ONEIDA, Wi. (WBAY) - The Indian Health Service reports the death rate of Native Americans with diabetes is almost double the general U.S. population. That's partly due to a lack of access to affordable, healthy food sources.
A summit held in Oneida attended by tribes from across the nation focused on bettering their food systems and reinvesting in their culture.
The Food Sovereignty Summit address a variety of topics including agriculture, climate, and community development within native communities through presentations and hands-on sessions.
“I really liked the practical aspects of the afternoon sessions going out and actually seeing what we were talking about in action,” said Bryan Polite, a chairman Shinnecock Nation which is based in New York.
Oneida Business Committee member Ernest Stevens III says in tribal history food is seen as a medicine meant to nourish, and the summit helps bring that viewpoint back.
“Having this food sovereignty summit, we’re very proud of our community,” said Stevens. “We’re proud of our natural resources, and stuff that we grow here.”
The summit doesn’t just focus on growing and developing resources within native communities, it’s also about involving the next generation.
“This needs to be passed down to our youth,” said Stevens. “They’re the champions for us and all that knowledge that’s been developed throughout many years. They’re going to have to take that information and carry that mantle forth.”
Food sovereignty isn’t just about becoming healthier, it’s about preserving culture, too.
“I come at this too from a language revitalization perspective wherein we’re losing our elders prematurely to chronic illnesses that are preventable really by better dietary management,” said Marcus Briggs-Cloud, a member of the Ekvn-Yefolecv Maskoke Ecovillage. “So food sovereignty is critical to the survival of our language as well.”
The health and community wellness connected to tribal food systems is a multi-faceted issue, but one indigenous nations across the country are tackling together.
“That’s exactly why we’re here is to parley on these issues and discuss it and find out what we can do, next steps and what we can do now, in the future,” said Stevens. “So it’s very crucial we came together.”