Andi Murphy (Navajo):
Let’s take it back a little bit. Food sovereignty seems like it’s maybe a new thing, a new issue we’re having to think about today. We were sovereign, a long time ago. How has our food system changed to where now you’re [researching the concept of food sovereignty]. I’m pretty sure a long time ago we didn’t focus on food sovereignty because, you know, we were sovereign.
Dr. Elizabeth Hoover (Mohawk and Mi’kmaq):
Yeah, if you were a sovereign nation, you were food sovereign, right? So, there are a number of different factors over the years that have been part of the settler-colonial process that is the formation of the U.S., that has led to tribes becoming less food sovereign.
So if you think about scorched earth battle tactics that had been used, first by the French against the Haudenosaunee for example in the seventeenth century, and then you think of Sullivan’s campaign [that] General George Washington sent out that essentially just burned millions of acres of corn and people’s food supplies and orchards [....] The idea was, how do you make indigenous people reliant on the government for foodstuffs?
Or if you think of your own nation during the Long Walk, those Navajo people that refused to relocate, Kit Carson and his men went and burned their sheep and burned their fields and made sure that they didn’t have access to their foods. [...]
You think about tribes that were relocated, so tribes that were taken out ot the Southeast and marched on the Trail of Tears off to Oklahoma. When you’re suddenly removed from the ecosystem and the climate that you’re used to, and then sent to a whole different place, you know your seeds might not grow there, you might not be familiar with those plants and animals that are there, and that’s going to interrupt your ability to be able to feed yourself.
And then during the late 1880s, during the allotment era, you have the Dawes Act in 1887 where reservation land bases are shrunk even further than they had been, the privatization of land. And then the quote-unquote leftover land gets given to settlers and people lose their allotment to settlers, and it’s a lot harder to be food sovereign when you have a much smaller land base.
And then you think about the boarding school era, and people’s children who were taken out of their homes and out of communities and sent off to boarding schools. You develop a much different relationship with food than you would have home with your family. Now you have kids that aren’t being fed enough, that are kind of crowded around these tables and all of a sudden being fed a lot of bread and butter for example, that they wouldn’t have been eating at home. So people’s types of foods that they’re eating changes, and your habits around food changes, you’re scrambling at these schools to make sure that you’re getting enough food before somebody else takes it. And people have talked about how their relatives came home from boarding schools with a very different relationship to food.
In the Southwest you have access to water changes, and so people went from having the skills and the knowledge around dryland farming [...] people developed corn different and were able to grow it right out of the sand, it looks like. But then the BIA [federal Bureau of Indian Affairs] comes in and says “No no, this is how you should be farming, not in the way that you’re doing,” and develops this system of reservoirs that don’t end up working out. And then it’s “Oh wait, this didn’t work out, I guess you all should have kept the techniques that you had.” But [by] then people have become more reliant on these other types of farming that are more water intensive, and now tribes [are] just fighting to get the rights to that water back.