Native Americans were this country’s first locavores. Tribes sustainably harvested organic fare from local food-sheds a long time before those phrases became fashionable. On top of that, if they hadn’t shared their knowledge of indigenous plants and animals with European settlers, many more of those New World newbies would have starved and poisoned themselves than actually did.
It’s ironic, then, that a host of obstacles now block Native Americans from embracing the modern local-food movement.
Many Indian reservations are located in “food deserts,” places without access to supermarkets or farmers’ markets. Reservations are also often situated on bad land or land leased to large-scale, commodity agricultural interests who ship what they grow far away. The net result is a native population with limited means to produce its own food and little control over the highly processed, unhealthy fare that is dumped into its community.
But as I learned in researching a story on the subject for the Sept. 14 issue of Boise Weekly, there is a “tribal food sovereignty movement” afoot. Some native tribes, like the Coeur d’Alenes of North Idaho, are using community gardens, education and revitalized food tradition to try and take back control of their local food systems.