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Please respond to the following questions in a post of no fewer than 150 words. Tate Walker highlights two projects that are “trying to put the culture back in agriculture” (1084). What does that statement mean and what is its underlying concept abut culture? How well does Walker explain that concept? What examples, facts, or other types of evidence does Walker use to illustrate this important point?
TATÉ WALKER (they/them) is a Lakota (Cheyenne River Sioux, South Dakota) writer, photographer/videographer, and indigenous rights activist living in Phoenix. This article was published in 2015 in Native Peoples: The Journal of the Heard Museum. The Heard is an art museum in Phoenix founded in 1929 and dedicated to advancing American Indian art.
IN THE MIDST of Colorado Springs’ urban sprawl, Monycka Snowbird (Ojibwe) raises fowl, goats, rabbits, and indigenous plants to feed and make household products for her family and neighbors.
About 650 miles north in a sprawling rural landscape on the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota, Karen Ducheneaux (Lakota) and her
tiospaye1 are slowly building a series of ecodomes and straw bale
buildings powered by solar, wind, and water in an effort to disconnect from pollutants of mind, body, and earth.
The two women represent a growing number of Native people and organizations in the United States both on and off tribal land committed to leading clean, sustainable, and culturally competent lives.
The efforts of individuals like these women, in addition to the prevalence of companies specializing in mainstreaming indigenous foods and non-profits committed to building energy efficient and sustainable housing in tribal communities, highlight the popularity and return of such lifestyles.
Monycka Snowbird works in the yard.
Tiospaye. Walker doesn’t define it, but context clues help you understand. Using a word or phrase from an additional language can be an effective choice; check out pp. 685–93 to find out more.
“Our people had this tiospaye system, where you really made a life with the people you felt close to, and had skills that complemented each other,” says Ducheneaux. “We’ve spent generations at this point getting away from that beautiful system, and we’re taught the only way to be
successful is to follow the American dream, which is one of autonomy and being paid for your skills.”
The American dream, Ducheneaux says, doesn’t work on the reservation.
“It’s not in our nature to turn our back on people who need us,” she continues. “Our people without even realizing it sometimes are still living in a tiospaye system, because any success we’ve had as a people—success in material wealth—is because we can depend on each other.”
Studies show food stability, affordability, and access is severely limited for Native communities. According to a report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service released in December, just 25.6 percent of all tribal areas were within a mile’s distance from a supermarket, compared with 58.8 percent of the total U.S. population.
The latest USDA data also shows 23.5 million people nationwide live in a food desert—that is to say, their access to a grocery store and healthy, affordable food is limited—and more than half of those people are low income. Many tribal communities and urban areas with high populations of Native people are considered food deserts.
Given the staggering rates of poverty, diseases like diabetes, and unemployment for Natives nationwide—higher for those living on reservations—both Snowbird and Ducheneaux point to the many economic and health benefits of individuals creating their own energies, whether it’s food, fuel and power, or social capital.
Returning to traditional roots in a literal sense is also what drives Snowbird, who has lived in Colorado Springs for more than 20 years. “We as indigenous people have gotten farther away from our traditional food sources than anyone else in this country, and I think that’s why we have this sort of swelling epidemic of diabetes and obesity in Indian Country, because we’re losing the knowledge of our traditional foods,” says Snowbird, 40.
Some 440,000 people live in the Colorado Springs area, and Snowbird works with both Native and non-Native organizations throughout her region to educate and promote the benefits of urban food production, known in some places as backyard or micro farming. She leads
educational classes for children and adults, including seed cultivation, plant recognition, harvesting, livestock butchering, and more.
“You can’t be sovereign if you can’t feed yourself,” says Snowbird, borrowing a line from Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe), an environmental activist and founder of Honor the Earth. “One of the ways colonizers controlled Indian people was to take our food sources away. Let’s reclaim our food.
“We have to teach our kids it’s not just about preserving our cultures and language; it’s about restorative stewardship and about knowing where food comes from, who tribally it comes from,” Snowbird says. “Indigenous food is medicine. And food brings everyone together.” . . .
Snowbird learned to appreciate indigenous food systems from her father, who hunted wild game and imparted an appreciation for knowing where your dinner comes from and how to prepare it beyond simply opening a box and heating up the contents.
But being known throughout Colorado Springs as “the Goat Lady” and earning a reputation as a knowledgeable indigenous educator didn’t happen until a few years ago, when Snowbird spearheaded a city-wide movement to change and educate people on the local laws of urban food production.
Now Snowbird manages the Colorado Springs Urban Homesteading support group, which boasts roughly 1,200 members. Through that group, Snowbird leads several classes per season on animal husbandry, butchering, and more with her fiery brand of wit and know- how.
Perhaps closer to her heart, however, are the lessons she imparts to the city’s urban Native youth. Colorado Springs School District 11, in which Snowbird’s two daughters, ages 11 and 13, are enrolled, has the only Title VII Indian Education Program in the city.
“I talk to Title VII kids about what indigenous food is—that it’s not just buffalo or corn,” she explains. “I try to break it down for them in terms of what they ate at lunch that day, even if it was junk food.”
Thanks in large part to Snowbird’s efforts, the program has several garden beds and a greenhouse growing traditional Native edibles, including Apache brown-striped sunflower seeds, . . . Pueblo chiles, and more.
“I come in sometimes and kids are bouncing off all the walls,” Snowbird says. “But the moment you get their hands in the dirt, it’s like all that contact with the earth just calms them.”
The children also learn to grow, harvest and cook with chokecherries, prickly pears, beans, and other local vegetation.
“Starting the kids off with food lets us also discuss Indian issues without putting people on the defensive,” Snowbird explains. “It’s hard to get mad when you’re talking about food.”
Re-introducing and re-popularizing indigenous foods and traditional cooking, especially among Native youth, will help strengthen Native people and the communities they live in, Snowbird insists.
Snowbird admits maintaining a lifestyle committed to food sovereignty can be hard on her tight budget. However, she says it helps her save and earn money in the long run. Snowbird is able to collect, grow, use and sell or barter with the milk, eggs, meat, vegetables, cleaning and toiletry items, and other useful goods produced on her property.
“I’m not completely self-sufficient by any means. But urban homesteading . . . is about as traditional as you can get,” she insists. “It’s living off the land within the radius of where you live and knowing the Creator has put what you need right where you are.” . . .
For outsiders following along on Facebook as Ducheneaux and her family transition to living efficiently and sustainably, the process of building an ecodome and maintaining a traditional garden may have seemed as easy as digging a hole.
Except that the hole in question—12 feet across and 4 to 6 feet deep in which the ecodome sits—took three months to dig out back in 2012, thanks to heavy rains and a landscape of gumbo.
“It was so much work,” Ducheneaux recalls. “We had to move the gumbo out one wheelbarrow at a time
Weaving textiles and harvesting corn, two ways Snowbird practices sustainability.
But the effort, shared by about seven members of Ducheneaux’s tiospaye—including her mom, siblings, and their spouses, as well as volunteers—has been well worth it.
On 10 acres of family land on the Cheyenne River reservation, Ducheneaux and her family are creating the Tatanka Wakpala Model Sustainable Community. The family has funded the project with help from Honor the Earth and Bread of Life Church . . .
The shell of the small, ecodome home—which the family learned to build via video and trial-by-error—is complete, and a garden featuring plants indigenous to the area produces hundreds of pounds of produce each year.
Considering hers is a reservation located within counties consistently listed as some of the poorest in the nation, and recognizing the tribe suffers from insufficient and inefficient housing where utility bills can reach into the high hundreds or more during the winter months, Ducheneaux hopes her family’s model sparks a trend for other tribal members.
“We really believe that even people who aren’t eco-friendly will be inspired by our use of wind and solar energy. We put up our own electric system and we’ll never have to pay another utility bill,” Ducheneaux says.
“We were waiting for the blueprint to drop in our laps. Then we realized no one was going to do it for us, so we said we’d do it ourselves. We’ll make mistakes and figure it out.”. . .
“What we have going on out there is a desire to be more self-sufficient. When we sat around talking about this, we asked ourselves, ‘What do we need?’” Ducheneaux explains. “We needed to start feeding ourselves and taking responsibility for our own food needs. . . . Not just growing food and raising animals, but going back to our Lakota traditions and treating the Earth respectfully by using what it gives us.” . ..
Living in an urban or reservation setting provides those who want to live sustainably unique challenges, both Snowbird and Ducheneaux say.
“One of the challenges is being so far away from everything,” Ducheneaux says of rural reservation life. “For a lot of our volunteers, it’s eye-opening for them that the hardware store is a one-hour trip just in one direction.”
Planning far ahead is key, Ducheneaux says.
Infrastructure, including a severe lack of Internet connectivity, weather, and a disinterested tribal government can also be setbacks, although Ducheneaux notes the latter can benefit sustainability projects due to few, if any, restrictions on things like harvesting rainwater or land use.
For urban Natives, being disconnected from tribal knowledge—for instance, the indigenous names and uses of plants—is a major disadvantage, Snowbird said.
When someone in the community comes forward with that knowledge, it’s often exploited for profit, and the people who would benefit most— namely Native youth—are left out.
“I always find it surprising how removed from the whole food process people are; they don’t know or care where their food comes from,” says Snowbird, who harvests edibles on hikes through the mountains or on strolls through downtown. She tries to combat this by giving eggs and
other food produced on her property to those who wouldn’t—or couldn’t —normally buy organic in a supermarket.
“Pretty soon those people are asking me for more eggs and then we’re talking about how they can get started with chickens in their backyard or growing herbs on their window sills,” Snowbird says, adding those conversations eventually lead to discussions on indigenous issues, regardless of whether the person is Native or not. “We’re trying to put the culture back in agriculture.