Deb Haaland and the U.S. Department of Interior plan to launch an array of Indigenous food hubs to support a healthy lifestyle and provide food choices for Native Americans. Too often, Native American communities have great difficulty accessing healthy and traditional foods.
Initiative Of The New Food Hubs
The U.S. Department of Interior’s new food hubs aim to mend several injustices endured by Native American people.
Bryan Newlan, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, says the food hubs plan to correct the damage done by colonization, relocation, and assimilation Native Americans have experienced.
Additionally, the hubs aim “to provide healthier food to Indigenous communities and help to repair the damage done to Indigenous foodways.”
Given the extensive time Indigenous people have been restricted from healthy foods, part of the food hubs’ goal is education.
Therefore, the new hubs will help source Indigenous foods, educate people about healthy nutrition, and train Native Americans on healthy and culturally appropriate food preparation.
Food Is Deeper Than Nutrition For Native People
In Native American culture, food holds an essential role because it has a meaning beyond just nutrition. “Food is an important part of Native culture, traditions, history, and community,” Newland says.
With that, food offers Indigenous people a connection to the planet. Food “represents our connection to the Earth and the customs that have been passed down through generations,” Haaland notes.
Food Sovereignty: A Need in the Native American Community
Food hubs are critically needed in the Native American community. “Indigenous communities face historically high rates of food insecurity and often lack access to affordable and healthy foods,” Haaland observes.
Further, about 1 in 4 Native Americans face food insecurity. This statistic is significantly higher than the national average, which sees 1 in 9 Americans enduring food insecurity.
Apache County, Arizona, has the highest food insecurity rates in the country, with 22% of the population struggling to access healthy nutrition. Moreover, 18 out of 28 counties in the U.S. that are majority Native American population have high food insecurity rates.
Because Native American people struggle to find nutritious food, overall health concerns have become an increasingly prevalent issue.
The principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at DOI, Wizipan Garriott, notes that in the past Native people “were physically fit” and “healthy.” Garriott notes that it resulted from “our lifestyle and healthy eating habits.”
Therefore, the food hubs aim to reintroduce Indigenous people to the nutritious foods their ancestors relied on hundreds of years ago.
How the New Food Hubs will Work
Here’s how the program will work.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (B.I.A.) and the Bureau of Indian Education (B.I.E.) will partner to create Indigenous Food Hubs. These government agencies plan to place the food hubs at 55 BIE-operated schools and 26 BIA-operated detention centers around the country.
Further, the B.I.E. and B.I.A. are hiring an outside nutritionist to develop culturally appropriate foods and preparation from Indigenous knowledge.
To ensure the foods are culturally appropriate, the agencies are partnering with Native vendors, tribal health programs, and tribal food sovereignty programs. By working with Native individuals and programs, the food hubs will effectively incorporate holistic approaches.
Also, Native American culture, social determinants of health, food, land management, and regenerative agriculture will all be taken into consideration.
“Tribes have the solutions to their own challenges. It’s our job to empower tribes and Indigenous people to develop the solutions to the challenges they face,” Garriott attests.
Other Organizations Promoting Indigenous Food Security
In addition to the U.S. Department of Interior’s new Indigenous food hubs, other national programs are joining the effort to support tribal food sovereignty.
One example is the U.S.D.A., which is improving staff recruitment and training to better understand how to serve Indigenous people. With that, the department is working on expanding its Food Distribution Program in tribal nations.
To do this, the U.S.D.A. is partnering with tribes to improve food packages, expanding Native traditional foods, and providing more Indigenous foods in school meal programs.
Another entity striving for better Indigenous food sovereignty is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This entity aims to expand food access to individuals who receive Indian Community Development Block Grant money.
Further, the Housing and Urban Development team plans to educate tribes about healthy eating habits and the importance of physical activity.
Improved Food Access in Native Communities
Improving food access in Native communities requires efforts from various government and private entities.
Thankfully, branches like the B.I.A., B.I.E., U.S.D.A., and more are working to end this epidemic which has endured for far too long. Not only do these programs strive to improve the overall health of Indigenous peoples, but they also promote tribal independence.
Health concerns are a major issue in tribal communities because of the limited access to healthy foods. Therefore, improving access to healthy foods and educating tribal communities on traditional food prep offers overall betterment for Indigenous communities across the country.