The Food Sovereignty Project Reclaims Native Health and Wellness Traditions

Lynn Cline - September 7, 2016

Celebrating the intersection of indigenous food and culture

Long before the advent of TV dinners and junk food, the rise of GMOs and rBGH growth hormone and the growing concern that what Americans are eating could be making us sick rather than keeping us healthy...people ate simply, and they simply ate food.

In New Mexico, the ancestral Pueblo people grew corns, beans and squash, known as the Three Sisters because they grew in harmony and provided nourishment. They also gathered piñon nuts and cactus fruit and hunted bison, elk and rabbit. The foods they ate provided sustenance as well as a spiritual bond to the land and the animals they so respected.

We've strayed far from those pre-contact times here in the Southwest, but indigenous farmers, herders and hunters today are working hard to sustain and revitalize the foodways of their traditional life, knowing that the diet of their ancestors provided the nourishment that kept at bay many of the diseases that plague us in contemporary times.

You can learn about these foods during an extraordinary two-day event, The Food Sovereignty Project, that explores how New Mexico tribes are bringing traditional foods back into their diets to promote greater health and wellness in their communities. A partnership between the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, which hosts the event, the symposium takes place Friday, September 23 and Saturday, September 24, followed by the third annual Community Day celebration on Museum Hill Sunday, September 25 that is free to the public and includes a Native American buffalo roast, an horno demo and much more.

Following in the tradition of FUZE.SW—Santa Fe's annual food conference sponsored by the Museum of New Mexico that's currently on hiatus,—The Food Sovereignty Project examines the longstanding, significant intersection between culture and cuisine.

“The two years we did FUZE, we started this process of exploring the very important intersection between food and culture and how they inform each other,” says Shelley Thompson, director of marketing and research and publisher of El Palacio Magazine for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. “The Food Sovereignty Project continues that theme with a focus on native health and wellness issues. The first day is very much family-related. We're going to talk about what's traditional— the bringing back of traditions and maintaining traditions. On the second day, we'll move into what are we actually doing today to continue these traditions, looking first-hand at the food bank, the native youth and traditional foods program sponsored by Taos Pueblo and sustaining ranching practices with bison, cattle and sheep..”

Friday's schedule starts at 10 am with a talk by Tessie Naranjo of Santa Clara Pueblo on “Early Memories of Food and Family,” followed by a discussion at 11 am on “Hunting in Our Home Communities,” with Allen Duran of Tesuque Pueblo and Tito Naranjo of Santa Fe Clara. The afternoon session features a panel on ” Traditional Farming and Ranching” with Gailey Morgan of Tesuque Pueblo and Danny Sam, who is Navajo, followed by closing remarks at 3 pm.

The Saturday schedule begins at 10 am with an exploration of a “Seed Bank Program” featuring Morgan and Roxanne Swentzell of Santa Clara Pueblo, co-editor of new book, The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook: Whole Food of Our Ancestors, followed by a talk at 11 am on “Native Youth and Traditional Foods” with Marie Reyna of Taos Pueblo. At 1:30 pm, Richard Archuleta of Taos Pueblo and Andrew Gonzales of Nambé Pueblo discuss “Ranching Among New Mexico Tribes: Bison, Cattle and Sheep” and the symposium finished with closing remarks at 3 pm. (If you're unable to attend the symposium in person, you can watch a live Facebook feed of all the events on MIAC's Facebook page.)

“The two-day symposium and community day celebration features speakers who have community-based projects that address this long-standing problem among indigenous people by advocating a return to traditional foods,” says Della Warrior, director of MIAC and long-time Indian educator who had the inspiration for the Food Sovereignty Project. “This event really foregrounds the critical work that individuals and tribal governments are doing to improve tribal communities through healthier diets and lifestyles.”

Sunday's Community Day on Museum Hill from 9 to 5 pm continues the exploration of food sovereignty by showcasing organizations devoted to sustainable food practices, indigenous foods and New Mexico native and food-related publications along with a cornucopia of activities, including a Native American food sampling that features a buffalo roast, oven bread and corn and squash from 12 to 4 pm MIAC. The Street Food Institute food truck will be on hand serving indigenous tacos and just down the road, at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, there's a matanza, a traditional pig roast, from 9:30 am to 4 pm and the $10 admission gets you all you can eat.

Other highlights include family-themed workshops on native pollination habitats and exploring flowers and their pollinators at the Botanical Gardens; trail tours with the National Park Service and treasure hunting in the Wheelwright galleries.

To see the full Community Day schedule, click here. 

Photos Courtesy New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs