Revitalizing our Indigenous Food Heritage for a Stronger and Healthier Future

Utah Diné Bikéyah is excited to announce the launch of its Traditional Foods Program directed by Cynthia Wilson, a Navajo Tribal member from Monument Valley, UT. She is of the Folded Arms People clan and born for the Towering House clan. Cynthia holds a Masters of Science degree in Nutrition from the University of Utah.

 

The Traditional Foods Program will play an important role in helping UDB further its mission to preserve and protect the cultural and natural resources of ancestral Native American lands and bring healing to the Earth. Cynthia hopes to practice dietetics that strengthens traditional food cultures and promotes indigenous food preservation among Tribes living adjacent to the Bears Ears National Monument.

Traditional Foods Program Summary

Bears Ears National Monument creates an opportunity for Tribes to unite and think beyond reservation boundaries in order to care for our shared ancestral lands and heal from wounds we carry. There is a direct connection between human health and landscape health, and for the first-time we have convinced the US government to write this relationship into law through the Bears Ears National Monument proclamation. Given the rare combination of an ecologically intact landscape and culturally intact Tribes that hold traditional knowledge for the Bears Ears region, we believe that Tribes, researchers, agencies, and UDB can build hope, practical knowledge, and capacity to inspire grassroots people to use their energy and know-how to shape our communities to create positive and lasting change. First, however we must understand the scope and scale of food challenges we face, andthe opportunities which lie ahead. These range from access to fresh foods, existence of food production and food systems, nutrition educational services, food purchase and preparation behaviors of community members, and even the implementation of Native American community wellness development programs. Bears Ears is a spiritually powerful place in which Native Americans have a voice in its management, and therefore the ability to bring about change by strengthening our connections to our indigenous food heritage. We will ensure that the Traditional Foods Program includes social, environmental, psychological, and physical healing, and that it is carried out with the blessings of our elders and sovereign tribal leaders.

Traditional Foods Program Goals

• To identify holistic solutions that restore Native American traditional food practices relating to wild foods, hunting rituals, and traditional farming practices, as well as the identification of traditional food recipes and cooking practices.

• To understand economic, social, and political barriers to healthy food practices and access to traditional foods.

• To strengthen traditional cultures in areas of food, health, language, and spirituality.

• To celebrate and restore relationships with traditional foods through ceremonies, songs, and stories.

Traditional Foods Program Objectives

1. Conduct traditional foods assessments at community meetings in San Juan County, UT and across the five Tribes of Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe, and Navajo to document Native wisdom for indigenous food revitalization.

2. Interview local farmers, wild food collectors, and traditional food experts to understand local traditional food systems.

3. Communicate plans, methods, and outcomes collaboratively with partners at every step of the way to build trust, generate ideas, ensure local buy-in, to successfully implement strategies.

Bears Ears Indigenous Food Movement

No matter where you go in the world, cultural food traditions are deeply rooted and spiritually connected to the land and all living beings. Food brings us together as families, as communities, and as nations. For Native Americans, what we eat ties us to Mother Earth, to Father Sky, and to all beings who make up our shared home. Traditional foods literally shape who we are as people by giving us life, and elevating our happiness, nourishment and gratitude for all that surrounds us.

 

For most Native American Tribes in the U.S., our traditional foods, knowledge systems, and practices have gradually been eroded. They have been replaced by introduced ingredients that our ancestors would not recognize and that are less healthy than the foods we have nurtured for thousands of years. As people, we have recently been displaced from our most biodiverse and ecologically rich ancestral lands, and we have been forced to apply our ancient agricultural practices to marginal landscapes where many of our reservations have been established. Further compounding this problem, our Indian reservations have also been disproportionately targeted by mining companies and polluters further eroding community health and the productivity of lands we control.

 

Places like Bears Ears National Monument and public lands in general are increasingly important to our cultural survival as Native peoples. Tribes have 11,000+ years of experience of sustainable gathering, hunting, farming, and nurturing of wild food crops. Strangely, though, we have seldom been asked to teach newcomers what we know about caring for these shared resources. Bears Ears National Monument provides us with an opportunity to simultaneously teach others about our historical relationship with the land, and at the same time, restore the health of our lands and people. We invite you to join us by engaging in a powerful journey of healing and rediscovery of how the sustenance and well-being of our people are tied to the Bears Ears region.

 

Compared to other ethnic groups, Native Americans experience significant nutrition-related health disparities. We are struggling with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other afflictions that traditional food education and practices can help heal. Colonization has taken its toll, but unlike other ethnic groups, our cultural history remains vibrant here on American soil.  Our elders still hold Native wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation. It is based on oral stories and hands-on experimentation with the indigenous food cultivation, collection, and preservation tied to our people and our American lands. We have the necessary wisdom to heal the challenges our people face, but we also need strong allies from all sectors of society to ensure that our leaders’ strong voices are being heard.

Tribes are our Country’s greatest experts in how to live sustainably on our Mother Earth. I ask Zinke and President Trump to give our wisdom a chance to blossom and bear fruit similar to what we are beginning to see in this little potato. Please listen to our indigenous truth. Allow the wisdom of this landscape to nourish our minds and bodies for generations to come.