Skip to main content

Smokehouses, Farmers’ Markets and More: 'Growing Food Sovereignty' Report Reveals 'Seeds of Native Health' Impact

  • Author:
  • Updated:

For the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, the nearest grocery store to its community is 20 miles away. “Even that store lacks fresh and healthy foods. This project has really started community conversations about food, especially the availability of healthy foods for our people,” said the Kalispel Tribe of Indians.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s (SMSC) Seeds of Native Health campaign supports grassroots practitioners in Native communities that are working toward improving Native nutrition, reversing chronic health problems, reducing extreme poverty and reclaiming traditional foodways in Native communities. The initiative, which focuses on the intersection between food, culture and youth, does more than simply feed and provide nourishment — it creates connections that were once strong but have been weakened or lost.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton and First Nations' recently released report “Growing Food Sovereignty in Native Communities: Impact Report 2015-2016” illustrates the positive impact of the Seeds of Native Health Grants on more than 6,000 people in 53 Native American communities.


First Nations Development Institute was the largest of the SMSC's Seeds of Native Health campaign's inaugural partners in its groundbreaking Seeds of Native Health campaign, which was launched in 2015. Because of First Nations’ “longstanding expertise in efforts to eliminate food insecurity, build the health of communities, and support entrepreneurship and economic development,” it received $1.4 million from the SMSC for re-granting to and management of projects relating to food access, food sovereignty, and capacity building. During 2015 and 2016, First Nations managed 30 separate grants under the program, supporting tribes and Native organizations in numerous states across the U.S.

“Most of Indian Country is in a dietary health crisis. Supporting local efforts to build community gardens and provide access to fresh foods for vulnerable populations is critical to improving Native peoples’ well-being,” said SMSC Chairman Charles R. Vig. “First Nations’ incredible expertise in this area has made them an ideal partner to help tribes and communities address this crisis.”

“Growing Food Sovereignty in Native Communities” finds that the grants from First Nations led to the community partners/grantees generating 63,613 pounds of harvested vegetables, 56,385 pounds of harvested wild rice, 1,572 pounds of harvested fruit, and 102 pounds of grown medicine, in addition to the more than 250,000 fish that were harvested. Fully 89 percent of these foods and medicines were donated to community members for subsistence purposes. The estimated food revenue that was saved and/or earned was $1.75 million, with the local communities leveraging an additional $1.56 million to support their community projects. These efforts served a total of 6,319 people, including 1,386 elders and 2,555 Native youth.

Efforts included community gardens and smoke houses, farmers’ markets, farm-to-school programs, classes, workshops and other activities. In addition, 129 new jobs and 859 food-related businesses were created or supported, nine new tribal food policies were developed, and two new traditional foods curricula were prepared. First Nations also provided technical assistance and training to grantees to assist with the long-term sustainability of programs, including topics such as strategic planning, business planning, financial recordkeeping, project management, and various specialized technical trainings. The report also highlights lessons learned from community partners that can further food sovereignty and nutrition for Native communities and other partners, including funders. The complete numbers can be found in the report, available for free download from the Knowledge Center on First Nations' website.

Kalispel Tribe

"Thanks to this project ... overall awareness has increased about the fact that we need to be ... accessing healthy foods as a community. We need to be thinking about food sovereignty and need a big picture community plan for this. This project has created momentum around food sovereignty and now it’s our job to sustain it,” the Kalispel Tribe said.

"There is a vibrant and active food sovereignty movement taking place in Native communities, and the Seeds of Native Health campaign has been a tremendous asset in furthering the work of this dynamic, Native-led movement," noted Raymond Foxworth, First Nations' Vice President of Grantmaking, Development and Communications. "The Growing Food Sovereignty in Native Communities report documents Native innovation when it comes to community-led solutions to improving local food systems and Native nutrition. First Nations is honored to be a partner of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the Seeds of Native Health campaign that will have a lasting impact in growing strong and healthy Native communities."

Seeds of Native Health is rooted in the understanding that prior to colonization, Native peoples had self-sufficient and sustainable food systems. Yet removal from traditional homelands and thus limited access to traditional food sources, as well a transitions to cash economies, among other things, weakened tribal food systems. Today, many Native communities and households are food insecure and dependent on outside food sources and Western food stuffs that are often linked to negative and deteriorating health.

Seeds of Native Health helps Native communities create self-sufficient food systems — foundational to reversing years of colonization aimed at the disintegration of cultural and traditional belief systems and dismantling of Native social and economic systems, the report states.

Forty-three of the 53 communities served under the Seeds of Native Health Initiative are located in counties that the USDA defines as a food desert with an average poverty rate of 28 percent, compared to 13.5 percent nationally. Among the 2016 and 2015 partners awarded Seeds of Native Health funding were as follows.

Seeds of Native Health First Nations

The U.S. National Average income is $56,116. For American Indians, it's $36,252. Seeds of Native Health served communities with an average income of $27,660.

2016 Community Partners

Choctaw Fresh Produce • Philadelphia, Mississippi | $33,418

The "Choctaw Local Food Ambassador" program hired an ambassador to lead coordination of training in organic growing, farm tours, mobile market, on-reservation sales to tribal programs, surveying community needs/desires relative to foods grown, and more.

College of Menominee Nation • Keshena, Wisconsin | $34,332

The “Strengthening Menominee Health and Native Food System” project increased production of traditional, healthy food through the cultivation of a garden, and it increased community members' financial accessibility to produce by implementing financial incentives for SNAP users and garden volunteers. It also educated Menominee students and elders about the history of traditional Menominee winter squash.

Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission • Portland, Oregon | $30,000

The commission worked with the four Columbia River tribes to increase education about and adoption of food safety codes for fisheries to comply with the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes • Pablo, Montana | $34,343

The "Healing the Jocko Valley" project increased nutrition and health knowledge by providing gardening and healthy cooking activities. It also provided opportunities to gather, prepare and preserve traditional foods, increased access to healthy, locally-produced foods, and more.

Grasshopper Livestock Association • Cibecue, Arizona | $10,000

The “Entrepreneurship and Growth Program” generated income for association improvements and enhanced potential income for association members through the sale of cattle to the Native Beef program of LaBatt Foods.

Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission • Odanah, Wisconsin | $31,336

The "Manoomin - The Good Berry" project worked to strengthen local tribal food systems by increasing awareness of and access to traditional Anishinaabe food knowledge, recipes and local tribal wild rice harvesters for all 11 member tribal communities.

Kalispel Tribe of Indians • Usk, Washington | $28,270

The “Kalispel Family Gardens” project increased food security by increasing the number of family gardens and providing gardening support to community members.

Klamath Tribal Health & Family Services • Klamath Falls, Oregon | $34,343

The “Chiloquin Community Kitchen/Food Security” program increased access to healthy foods by completing renovations to the food security building and creating a commercial-grade community kitchen, learning classroom, food storage and distribution center.

Muckleshoot Indian Tribe • Auburn, Washington | $17,418

The “Traditional Healthy Beverage Campaign” worked to reduce youth consumption of sugary drinks and increase the consumption of herbal teas, fruits and vegetables.

Nooksack Indian Tribe • Deming, Washington | $30,478

The "Nooksack Seeds of Health" project established a local community garden and other education opportunities for Nooksack Indian Tribe members.

Northern California Tribal Court Coalition • Talent, Oregon | $37,761

The "Tribal Food Purity Project" drafted legislation that will limit the release of chemical toxins and ensure that land- and water-based food resources can be safely harvested and consumed today and for future generations.

Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College • New Town, North Dakota | $34,343

The "Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College Full Circle Nutrition Program" is a garden-to-plate program that improves the cultural connection to food, nutrition, skills and education of college students and staff.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Oyate Networking Project/Oyate Teca Project • Kyle, South Dakota | $33,072

The grant supported the "Medicine Root Gardening Program."

Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians • Red Lake, Minnesota | $1,000

This grant supported the Red Lake Food Summit.

Squaxin Island Tribe • Shelton, Washington | $32,385

The "Squaxin Community Garden Project" developed a tribal community garden to sustainably improve food security and health outcomes for the community.

2015 Community Partners

Bishop Paiute Tribe • Bishop, California | $40,000

This project served tribal members by increasing access to traditional and organic foods through the Tribal Food Sovereignty Farm and the Tribal Community Market.

Igiugig Village • Igiugig, Alaska | $39,794

This project increased food security through greenhouse-grown fresh produce, training local residents in food preservation, and promoting youth entrepreneurial opportunities through a traditional food stand.

Intertribal Agriculture Council • Billings, Montana | $17,887

This project implemented a tribally-supported agriculture project to improve access to healthy and traditional foods in the Great Lakes Region.

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe • Cass Lake, Minnesota | $33,743

This project created a community garden at the tribal school that focuses on healthy and local meal choices.

Little Big Horn College • Crow Agency, Montana | $12,500

This project promoted health through the exercise of gardening and by building respect for growing one’s own food.

Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative • Okmulgee, Oklahoma | $40,000

This project promoted healthy eating through gardening and education classes on farming and gardening.

Nez Perce Tribe • Lapwai, Idaho | $37,629

This project promoted good health, diet and exercise through community gardening and the building of a smokehouse and pavilion that is dedicated to processing local traditional foods.

North Leupp Family Farms • Leupp, Arizona | $34,650

This project served the Navajo Nation by supporting family farmers and increasing their access to retail outlets.

Painted Desert Demonstration Project, DBA the STAR School • Flagstaff, Arizona | $40,000

This project engaged young Navajo students in growing, processing, cooking and serving meals to the community by constructing a greenhouse adjacent to the community kitchen.

Pueblo of Nambé • Santa Fe, New Mexico | $37,404

This project continued to teach the Indigenous traditional knowledge of farming and agriculture by expanding the production of fresh produce.

Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians • Red Lake, Minnesota | $39,171

This project worked to improve nutrition at the Red Lake Reservation as well as stimulate the local food economy by educating community members on growing their own food.

Seneca Diabetes Foundation • Irving, New York | $32,040

The “White Corn Project” focused on the cultivation, processing and distribution of white corn to the Seneca Nation.

“For the first time in the history of the Seneca Nation’s Farmers’ market there was a supply of white corn products made available to the public during the farmer market season. Access to this traditional food will be long lasting thanks to the support of the Seeds of Native Health,” the Seneca Diabetes Foundation said in the report.

Suquamish Tribe • Suquamish, Washington | $28,773

This project brought together elders and other community members through the building of five smokehouses, and developed a curriculum to teach youth traditional skills to feed themselves and their families.

Zuni Youth Enrichment Project • Zuni, New Mexico | $40,000

This project promoted small-scale local agriculture, improved the local food system, and facilitated intergenerational knowledge exchange by constructing an outdoor learning space and farmers’ market.

Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation • Porcupine, South Dakota | $21,909

The organization assembled and coordinated a Lakota Food Sovereignty Coalition, continued the successful community garden program, and developed a sustainable agriculture demonstration farm and an
aquaponics greenhouse.