. They have had to endure traumas that have changed their customs, traditions and culture.

New Mexico is currently home to 23 federally recognized tribes and pueblos, and is one of the top three states with the highest proportion of American Indian and Alaska Natives.

What is food insecurity? Food insecurity can be short or long term and is the lack of reliable access to sufficient affordable or nutrient-rich food. Long-term food insecurity, often the case on Native American reservations, leads to such health disparities as childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Those who are food insecure may be forced to rely on commodity food programs that alleviate hunger, but primarily provide foods low in nutrients and high in empty calories. The combination of chronic food insecurity and the systems – commodity foods – to address hunger has led to many preventable chronic diseases, while eradicating cultural food heritage.

One possible solution to food insecurity in these communities is to provide resources to help Native Americans regain food sovereignty, a food system in which the people who produce, distribute and consume food also control food production, distribution mechanisms and policies.

There are multiple programs working to improve food systems and structures on tribal lands. Programs such as the Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project and the Yéego Gardening Program work to restore food sovereignty in these communities. The Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project aims to make Native American diets healthier and more culturally appropriate. The Yéego Gardening program assists with home gardening and overcoming such problematic conditions for cultivation as establishing a water supply.

In addition to these programs, changing policies is vital to help the Native American community with food security and sovereignty. First Nations Development Institute is an organization whose mission is to strengthen American Indian economies by creating a healthier Native American community. They invest in programs that will help youth continue cultural education, and teach them how to be stewards of the Native lands and achieve Native financial empowerment. The Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance is another great nonprofit organization that helps promote and share best practices and policies to help improve the Native American food systems.

For Native Americans to flourish and take back the land unjustly taken from them, policies and laws need to change. Americans took more than just their land; they took their culture, and a livelihood of gathering, hunting and growing their food. And that has taken a toll on the communities over many generations. We owe it to the Native Americans, tied to this land, to continue putting pressure on lawmakers and funding organizations to remove barriers to restoring traditional food systems.


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