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Navajo Report Illustrates Need for Food System Sovereignty

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In the largest food scarcity survey to take place across the Four Corners, results revealed that nearly 40 percent of Navajo Reservation residents don’t have access to enough food on a daily basis, and 60 percent said the foods they want can't be found on the reservation.

The report, titled Diné Food Sovereignty: A Report on the Navajo Nation Food System and the Case to Rebuild a Self-Sufficient Food System for the Diné People, was recently released by the Diné Policy Institute and funded by the First Nations Development Institute with assistance by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

With economic development being the Nation's core focus, "we've neglected the more basic components of human existence: having access to food,” according to Amber Crotty, the Policy Institute's director.

The study was the outcome of the Diné Food Sovereignty Initiative, a project created by the Policy Institute in 2011 with the goal of better understanding the systemic issues that have shaped the current Diné food system, which has contributed to a host of problems, such as poor health and negative community, economic, cultural and environmental impacts. The report aimed to identify strategies to achieve food sovereignty for the Diné people— to provide enough food within reservation borders to feed the Diné people.

“The objective of this research is to promote a self-sufficient food system and the revitalization of Navajo traditional foods which, in return, will foster greater self-sufficiency and sustainability for the Diné People,” Crotty explains.

Diné Policy Institute researchers recommend the Navajo Nation combat food desert conditions with homegrown solutions.

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Roughly half of the Navajo population suffer from diabetes or obesity, stemming from a lack of options for obtaining healthy food. “What is available in gas stations and the few grocery stores [in the Navajo nation] is of poor quality — often molding vegetables,” Dana Eldridge, the lead author of the report, told Al Jazeera.

Here’s an excerpt from the report’s conclusion:

“Through an assertion of sovereignty on the part of the Navajo Nation, and through community based policies and programs, the Navajo Nation can begin to rebuild a self-sufficient food system that will directly improve nutrition and health on the Navajo Nation. In light of federal budget cuts to food assistance programs, the need for the Navajo Nation to move toward self-sufficient programs, services, and ultimately a self-sufficient food system, is very apparent.

“Furthermore, the threats to Diné wellness and lifeways described in this report are only growing. Rates of nutritionally-related illness are projected to increase at alarming rates. In addition, legal developments increasingly threaten Diné peoples’ rights to maintaining agricultural and food practices. Therefore immediate action to address these issues is critical to ensuring for the well-being of the Diné People.

“As a most fundamental element of life, food provides a way to strengthen Diné peoples’ connections to each other, all living things and Mother Earth, and fosters sovereignty for the Navajo Nation in a way that maintains the values, principles, lifeways and language that make us Diné. In this regard, revitalizing traditional foods and rebuilding a self-sufficient food system will ensure for the resilience (Sih hasin) of the Diné people for generations to come.”

Read or download the full report here.