An exploration of the role of food in Indigenous cultures and why people are fighting to protect it

It is important for anyone living on Indigenous land to ask themselves what they have actively done to support Indigenous sovereignty. One starting point is by supporting local Indigenous food places.
The history of indigenous food originated far before modern-day agricultural techniques, and many of these styles of farming are still used today. According to an article by the First Nations development institute, Indigenous people had complex food systems that were sustainable and diverse thousands of years before European contact. “An intimate understanding of seasonal food was important to diversify food types, enhance nutritional balance and ensure the long-term production of Native food systems,” the article continued.

Indigenous food is produced by the most bio-diverse food system in the world. Biodiversity is essentially the variety of organisms within an area. Indigenous people around the world make up only 25% of the world’s population but produce 80% of global biodiversity. According to the International Institute for Environment and Development, “Biodiversity underpins the earth’s life support system…Biodiversity keeps water fresh and air clean; it increases soil fertility and promotes pest control and pollination.”

Liz Cates is the Education Program Coordinator at NATIFS, an organization that promotes Indigenous foodways, education, and facilitates Indigenous food access. For her, food is an extremely important aspect of Indigenous culture. “My grandma, she has raised us. She would often talk about her first food being wild rice. And the first words I ever learned in Dakota were from her. So when I went to college, I studied the Dakota language and started learning more about just the vast multitudes of power to start bringing back a culture or revitalizing a culture,” Cates said.

Cates also emphasized the importance of Indigenous food sovereignty. “In treaties made a long time ago, it says, the native peoples will be allowed to hunt and gather as they originally did. But that’s not the reality that we see right now with restrictions and laws. So the food sovereignty movement right now is about navigating those laws and at times, changing them so that we still have access to the waterways and the land bases that we want to gather,” she said.

Some ways that non-Indigenous people can contribute to the Indigenous food sovereignty movement is by educating themselves. “You can start with what’s around you. You can change the narrative by not disregarding plants that are essential to our culture. For example some people call dandelions weeds, but they don’t know what it’s actually called. Dandelions are medicinal. Reframing your ideas around that and educating yourselves on what plants are around you can help you develop a good relationship with your area and beyond that your community,” Cates continued.

Another way to support Indigenous food sovereignty is by consuming more local produce. According to an article by Rita Klavinski of Michigan State University, local food is better for the environment, has more nutrients, and promotes a safer food supply. One local Indigenous food source is the Dream of Wild Health Farm. They sell produce at the Four Sisters Farmers Market in Minneapolis, and also have volunteer opportunities that include assisting with weeding, harvesting, or watering.
The organization that Cates works at has community service opportunities as well. One of these opportunities is volunteering at the Indigenous Food Lab located in the Midtown Global Market. Here, workers can both learn about Indigenous food and help package food for people in need.

Another way to support Indigenous food sovereignty is by dining at Indigenous restaurants. Owamni by the Sioux Chef, located on 420 1st St S, Minneapolis, is a great option. The restaurant was named 50 best places to eat out by the New York Times, and for a good reason. Its excellent reviews, service, and diverse menu offer a unique take on Indigenous food.
Their menu consists of multiple fixed courses consisting of many distinct dishes. These dishes include many traditional Indigenous foods such as wild rice, squash, bison, and walleye. According to their website, they don’t use colonial ingredients in their kitchens such as foods like wheat flour, cane sugar, and dairy. Instead, it is sourced from local and national Indigenous food producers who use sustainable agriculture.