Native Americans Reclaim Traditional Foods
How one company is reimagining and reintroducing indigenous foods
Native American entrepreneurs across the country are building businesses around traditional diets and foods in an effort to boost local economies and address diet-related health problems within their communities. Native peoples’ diets changed drastically when forced off their land onto reservations.
Autumn Spanne explains in the Guardian:
The reservation system prompted dramatic changes in the diet of Native peoples in the US. Restricted or prevented altogether from traditional hunting and agriculture practices, many tribes were forced instead to accept government food relief programs that distributed basic staples heavy on salt, sugar and fat. The rapid change in diet, aided more recently by fast food and more sedentary lifestyles, have contributed to an epidemic of diabetes, obesity and other health problems in Indian Country.
Now entrepreneurs like Mark Tilsen and Karlene Hunter, co-founders of Native American Natural Foods, are reimagining and reintroducing indigenous foods. For instance, their Tanka Bar is an energy bar based on a traditional Oglala recipe made from grass raised antibiotic-free buffalo that they designed as a way to support Native buffalo producers.
However, as Spanne explains:
Indian Country faces unique logistical and bureaucratic complexities. Remote locations, bad roads and unreliable power and telecommunications make it difficult for some tribes to easily access supply chains and get goods to market. And the complicated constellation of federal, state and tribal laws regulating production and sale of agricultural goods can be particularly cumbersome for small producers, which have greater challenges in navigating the bureaucracy.
These obstacles are intensified by the difficulty of securing financing, "a circumstance compounded by the difficulty of attracting private investment on tribal lands held in trust by the federal government."
However, despite these obstacles, Native agriculture has grown greatly in the past decade, with the number of Native American-operated farms jumping 135% between 2002 and 2012. The Native agriculture market is worth $3 billion.
The burgeoning, yet underfunded, Native agriculture market encapsulates many principles of food sovereignty, strengthening local sustainable food systems while simultaneously building economic and cultural autonomy.