Film Portrays Native American Fight for Food Security, Healthy Land

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Twila Cassadore/San Carlos Apache Tribe—GATHER. Credit: Renan Ozturk. Used with permission from GATHER.

The Navajo-Hopi Observer reported in August that in the 27,000 square mile Navajo reservation—a space bigger than West Virginia—there is a total of 13 grocery stores. For some living on the reservation, trips to buy food and other necessities can take hours, and as the pandemic raged, many would make the trip, only to find grocery stores empty.

The Observer also discussed food insecurity: Citing Johns Hopkins University data, the paper stated that food and water insecurity affect 25-40% of those living in rural tribal communities. Traditionally, Indigenous tribes sourced food through hunting and gathering, practices that changed when the government relocated tribes to reservations, removing them from the land where those practices worked best. The federal government then began commodities programs, the Observer recaps, distributing white flour, lard, and other processed foods, putting Native Americans on track to where they stand now: The population with some of the highest rates of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure in the United States.

A new film, titled GATHER, looks at the ways in which food and land have been stolen from Indigenous Americans—and how the Indigenous are fighting to take it back, along with their health, rights, and traditions.

The synopsis notes that the early American economy was based on the land; labor was necessary for farming, but land came first: “Stolen native land fueled American capitalism while slavery drove the economy.” This theft was accomplished via the genocide of thousands of Native Americans, and the forced relocation of the remaining Natives. Through this and an active program to destroy Native food systems, the American government destroyed thousands upon thousands of years of knowledge of the food space.

The Observer reports that Native Americans have started initiatives such as Project Grow, the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, and Native Seed Network to focus on helping Native Americans find food security and to help individual tribes to get back to their unique food traditions. For more on those programs and the people who run them, read the full article here.

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For a closer look at individuals working to take back what was stolen from them, watch GATHER, which follows individual natives trying to reconnect with their cultural identities, including: An indigenous chef looking to reclaim ancient food ways on the Apache reservation; a Lakota high school student, proving native wisdom through science; and a group of men from the Yurok tribe in Northern California, working to rehabilitate the habitat of their sacred salmon. Before conventional farming, and before regenerative agriculture, Native American tribes stewarded their land and kept it healthy through their own traditional practices. The voices of those reviving those practices, the synopsis explains, are highlighted in the film. The message: Oneness with Mother Earth.

GATHER is Executive Produced by Jason Momoa, Brian Mendoza, Jennifer Buffett, Christine Schantz, and Wendy Schmidt. The film is directed by Sanjay Rawal, a James Beard Award-winning filmmaker who has spent 15 years working on human rights campaigns globally. View the trailer and find out where to watch the 74-minute film here.

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