Throughout November, for Native American Heritage Month, National Farm to School Network highlighted contemporary Native foodway leaders. As we enter into the last month of the year, we want to continue to support and uplift Native efforts to reclaim food sovereignty, revitalize traditional diets, and nourish their communities with culturally-appropriate food. Here’s a recap of the rich conversations and stories we shared this past month.
November’s Coffee Chat Conversation: Celebrating Indigenous Foodways and Futures featured Cindy Farlee (Itázipčho Lakȟóta), Program Officer for the Native American Agriculture Fund and Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Cherokee), Founder of Indigikitchen sharing about their personal relationships with traditional foodways, passions for food sovereignty, and visions for the future of Indian Country.
On Facebook and Instagram, we spotlighted Janie Hipp, Deb Halaand, Zach Ducheneaux, and Fawn Sharp.
Janie Hipp of the Chickasaw Nation is the first Native American to serve as General Counsel at USDA, and she is the most senior Native person to serve USDA in its 159-year history. As a former National Farm to School Network advisory board member, Janie is a champion for Native youth in agriculture programming. She formerly served as the CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund.
In her interview with Food Tank, Janie shared, “I come from a very rural area of the country; I’m Chickasaw and I grew up deep in Choctaw areas of Oklahoma. We had lots of challenges in our area the entire time I was growing up: high unemployment, remoteness, and poverty. But we were surrounded by beautiful forests, lands, waters and people. Working with farming and ranching and “food people” has always been what I loved to do, even when I was young. I was put on this earth to do this work. I found it, or should I say it found me, early in my career and I’ve never strayed too far from doing agricultural law.”
Deb Haaland of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo is the first Native American in U.S. history to serve as a Cabinet secretary. Sworn in as the United States Secretary of the Interior in 2021, she advocates for environmental justice, the priorities of Indian Country, and diverse representation at decision-making tables.
In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, she shared, “November is Native American Heritage Month, and a good time to honor the legacy of our ancestors, but every day we should stop to think about our country's beginning and that the United States would not exist if not for a great deal of sacrifice, blood, and tears by Indian Tribes across the country.”
Zach Ducheneaux, member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, was appointed Administrator for USDA’s Farm Service Agency this year. As an avid supporter of Native youth in agriculture programming, he believes young people will continue to inspire others in traditional foodways.
He shares his dreams for Indian Country and the influence of youth leaders in saying, “I’m excited about a future where the person across the desk from a farmer in Indian Country, the person who’s helping the farmer with financial planning, underwriting their insurance, or appraising their land, is also from Indian Country. The youth have been returning home from our leadership programs and reminding their leaders that we are agricultural people, and that’s a big reason why agriculture is no longer an afterthought for lots of tribal leaders.”
Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah serves as the 23rd President of the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native tribal government organization in the U.S.
Reflecting on the power that Indigenous peoples have to address climate change and other issues, she offers, “We stand on the shoulders of so many of our ancestors and generations that have gone before us. And while we have multi-generational trauma, multi-generational poverty, multi-generational political, economic, and social marginalization, we also have multi-generational strength and resilience, and wisdom, and teachings.”
We look forward to continuing our commitment to Native communities and foodway leaders as we work collectively to cultivate a racially just food system by 2025.