Indigenous Food Ways: How do we move from Repression to Recognition?

In her book Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change, lawyer, activist, and teacher — born and raised on the Penobscot (Penawahpskek) reservation —Sherri Mitchell (Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset) writes “One of the most important things we can do for ourselves, our children and the future of the planet is to decolonize our minds and ways of life.”

Even since last year’s Challenge, awareness and honesty continues to grow about the extent to which mainstream food systems are, at their base, an extension of a colonial enterprise. Mitchell defines colonization as “the act of appropriating or forcibly overtaking a place and exerting control over it.” American history centrally features the extermination of indigenous peoples, the theft of their lands and the repression of their traditions, including their food ways. A failure to recognize and publicly acknowledge these facts leads to a perpetuation of injustice and the dehumanizing impacts of the colonizer mindset. Mitchell writes that addressing colonization in the modern day means confronting “the lingering systems of control and the insidious patterns of thinking that colonization brings.”

One way for non-indigenous people to confront colonial mindsets and actions, beyond studying non-mainstream/dominant histories (see, for example, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States) is to get curious about the history of where you currently live, work, study and/or volunteer.

Explore/find out:Who inhabited the land prior to the arrival of Europeans? What happened to the indigenous peoples and their practices? Where are they now and what is happening to them? What indigenous people live in your area today? What fights for resistance and survival are they currently engaged in? You might consult this on-line map, which should not be seen as a perfect representation of official or legal boundaries of Indigenous nations. To learn about boundaries and historic territories, contact the nations/peoples in question.

For some further food for thought, check out this series of blog posts about indigenous foodways from Civil Eats and this article and podcast from The Table Underground(featuring Mohegan Anthropologist and Food Solutions New England Network Leadership Institute alum Rachel Sayet).

Also explore these indigenous food sites:
Garden Warriors Good Seeds
Indigenous Food Revolutionary
Cooking Healthy in Indian Country [YouTube channel]

What questions come up for you? How has what you knew before been affirmed, changed or challenged?