Culture , Education

Food Sovereignty discussed at Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Summit

Photo caption: Students with the 2018 Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit tour the Quapaw Tribe's greenhouse operations during a field trip for their education program on June 12. BENNY POLACCA/Osage News

QUAPAW, Okla. – With livestock grazing, bees producing honey and plants, fruits and vegetables growing on the land surrounding the Downstream Casino Resort, the Quapaw Tribe invested in greenhouse and meat processing operations to bring food preparation practices in-house.

By taking those initiatives, the northeastern Oklahoma tribal nation is cutting down on food and horticultural costs in directly providing several of those staples to its casino resort amenities, as well as its tribal programs serving Quapaw tribal members of all ages. The Quapaw’s food sovereignty endeavors serve as a must-see field trip for young Native American students who are interested in working toward professions in those areas or serving their respective tribal communities.

The 2018 Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit, comprised of about 30 high school-age students, paid a visit to the Quapaw operations on June 12 to view the operations, including the tribe’s greenhouses, meat processing plant and casino where the students enjoyed a catered lunch with several of the fruits and vegetables and meats coming from those operations. Now in its fifth year, the summit – held June 7-14 at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville – is open to Native students (including Alaskan and Hawaiian Native students) ages 15-18 who are interested in learning more about food and agriculture practices and other related fields including food law and policy, conservation practices and nutrition and health.

Two summit instructors with Osage Nation ties participated this year in discussing food sovereignty topics with the students. According to the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance website, food sovereignty is described as “ the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”

“We hope to be inspiring the next generation of agriculture producers,” said Erin Parker, research director and staff attorney for the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, which hosts the youth summit. “We want (the students) to understand the variety of food agriculture practices, (food) law … this year, we let them dig into those in a deeper way.” Four areas of study covered include agriculture business and finance, planning for agricultural production, food law and policy and nutrition and health, she said.  

Keir Johnson-Reyes (Osage) participated in this year’s summit remotely from Northern California where he lives with his wife Glenda who recently gave birth to their first child. Johnson-Reyes, who grows Osage corn, works for the Intertribal Agriculture Council and helped plan the first-ever Braiding the Sacred gathering of traditional corn growers in 2017 at the Nation.

“As part of the Natural Resources track, I was asked to be involved in an activity called ‘Phone a Professional,’” Johnson-Reyes said. “Students called me at a specified time and interviewed me utilizing a question format. I was selected by a summit facilitator to discuss my role with the Intertribal Agriculture Council, where I serve 138 tribal communities in California and Nevada. I assist tribal communities and individuals with planning assistance, resource identification, USDA technical assistance, youth leadership development, and project support for initiatives involving food sovereignty, natural resources, community development, and interagency partnerships with tribes. I fielded questions from the students that touched on several of the above areas.”

Electa Hare-RedCorn is a doctoral student at the U of A in Fayetteville, also focusing her studies on indigenous food sovereignty and health and agriculture policies. She is a former academic counselor for the ON Education Department and is married to Osage graphic design artist Ryan RedCorn.

During her interactions with the students, Hare-RedCorn said: “The group visited the University of Arkansas Food Innovations Research Laboratory and witnessed some distinct cultural differences in our approach to food in the kitchen and the good thoughts we as indigenous people put into our food preparation work. As the week progressed, the students inquired about research ideas they felt would best complement the other tracks of the Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit.”

In addition to the classroom lectures and group projects, the summit youth toured the Quapaw operations and listened to presenters from those entities. Chris Roper, the tribe’s agriculture director, said the Quapaw meat processing plant is the first of its kind owned and operated by a Native American tribe that is certified by the USDA.

“We have about 200 head of bison (with 30 head of baby bison), we keep some at the processing facility and feeding facility area, we manage our bison herd and put certain animals into the meat program so that we can process them and use the meat for jerky, we use it for our cultural programs, our cultural dinners, we feed it at our elder center, our daycares, we sell certain amounts of our ground bison at our retail outlets,” Roper said. “So we manage our bison and we take that product and sell it to create some revenue to come back in to take care of those animals.”

For the Quapaw’s cattle operations, the stock includes Black Angus cattle, heifers and the processed meat goes back to the tribal programs, as well as the restaurants in the Downstream Casino Resort, Roper said. For the casino facility alone, “we go through about 300,000 pounds of beef per year and we’re able to provide the majority in-house.”

For the Quapaw’s five greenhouse operations, various plants and fruits and vegetables are grown inside and outside the facilities and those staples are also used for consumption at the tribal entities and the casino. Those items grown included herbs like thyme, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and hops used in the tribe’s new microbrew beer operations.      

In the Osage Nation, the Nation-owned Bird Creek Farms in Pawhuska also grows plants and vegetables and those harvested items are also provided to the Nation’s entities, which provide food services, including the Senior Nutrition Department (Title VI). For example, on July 24, the ON Office of the Chiefs reported that Bird Creek Farms delivered 320.5 pounds of produce to the Fairfax Family Center, which serves congregate weekday meals and in recent months, produce was also provided to the Pawhuska facility.

For the 2019 summit, Parker said the applications will be accepted in the spring and more information on the summit is on its website at: www.indigenousfoodandag.com/youth-summit/

In describing the summit as an asset for youth, Johnson said: “The Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Summer Leadership Summit directly impacts Native communities by training, supporting, and inspiring Native youth to step into leadership roles within their communities to improve Tribal food systems. The youth are provided tools and exposed to some of the best training and technical resources in the country to take back to their communities, with the intent that they directly contribute to initiatives that support local and traditional foods, health and wellness, and natural resource management to name a few.”