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I Like Food Summit is a Treat for the Community

“The real wealth is here. It is up to us to utilize it in a sustainable fashion,” proclaimed Shannon Wheeler, Treasurer for the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. 

Wheeler was one of five panelist at the I Like Food Summit on December 11, 2017 in Lapwai, Idaho at the Pi-Nee-Waus Community Center. This was a workshop conducted by The Food Committee. As an advocate for food sovereignty, Wheeler spoke on behalf of his Nez Perce Food System dream.  “He really has a vision for the Nimiipuu,” assured Ann McCormack, Nez Perce Tribe Economic Development Planner. 

The summit was funded by the First Nations Institute. It was organized to bring awareness and information to the community for better understanding of the tribal foods system. Along with Wheeler were speakers, Dr. Rico Cruz, Nora Frank, Thunder Garcia, and Stefanie Krantz. Each panelist had their own presentation on the local food system and how they are working to make a positive impact. 

Wheeler opened up the panel discussion by speaking on behalf of his vision. He spoke of cultural leave days, a new day-labor program, abundant food caches, and utilizing the land we have. Wheeler asked the question, How do we make this land work for us?  In correspondence to the entire mission, Wheeler envisions getting back to the traditional way of the Nimiipuu. The traditional way when there were camps, and leaders; when gathering was done at a certain time and completed, leaving time for other enjoyable activities. “If we have control of our food systems, we will not feel the impact from outside occurrences because we will be able to take care of our people.” 

Dr. Cruz is a Food Processing Specialist and a connoisseur of growing local foods in green houses. His mission is to engage in developing stronger partnerships throughout the region and to develop a food movement across agricultural communities. Dr. Cruz hopes to train the next generation of leaders to be stewards of the land. “Food sovereignty allows us to take control of our food source which will make us a healthier people. It will allow us to avoid consuming preservatives and additives that are found in many foods today,” stated Dr. Cruz.

Frank is working on a project that is assisting with creating Tribal food sovereignty. She works for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board for the project Weave NW. The project goal is to prevent chronic diseases that are most widespread through Native populations in the United States. The project works with 43 different tribal communities throughout Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Frank’s program is also implementing a new program called the Northwest Tribal Food Sovereignty Coalition. This program will provide education outreach, indigenous food celebration and gathering, along with an online food resource center.

Garcia is the Food Distribution Program Director, for the Nez Perce Tribe Commodity Foods and partners with the USDA Food and Nutrition Services.  The center not only provides a food supply for families of modest means, but it also offers information on all things surrounding food; including preparation, storage, and food handling. Today’s USDA program has placed higher priority on healthy food options. They have also implemented some traditional foods such as salmon and buffalo. The transition is intended to encourage healthier life styles among all people. 

Krantz is the Climate Change Coordinator for the Nez Perce Tribe. She is a strong advocate for Growing Local. “Having enough food is a kind of freedom,” explained Krantz. Her presentation focused on how climate change is largely affecting our food supply; including our access to food, the diversity in crops, and the low numbers of pollinators. She is working on a climate adaptation plan and assessment. Krantz studies other communities around the world that are finding ways to restore their food and ecosystems. This will provide insight on how to maintain our food security and sovereignty within the local community.

Proceeding the panel discussions, the floor was opened for public comments and questions. Many community members voiced their opinions and showed strong support of the local food systems, becoming self-reliant, and building a stronger awareness of the importance of local healthy foods. Participants also spoke of the importance of maintaining traditional foods, teaching tribal members where to find these items, and how to properly gather them. 

Following panel questions and answers, participants were encouraged to visit the booths and food vendors. Many informational booths were in attendance including Lapwai Community Garden, Eat Smart Idaho, Back Yard Harvest, and more. The booths provided a plethora of knowledge and information. The local food vendors may have been the biggest hit.

A handful of Native restaurateurs were invited to participate in this event. These folks are well known and recognized in the tribal food system network. Vendors brought samplings of healthy food options they provide in their restaurants. They also explained how to make many of them and what the ingredients were. Moana’s Island Kitchen, KC’s Burgers & Brews, Sundown Bar & Grill, Qeqiit Bar & Grill, along with some individual participants, brought unique and tasteful treats for everyone to indulge. 

Prior to the Summit, Community Members were asked to complete the First Nations Nez Perce Food Sovereignty Assessment Survey. The results will lead to a better understanding of the food supply chains in the community, agricultural and food profiles, and economic and health considerations. With this survey, there will be a clearer understanding of the needs, allowing the Tribe to move closer to food sovereignty. One-hundred and sixty one surveys were completed, surpassing the goal! The results will be available in the near future.

This was the first summit, and after all the positive feedback plans are already in motion for The Food Committee to conduct another. Wheeler wrapped his feeling on the event, and the work being conducted all in one sentence, “It takes a staff to make things happen, this is our opportunity and it’s a game changer.” 

The Food Committee (pending an official name), is made up of technical staff and community members dedicated to proactively improving the Nez Perce food system. If you would like more information or are interested in joining The Food Committee, please contact Ann McCormack at (208)621-3710 or by email at annm@nezperce.org