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USDA Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative

The USDA Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative (PDF, 86.4 KB) promotes traditional food ways, Indian Country food and agriculture markets, and indigenous health through foods tailored to American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) dietary needs. USDA is partnering with tribal-serving organizations on seven projects to reimagine federal food and agriculture programs from an indigenous perspective and inform future USDA programs and policies.

Cooperative Agreements

Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance
Tribal seed saving through programs and policy

The Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance’s Indigenous Seed Keepers Network (ISKN) provides educational resources, mentorship training, outreach, and advocacy support on seed policy issues, and organizes national and regional events and convenings to connect many communities who are engaging in seed saving. The USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations (OTR) will partner with ISKN to provide seed cleaning mills to create two regional Indigenous seed processing hubs, create a seed bank policy for local tribal communities, and develop feasibility blueprints for emerging seed hubs. The goal of the project is to promote Indigenous cultural diversity for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. The seed saving policy template, technical training, and other developed resources will be publicly available on the ISKN and OTR websites.

Linda Black Elk & Lisa Iron Cloud
Resources on sustainable, Indigenous food foraging practices

The USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations will partner with Linda Black Elk and Lisa Iron Cloud to create two regional lists and corresponding videos of ten common Indigenous, wild foraged plants that may be used for both food and medicine. Lisa Iron Cloud, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, is one of the most well-known experts in traditional food butchering and foraging and her cooking techniques have been featured in numerous videos. Linda Black Elk is an ethnobotanist who serves as the Food Sovereignty Coordinator at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota. She specializes in teaching about Indigenous plants and their uses as food and medicine. Their videos, once available, will be published as a reference on OTR’s website.

North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS)
Healthy cooking videos with renowned Chef Sean Sherman (founder of the company The Sioux Chef)

North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS) is dedicated to addressing the economic and health crises affecting Native communities by re-establishing Native foodways. NATIFS was co-founded by Chef Sean Sherman, Oglala Lakota, born in Pine Ridge, S.D., who has received international acclaim for his work in the Indigenous culinary movement and is also founder of the company The Sioux Chef. The USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations (OTR) will partner with NATIFS to provide healthy cooking videos that demonstrate how to incorporate Indigenous foods with Food Distribution on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) food package items. The goal of the healthy cooking video project is to improve healthy food choices by incorporating culturally relevant Indigenous foods. The healthy cooking videos will be publicly available on the FDPIR and OTR websites.

Intertribal Agriculture Council
Marketing Indigenous and Native-produced foods

The USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations will partner with the Intertribal Agriculture Council’s American Indian Foods Program to increase consumer and agency awareness of the abundance of products grown, produced, harvested, and made by American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Indigenous, shelf stable foods will be publicly available for display in OTR’s Hall of Nations and distributed to individual consumers and agency partners. By showcasing Indigenous and Native grown foods in OTR’s Hall of Nations, it will provide educational opportunities for federal agencies, other tribes, and the public about available tribally produced foods. IAC will also hire staff to expand domestic marketing opportunities for Native producers.

Intertribal Buffalo Council
Promoting bison production

The Intertribal Buffalo Council (ITBC), facilitates education and training programs, marketing strategies, and technical assistance to enable successful and self-sufficient tribal herd operations. The USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations (OTR) will partner with ITBC to develop a handbook that informs cattle producers about the process to transition from cattle to bison production. The goal of the project is to help Tribal communities restore bison in Indian Country to preserve their historical, cultural, traditional, and spiritual relationship for future generations. The informational handbook will be publicly available on the ITBC and OTR websites.

University of Arkansas - Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (IFAI)
Reviewing regulations to empowering self-governance

The University of Arkansas Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (IFAI) focuses on promoting tribally driven solutions to revitalize and advance traditional food systems and diversified economic development throughout Indian Country. IFAI provides tribal governments, producers, and food businesses with educational resources, policy research, and strategic legal analysis as a foundation for building robust food economies. Through this partnership with USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations, IFAI will produce a report on legislative and regulatory proposals needed to empower tribal self-governance within USDA food programs.