Native by dangerous colonial food systems. Food Sovereignty

Native women have played
an integral role in the prosperity and growth in native communities since far
before colonial acquisition.  Though it is
different for each tribe and their cultures, generally, woman managed most of
the community’s internal operations such as owning the family’s homes, child
rearing and agricultural food production. Since women had such an essential
role, they “held important political, social, and economic power” (Pearson) in
their communities. Today, because of centuries of cultural erasure and patriarchal
impact on native community’s, native women do not have the economic power as
they had throughout pre-colonial times. Native women have been working to take back
their rolls as vital parts of their communities through the Food Sovereignty
movement. Since native women are culturally a key role in agriculture and food,
it is unjust that they are the first to be affected by dangerous colonial food
systems. Food Sovereignty is an important instrument for native woman’s
self-determination, culture, and so much more. In this essay I will explain the
difference between Food Sovereignty and food security and the significance of
distinguishing both, examine how Food Sovereignty relates to native women, and why
healthy and culturally appropriate food is important to native communities.


In 1946 the Food and
Agricultural Organization (FAO) put together its first World Food Survey to
find out if there was enough food, and macronutrients for everyone on the
earth. They had found that at least one third of the population was not getting
sufficient energy from macronutrients. The production of food was increased
which lead to the surplus of food, wherein famine was reduced but the matter of
malnutrition was still alive and well. There are “100 times more people affected
by malnutrition than the number of people who were affected by famine.” (Simon
2012). It seemed like food security’s focus was on increasing food commodities
instead of focusing on the issue of malnutrition. Few things had changed in the
way food security was being thought about until 50 years later at the 1996
World Food Summit organized by FAO in Rome who decided the definition of food
security truly needed an update. They decided the new definition be; “When all
people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to
sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food
preferences for an active and healthy life.” (FAO 1996). Not surprisingly this is
now the most commonly definition used to date. Simon points out how during the
last few decades agricultural production, worldwide, has grown more quickly
than the population has multiplied. So now we have even more food than humans
can consume, at least in the terms of macronutrients. Still the amounts of
people suffering from food insecurity and insufficient food has grown immensely
in the past couple decades. “It is therefore time to review the old model of
hunger management, the tools available for that purpose, take lessons from the
past and try to figure out what is needed for the future.” (Simon, 2012). Since
food security has a long way to go and leaves out the fact that native people
should have a right to healthy, and culturally appropriate food. Native people
have taken more to the Food Sovereignty approach.


The Food Sovereignty
movement was first started by an organization called La Via Campesina (LVC) in
1996, an international movement of peasants or small-scale farmers. The LVC was
the first to coin the term Food Sovereignty and defined it as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally
appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define
their own food and agriculture systems.” (Coté
2016).  The LVC were fighting for the
small-scale farmers who were invaded by big, globalized, corporate run
agricultural system who, as Coté (2016) states, “created destructive economic policies
that marginalized small-scale farmers, removed them from their land, and forced
them into the global market economy as wage base laborers.” Native peoples see
that the idea of Food Sovereignty has potential. From and indigenous
perspective Food Sovereignty is about sustainable self-determination and by reclaiming
their food systems it revitalizes a healthy culture, and cultural knowledge. “There
is an inextricable bond between having control
over where food comes from, the revitalization of traditional harvesting
practices, and the struggle against a status-quo which has resulted from a
history of colonialism and genocide.” (Thornton


Many people think food
security and Food Sovereignty is the same thing, but that is farthest from the
truth. Food security only refers to the availability of food regardless if it
is healthy, where it comes from, or how it is produced. It is the right to food
that will, essentially, just keep you alive. Food Sovereignty is the right to
live and be your own culture without interference of colonial oversight. Most
people do not understand that concept, and without knowing the real meaning you
get comments such as, “Food Sovereignty is essentially a political concept.”
(Windfuhr & Jonsén, 15). Food Sovereignty is more than political for native
peoples. To restate, Food Sovereignty is the “the
right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through
sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture
systems.” (Coté 2016). For someone to
suggest it is purely political is exactly the issue indigenous peoples face and
the reason it is so hard to revitalize their culture.


In the mid-1880s Native
Americans were forcibly removed from their environments that they historically
occupied and were forced to harsh, unproductive reservations which made it
nearly impossible to hunt, fish and grow their traditional native foods while
confined to the land they were forced to live on. After being removed from
their ancestral lands Native American women, “many of whom were members of
matriarchal tribes” (Joe 2012, 117), had to adopt new foods and agricultural
practices to warrant their children’s survival. As hunger became more prevalent
the federal government gave these communities food rations that became their
dietary staples, which mostly consisted of flour, sugar, and lard. Regardless
of an increase in federal food aid, native diets have remained nutritionally
deficient to this day and traditional knowledge of different seasonal plants
and animals of their ancestral lands were lost in just a few generations due to
their forced removal from their homes and lack of being able to hunt, fish and grow
their crops on this new land. Native women have been affected the most from
this historical disaster.


Since native women are
traditionally in the forefront of agricultural production, it would make sense
that they are in the forefront of the Food Sovereignty movement as well. But when
the movement first began it was led almost entirely by men. Annette Desmarais
(2011) states, “This is perhaps not that surprising given that all eight
representatives who signed the Managua Declaration, the precursor to the Via
Campesina, and all regional coordinators elected at the First International
Conference of the Via Campesina, were men.” (142). It wasn’t until the second conference
held by La Via Campesina in 1996 that the issue of gender was addressed. The
women at the second conference struggled to have their voices heard, but
eventually they had “won” a space in La Via Campesina called, Campesina Women’s
Commission (CWC). CWC recognized the need for sustainable farming practices,
but they added the need for human health as well. They realized that native women
are the foundation of growth, not just agriculturally, but also when it comes
to human life. As Katsi Cook (2003) states, “women are the first environment.” Therefore,
there is a need for indigenous women in the Food Sovereignty movement, because
without the perspective, and inclusiveness indigenous women can bring to the
movement there will be gaps that can never truly be fixed by anyone outside of
her perspective.


Since women “are the
first environment,” and what women eat is essential for the healthy growth of a
child, then, the second environment (earth), needs to be protected. Therefore,
is important for native food gatherers to own their own land so that they have
control over what is going into it. Therefore, another main aspect of indigenous
Food Sovereignty also consists of protecting native food, land and water from harmful
toxins such as “pesticides, industrial runoff, or other types of pollution.”
(Nelson, 205). In the Arctic, not only is the land becoming toxic but animals
bioaccumulate harmful toxins from the land, then when native mothers eat their
traditional meats such and deer, moose or caribou they are exposed to high
levels of toxins such as, “mercury, lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
(Nelson, 205), that will be transferred to a child through breast milk. Statistics
show that Inuit women have breast milk with PCBs 5-10 times more than women in
southern Canada. “Even with these risks, Arctic people are still hungry for
their ancestral foods instead of the imported western diet.” (Nelson, 206). Indigenous
Food sovereignty means ensuring that native people have the right to all
resources necessary for producing food. They should have access to and control
over their land and water. Most importantly, Indigenous Food Sovereignty is
recognition that, “cultural heritage and genetic resources belong to all
humanity.” (Via Campesina, 22).


Cultural heritage is
connected to the land native peoples hunt, eat and live on.  Indigenous Food Sovereignty is taking back
old traditions and revitalizing a culture that has been in the process of being
erased for centuries. Food traditions are connected to songs, dance, memories,
medicine and nourishment. “Embedded within native food traditions are diverse
knowledge systems and native sciences, languages and distinct cultural
heritages, and unique embodied life-affirming practices.” (Nelson,
201-202).  By native land being taken
away and damaged as much as it has, indigenous Food Sovereignty is a way to
fight against colonialism, take back their autonomy and revitalize their
culture. Many foods are considered scared to different native communities, such
as corn, taro, and wild rice. Yet these foods are being threatened by corporate
agricultural companies to mass produce their sacred foods with attempts to
genetically modify, rendering them unsafe to eat, or commercially cultivating
foods, such as wild rice, making it “not a true wild rice” (Nelson, 204). Mass
producing native food violates native peoples by disrespecting their scared
foods and lifeways.


Without knowing what food
security and Food Sovereignty is and how to distinguish both can continue to
cause harm to native communities which can disseminate, uneducated, and
detrimental beliefs that can delay the progress of the indigenous Food
sovereignty movement. The native communities, especially native women, from all
around the world have had so much taken from them. Indigenous land, culture, food,
and even health has been a centuries long struggle to be recognized in a world
that has, from the beginning wanted to erase them. Native people were pulled
from their land and culture, and forced to eat foreign food that made them
sick. Control over Native land and food is still a big issue today, and because
of centuries of patriarchal impact many native communities had forgotten the
role women had played before colonial acquisition. But with all the negatives,
there are still some that remember their traditional ways of life and are
working on spreading their knowledge. The indigenous Food Sovereignty movement
is a big help, and step in the right direction, in spreading indigenous
knowledges. Native women are being seen, more, in the forefront of the indigenous
Food Sovereignty movement filling the disparities that men could not fill, all while
traditional female roles are being replenished.















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