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First Nations tackles hunger

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - First Nations Development Institute here is tackling one of the most intractable problems of reservation life, hunger, in hopes of turning the solutions for it into an economic development opportunity for tribes.

Sherry Salway Black, the group's vice president, is researching hunger statistics in Indian country and how to help tribes meet their food needs locally.

Last year the institute began making Native American Hunger Program awards to 12 groups working on food distribution on homelands and hopes to sponsor a tribal Food Expo and Conference featuring educational seminars and a marketplace in a couple of years. This year, the group gave out $205,000 in 17 grants in 12 states to fight reservation hunger.

Salway Black, Lakota, said statistics are hard to come by but noted the irony of communities which control large amounts of land, including farmland, experiencing hunger and diet-related maladies such as obesity and diabetes.

First Nations is joining the Community Food Security Coalition and will work with the Intertribal Agriculture Council, among others, in researching solutions. She said she wants to study the economic side of food, and hopes that Indian loan funds starting through the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund's outreach to Native groups will lend to small agricultural producers. She also is interested in studying food distribution patterns to local providers of food on reservations, especially casinos but including tribal colleges.

She recently put together a day-long symposium on sustainable food systems at the institute's annual Oweesta Conference where it was noted "hunger and food insecurity are unfortunate companions to poverty and undeveloped economies" and that developing sustainable food systems "can meet our need for food and expanded economic development."

The seven largest grants made this year primarily assist food banks and community gardens on tribal homelands. The $15,000 grants went to:

The Boys and Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation in Montana to buy kitchen equipment and enhance an existing evening meal program for 40 children during the school year. It will also provide meals for a summer program.

Grand Ronde Community Resource Center in Oregon to buy a van, add storage room and expand food delivery to a weekly service.

Kenaitze Indian Tribe I.R.A. of Alaska to install fencing around its community garden and buy weeding and other equipment.

Native American Community Board in Lake Andes, S.D., to help maintain a food pantry program and buy equipment for a youth garden on the Yankton Sioux reservation.

Nome Community Center in Alaska to help the Center establish food banks in two more Alaska Native villages, in addition to the six it already runs. It will also start senior meal programs in two villages.

Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota increase its meal service to students by one meal a week and buy more nutritional food, such as fresh produce.

South Piegan Mission Out Reach in Montana. The Mission, on the Blackfeet Reservation, will further develop its food distribution, community garden and children's services.