Linda Black Elk: Indigenous Food Sovereignty and COVID-19
In this interview, we talk with Linda Black Elk about a renewed connection to indigenous foods, community action, and health during a pandemic. Black Elk is the Food Sovereignty Coordinator at United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota and an ethnobotanist specializing in traditional foods of the Great Plains.
For more about her work, follow her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/lindablackelk) or visit the UTTC website (uttc.edu/land-grant-extension/).
Special thanks to Margaret Huettl for providing a video land acknowledgement for this episode. To listen to the podcast version of this, visit: https://anchor.fm/gp-lectures
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[00:00:00.023]Welcome to Great Plains Anywhere,
[00:00:01.940]a Paul A. Olson Lecture
[00:00:03.500]from the Center for Great Plains Studies
[00:00:05.180]at the University of Nebraska.
[00:00:07.340]Today, we're speaking with Linda Black Elk,
[00:00:09.360]Food Sovereignty Coordinator
[00:00:10.960]at United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota.
[00:00:14.600]Black Elk is an ethnobotanist,
[00:00:16.260]specializing in traditional foods of the Great Plains.
[00:00:19.500]We've asked her to talk about food sovereignty
[00:00:21.640]and her recent work helping the indigenous community
[00:00:24.405]connect with traditional foods
[00:00:26.320]in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
[00:00:29.207]On behalf of the Center for Great Plains Studies,
[00:00:31.930]I would like to begin by acknowledging
[00:00:33.959]that the University of Nebraska is a land grant institution
[00:00:37.770]with campuses and programs on the past,
[00:00:40.130]present, and future homelands of the Pawnee, Ponca,
[00:00:43.330]Otoe Missouria, Omaha, Lakota,
[00:00:46.470]Dakota, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kaw peoples,
[00:00:50.310]as well as the relocated Ho-Chunk, Iowa,
[00:00:53.030]and Second Fox peoples.
[00:00:55.110]Please take a moment to consider the legacies
[00:00:57.220]of more than 150 years of displacement, violence,
[00:01:01.600]settlement, and survival that bring us here today.
[00:01:05.050]This acknowledgement and the centering of indigenous peoples
[00:01:08.050]is a start as we move forward together
[00:01:10.560]for the next 150 years.
[00:01:13.310]Hi, I'm Katie Nieland,
[00:01:14.340]and I'm the Center's assistant director.
[00:01:16.893]I'm Mikal Eckstrom.
[00:01:18.275]I'm a assistant research professor
[00:01:21.162]at the Center for Great Plains Studies.
[00:01:24.203]I'm Linda Black Elk.
[00:01:25.260]I am an ethnobotanist and a food sovereignty activist,
[00:01:28.520]and I teach up at United Tribes Technical College,
[00:01:31.040]which is a tribal college in Bismarck, North Dakota.
[00:01:39.070]So, hi, everyone.
[00:01:40.130]I'm so honored to be talking to you all today,
[00:01:43.051]and something that's really been on my mind
[00:01:47.200]and in my heart a lot lately
[00:01:49.300]is the connection between COVID-19 and food sovereignty.
[00:01:54.410]And those, to a lot of people, I think,
[00:01:56.170]might seem like really disparate topics,
[00:02:01.610]but particularly within indigenous communities,
[00:02:05.520]they're incredibly connected.
[00:02:07.990]When we talk about COVID-19
[00:02:10.470]and its impact in indigenous communities,
[00:02:12.550]we have to remember that indigenous people
[00:02:15.710]are 3 1/2 times more likely to become infected
[00:02:19.520]with the SARS-CoV-2 virus,
[00:02:21.840]and they are up to 10 times more likely
[00:02:24.930]to have severe consequences,
[00:02:28.150]severe reactions to a COVID-19 infection.
[00:02:32.687]And, you know, we're finding
[00:02:35.550]there are a lot of studies out there that show
[00:02:38.210]that American Indians and Alaskan Natives
[00:02:41.620]are at higher risk for long-term complications
[00:02:45.950]from COVID-19, and so, these are things that,
[00:02:49.090]of course, as an indigenous woman with indigenous children,
[00:02:53.210]these are things I really have to think about,
[00:02:55.090]and I have to think about, you know, those long-term impacts
[00:02:58.440]and how I can serve my community in a good way right now
[00:03:03.230]during this ultra-strange, crazy, and scary time for us.
[00:03:09.150]You know, I think one of the first things
[00:03:11.270]I always like to ask myself is why, you know?
[00:03:14.120]Why are we at higher risk?
[00:03:15.640]Why are we seeing more complications
[00:03:19.460]from a COVID-19 infection?
[00:03:21.440]And, you know, we could probably talk about that
[00:03:23.810]for hours that we don't have today.
[00:03:25.870]But, you know, I think that poverty,
[00:03:28.330]of course, has a lot to do with it.
[00:03:30.910]A lack of access to really good health care
[00:03:34.900]is one of the biggest issues.
[00:03:37.860]But, of course, as I was saying earlier,
[00:03:40.300]food and food sovereignty really have a lot to do with,
[00:03:45.780]you know, the hugely high rates of COVID-19 infections
[00:03:50.760]and complications in Indian country.
[00:03:53.550]So, what is food sovereignty?
[00:03:55.660]What does that even mean?
[00:03:58.270]You know, it's different than food security.
[00:04:00.110]You might have heard the term food security thrown around,
[00:04:02.800]and food security is just basically making sure
[00:04:05.440]everyone has enough food.
[00:04:07.240]Everyone has enough calories that they're taking in.
[00:04:10.530]You know, even if you're, the backpack programs
[00:04:13.830]in elementary schools, where they send kids home
[00:04:16.920]with a backpack full of, you know, maybe bread,
[00:04:19.680]canned soup, things like that, ramen noodles, sometimes.
[00:04:23.670]That's food security, right?
[00:04:25.900]Making sure everyone, that no one is actually hungry
[00:04:28.790]because they have enough calories.
[00:04:31.250]Food sovereignty is different, right?
[00:04:34.850]You know, it worries me
[00:04:36.170]when I see those backpack programs in schools,
[00:04:38.300]it worries me the amount of sodium
[00:04:40.910]that young people are taking home with them, for example.
[00:04:44.108]It worries me because food sovereignty
[00:04:46.760]is really about having choice, right?
[00:04:49.770]Being able to make choices.
[00:04:52.490]If I go into a grocery store,
[00:04:53.970]am I going to be able to access
[00:04:58.150]the foods of my ancestors,
[00:05:00.170]or is my husband and my children?
[00:05:02.570]Are they going to be able to access
[00:05:04.550]food that doesn't just provide calories for them, right?
[00:05:08.520]Because it's not enough.
[00:05:09.920]Food shouldn't just nourish us physically.
[00:05:12.780]It should nourish us mentally
[00:05:14.750]and emotionally and even spiritually.
[00:05:17.100]And when we're eating the foods of our ancestors,
[00:05:19.670]we are being nourished
[00:05:21.110]by so much more than just calories, right?
[00:05:24.390]We are connecting, you know,
[00:05:26.390]our very genetics are connected to those foods.
[00:05:29.570]And that really, when we have food sovereignty,
[00:05:34.667]we really have these connections
[00:05:37.485]that ripple out into our communities.
[00:05:41.418]And also, when you're eating traditional foods,
[00:05:44.500]you're actually getting nourishment
[00:05:47.970]that your body recognizes, you know, on a cellular level.
[00:05:51.670]And so, those calories will actually nourish you more,
[00:05:57.860]provide more nourishment, more nutrients
[00:06:00.720]that your body needs than processed foods
[00:06:03.300]or Western or colonized foods,
[00:06:05.720]whatever you want to call them.
[00:06:07.190]So, it's really important.
[00:06:09.770]The colonized diet, the diet that's high in sodium,
[00:06:14.253]high in refined sugar,
[00:06:16.690]high in food colorings and preservatives,
[00:06:21.930]that has actually that has actually reduced us
[00:06:28.130]to these high-risk categories,
[00:06:31.239]not just for COVID-19, right?
[00:06:34.830]High-risk categories that include heart disease,
[00:06:37.670]diabetes, asthma, and many others.
[00:06:40.820]And what are the greatest risk factors
[00:06:43.610]for complications and death from COVID-19?
[00:06:47.310]That same heart disease, the same diabetes,
[00:06:50.620]the same asthma, all risk factors
[00:06:53.070]for not just complications, but death.
[00:06:56.870]And I live in Bismarck, North Dakota.
[00:07:00.010]I live on the traditional homelands
[00:07:01.840]of the (speaking foreign language),
[00:07:03.490]which are the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota peoples.
[00:07:06.790]This is also the traditional homelands
[00:07:08.490]of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara peoples,
[00:07:11.960]and all around me, you know,
[00:07:13.640]I'm in this sort of central spot,
[00:07:15.968]sort of where a lot of different tribes meet.
[00:07:19.600]We even have Ojibwe here in North Dakota,
[00:07:22.501]and I'm seeing elders dying all around me.
[00:07:27.770]And we're not just talking, you know, elders who,
[00:07:30.740]you know, maybe are in a nursing home or whatever.
[00:07:32.890]We're talking about active knowledge-holders,
[00:07:37.367]some of them, you know, how many fluent speakers
[00:07:40.150]do you think are left of the Lakota language?
[00:07:43.460]And just in the past couple of months,
[00:07:45.610]just Standing Rock alone, the Standing Rock Reservation
[00:07:48.860]which borders North and South Dakota,
[00:07:50.620]just Standing Rock alone
[00:07:52.100]has lost four fluent first language speakers, right?
[00:07:55.970]Speakers of the Lakota language.
[00:07:57.980]And I mean, that is knowledge.
[00:07:59.930]That's a world view that we'll never get back,
[00:08:03.600]and that none of us were able to document sufficiently
[00:08:06.810]before they passed, you know?
[00:08:08.980]I mean, it's just, I'm getting goosebumps
[00:08:10.940]just talking about it, because it's just such a loss
[00:08:14.610]of regal, traditional, amazing people,
[00:08:18.421]people who have been able to guide us into a future
[00:08:22.610]of food sovereignty, but also language acquisition
[00:08:25.940]and and knowledge, you know?
[00:08:29.150]I believe that, without those elders and their work
[00:08:32.440]in their final years, we wouldn't even be as healthy
[00:08:37.820]as we are, emotionally and mentally.
[00:08:40.370]And so, you know, we're seeing our elders
[00:08:43.880]dying all around us, but, you know, in the media,
[00:08:46.922]we're seeing people who are like, oh, you know?
[00:08:49.650]And even Trump, you know,
[00:08:51.810]and his discussion of like, oh, it's not that big a deal.
[00:08:54.330]Don't let it control your life.
[00:08:56.540]Obviously, you know, when you have access to healthcare,
[00:09:00.020]when you have access to, you know,
[00:09:02.300]all the money in the world, maybe it's not as big of a deal,
[00:09:05.490]but among indigenous communities,
[00:09:07.720]not even just here in the United States,
[00:09:11.030]but you know, all over the world in indigenous communities,
[00:09:14.780]even on other continents, we're seeing, you know,
[00:09:18.580]high rates of death, particularly among our elders,
[00:09:22.700]and that's just, it's such a loss.
[00:09:24.750]And so, what I've been doing
[00:09:26.230]the work I've been doing has been
[00:09:28.440]to try to forward the cause of food sovereignty,
[00:09:34.150]because we will get through this.
[00:09:36.830]Okay, we will get through COVID-19.
[00:09:38.920]We're gonna lose a lot of knowledge holders.
[00:09:41.480]We're gonna lose a lot of our elders, as we have been,
[00:09:44.550]but I believe we're gonna get through it.
[00:09:46.570]The problem is, and all of the data supports this,
[00:09:50.370]this is not the last pandemic virus
[00:09:52.697]we are going to see in my lifetime, right?
[00:09:57.620]By all accounts, my life is half over.
[00:10:01.280](laughs) Oh, my God.
[00:10:04.080]I don't think I've ever actually said that out loud,
[00:10:07.350]but it's true.
[00:10:09.200]And you know, I'm 46, but you know,
[00:10:13.450]if we look at the data,
[00:10:14.480]this is not the last pandemic virus we're going to see.
[00:10:17.350]Because of climate change, because of drilling,
[00:10:20.190]because of what we're doing to our food
[00:10:23.500]and our water and our air,
[00:10:25.300]this is not the last pandemic virus we're going to see.
[00:10:28.440]And I will be damned if I'm going to let this
[00:10:32.366]happen again to our communities,
[00:10:34.490]if we're gonna keep losing our elders to these viruses,
[00:10:37.610]to these new diseases that are popping up all around us.
[00:10:41.020]And so, food sovereignty, I believe,
[00:10:43.300]is the best way to try to make sure that our communities
[00:10:46.830]are able to handle these issues in the future.
[00:10:50.984]So, that's what we've been doing.
[00:10:54.320]Even on a small scale, you know,
[00:10:56.260]I have lot of friends and allies who are,
[00:11:01.040]of course, feeding their communities right now
[00:11:03.300]and trying to feed them beautiful,
[00:11:05.290]what we call medicine soups, you know,
[00:11:08.700]making huge kettles of soup,
[00:11:10.660]enough to feed 30 to 50 people at a time.
[00:11:14.150]There's a lot of us doing that.
[00:11:15.540]My family and I have actually
[00:11:17.110]been putting food kits together, traditional food kits.
[00:11:20.500]And so, these are like, you know, 18-gallon totes
[00:11:23.661]filled with traditional foods like traditional bread root,
[00:11:27.850]which you can actually see some right back here,
[00:11:31.390]filled with things like bread root,
[00:11:35.530]also known as Timpsula in the Lakota language.
[00:11:38.494]You know, we've been handing out these food kits
[00:11:40.610]with traditional foods, like the Timpsula,
[00:11:42.700]like real maple syrup, which is actually not just sweet,
[00:11:47.220]it's also medicinal.
[00:11:49.100]It sounds crazy, but real traditional maple syrup
[00:11:53.952]is actually good for diabetics.
[00:11:56.430]It's actually, it helps to improve pancreatic function,
[00:11:59.794]so it's, you know,
[00:12:01.661]a wonderful thing to put in these kits for our elders.
[00:12:05.122]You know, we're putting in things like teas,
[00:12:08.410]you know, different medicinal but beautiful teas that,
[00:12:12.190]like I said, I've had elders come to us and say,
[00:12:14.907]"Oh, my gosh, I haven't had real mint tea
[00:12:18.120]with real rose hips since I was a little girl," you know?
[00:12:21.680]We're putting in traditional varieties of beans.
[00:12:24.010]We're putting in, you know, hominy,
[00:12:26.790]real like ash, nixtamalized dried harmony into our kits.
[00:12:32.880]And, you know, it's amazing to see
[00:12:36.400]that example of what I was saying earlier,
[00:12:38.130]about how food can nourish us spiritually and emotionally,
[00:12:42.310]and it's amazing to see elders react to traditional foods
[00:12:46.490]and saying, "Oh, my gosh, I can't wait to cook with that
[00:12:49.170]or have my grandchild cook with that."
[00:12:52.163]So, it's really a beautiful thing.
[00:12:54.510]And by doing that, we're introducing them to these foods,
[00:12:58.445]reintroducing them to these foods,
[00:13:00.709]that actually a lot of people didn't think they had
[00:13:03.720]any access to anymore.
[00:13:05.380]You know, how many times can you get
[00:13:06.820]real, canoe-harvested wild rice, right?
[00:13:09.980]You can't go into the grocery store and get it.
[00:13:13.100]And the paddy rice, you know,
[00:13:14.620]the GMO, often raised in paddy, wild rice
[00:13:18.880]is not the same at all.
[00:13:20.280]It doesn't even have the same nutritional value.
[00:13:23.550]And so, you know, we're providing that for our elders,
[00:13:27.008]who are then sharing it with their children
[00:13:29.140]and their grandchildren.
[00:13:30.620]And I believe that's going to have
[00:13:32.200]a really long-term positive impact on our communities.
[00:13:35.400]And as an ethnobotanist, of course,
[00:13:37.090]I have a much different relationship with plants
[00:13:39.430]than a lot of people.
[00:13:41.070]I go out and I talk to plants.
[00:13:42.900]I pray with them.
[00:13:43.733]I sing to them.
[00:13:44.566]And you know, what I tell people is
[00:13:46.080]they speak to me as well, you know?
[00:13:50.530]which you should see what happens
[00:13:51.550]when I tell my vegan friends that.
[00:13:53.040]They don't like that at all, (laughs) but that's okay.
[00:13:57.860]But I have a mostly plant-based diet anyway.
[00:14:01.170]But you know, I speak to plants and they speak back to me.
[00:14:04.380]They communicate with me,
[00:14:05.900]and I remember an elder once telling me
[00:14:07.650]that if you listen really carefully,
[00:14:09.500]you'll actually hear plants and our traditional food saying,
[00:14:12.887]"You know, I know you, I recognize you.
[00:14:15.310]I knew your grandmother.
[00:14:16.610]I knew," you know, "your ancestors,
[00:14:19.090]and I know you," and, you know, I feel like that's true.
[00:14:23.130]And I think that that's true for everyone,
[00:14:24.730]not even just indigenous people,
[00:14:26.390]that we should all try to get back to something
[00:14:29.230]that resembles as traditional a diet as possible
[00:14:32.480]for our own physical, mental,
[00:14:34.300]emotional, and spiritual health.
[00:14:37.938]And I know that you have other programs
[00:14:40.880]at the tribal college.
[00:14:41.870]Can you talk a little bit more about those, like the garden?
[00:14:45.140]Sure, of course.
[00:14:46.480]Yep, so like I was saying earlier,
[00:14:48.390]I teach at United Tribes Technical College.
[00:14:50.874]I'm part of the land grant programs there,
[00:14:53.380]which we hate that name.
[00:14:54.300]We're actually thinking about changing it
[00:14:55.740]to the Center for Food Sovereignty on the Great Plains
[00:14:58.910]or something, but we have huge gardens at United Tribes.
[00:15:03.440]And the thing is, I think a lot of people
[00:15:05.930]don't think of North Dakota as a place for gardening.
[00:15:09.930]You know, it gets extremely cold here,
[00:15:12.600]extremely cold, you know, minus-65 Fahrenheit sometimes,
[00:15:16.110]and it's, you know, I know it isn't exactly balmy
[00:15:20.950]down in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the middle of the winter,
[00:15:23.790]but you know, here it gets extremely cold
[00:15:26.503]for long periods of time, but, you know
[00:15:29.850]I was actually out just the other day
[00:15:31.720]still in early November, harvesting collard greens
[00:15:35.460]and kale from the gardens at United Tribes.
[00:15:38.710]And, you know, we have like huge high tunnels
[00:15:42.700]where we were able to still be harvesting tomatoes
[00:15:45.750]just a week ago, you know?
[00:15:48.750]It's really amazing.
[00:15:50.090]You know, when we first started those gardens,
[00:15:53.693]and I wasn't working at United Tribes when that happened,
[00:15:56.210]but when we first started those gardens,
[00:15:59.980]it was for a research focus.
[00:16:02.040]Like, oh, what kind of research could we do
[00:16:03.980]on the best kind of gardening for this area,
[00:16:06.560]or the best kind of corn to grow,
[00:16:08.490]or the best kind of squash?
[00:16:11.000]When this pandemic started, the people in this program,
[00:16:15.760]in the land grant program,
[00:16:17.130]we got together and we said, you know what?
[00:16:20.450]Research is fine and it's fun and it's interesting,
[00:16:23.820]but that's not what's going to feed people,
[00:16:26.400]and what we need to focus on is feeding people.
[00:16:29.790]And so, we just planted huge swaths of food,
[00:16:36.180]and we, every single Monday,
[00:16:39.400]throughout the late spring, summer, and even, you know,
[00:16:44.030]till now, I think our last food distribution
[00:16:47.640]of fresh vegetables, fruit and vegetables,
[00:16:50.680]was just last week.
[00:16:52.390]You know, we've been able to feed probably 50 people
[00:16:55.920]fresh fruits and vegetables every single week for months,
[00:16:59.120]just because we decided we were going to
[00:17:02.790]focus on feeding people instead of doing research, you know?
[00:17:06.060]And it's been amazing to see,
[00:17:08.647]and it's been amazing to see how many people
[00:17:11.650]wanted that so much.
[00:17:13.340]You know, sometimes we would make
[00:17:14.960]50 fruit and vegetable kits to hand out
[00:17:18.470]on these Mondays, and we would be,
[00:17:20.690]they would be gone in 10 minutes,
[00:17:22.560]and, you know, there'd be another 75 people in line.
[00:17:26.540]You know, and that's in Bismarck, North Dakota,
[00:17:29.510]where, you know, it's actually,
[00:17:32.120]I remember one of the first times I saw, quote,
[00:17:35.100]a salad bar in Bismarck, North Dakota,
[00:17:38.260]and it was lettuce, cheese, and croutons on the salad bar.
[00:17:42.670]That was it. (giggles)
[00:17:43.760]Oh, no, I'm sorry.
[00:17:44.680]There was like some mayonnaise sort of macaroni salad thing
[00:17:47.600]on there too, right?
[00:17:49.550]Or the first time, (giggles)
[00:17:51.630]you know, I remember what people call fruit salad
[00:17:55.830]is not, you know,
[00:17:56.950]oftentimes doesn't really even have fruit in it
[00:17:59.250]here in North Dakota,
[00:18:00.840]and I know that that's true in a lot of the Midwest,
[00:18:03.210]but it's very often jello and marshmallows
[00:18:07.440]and no actual fruit.
[00:18:09.990]You know, I think that we really are working to change that,
[00:18:13.960]and I see the progress.
[00:18:15.800]I see the progress.
[00:18:17.410]I see that more restaurants are serving traditional foods.
[00:18:21.800]There's one right here in Bismarck, North Dakota,
[00:18:23.610]that will buy things like nettles and juneberries
[00:18:26.840]and stuff like that from community members,
[00:18:29.455]you know, and they serve stuff like trout
[00:18:31.600]and salmon and bison.
[00:18:34.901]You know, I'm seeing a much greater interest in that,
[00:18:36.730]even in you know, just burger places,
[00:18:39.181]you know, like, oh, we'll put a lettuce wrap on the menu.
[00:18:43.560]Even, you know, those little, those little things, right?
[00:18:46.992]Those small changes.
[00:18:49.048]Something that I say,
[00:18:51.550]because when we're talking about food sovereignty,
[00:18:53.870]I used to be really mean about it.
[00:18:56.746]I used to be, it was just a person, you know,
[00:18:59.730]and I'm not exactly not mean about it now.
[00:19:03.110]I think I'm just more gentle, but I used to say,
[00:19:05.670]you know, fry bread is the food of the colonizer.
[00:19:08.490]And, you know, that's the food they forced on us,
[00:19:11.320]and those things are true.
[00:19:13.150]I still believe that.
[00:19:14.430]I do believe fry bread is the food of the colonizer,
[00:19:16.740]and I believe that it is highly implicated
[00:19:19.330]in a lot of the health issues we face today.
[00:19:21.810]But man, indigenous people have a love affair
[00:19:26.240]with fry bread that, when I would talk like that,
[00:19:29.650]when I would talk and be really angry about it,
[00:19:32.350]they would get angry at me in return,
[00:19:33.890]and it would actually have the opposite effect
[00:19:36.100]of what I wanted.
[00:19:37.360]And so, I've become more gentle now,
[00:19:39.040]and instead of talking about eliminating things
[00:19:42.610]from your diet, you know, eliminate fry bread,
[00:19:44.830]eliminate refined sugar, eliminate refined flour,
[00:19:49.080]I talk about adding things instead.
[00:19:51.370]Now, you know, I say, oh, you're gonna make fry bread?
[00:19:54.680]Well, tell me about the soup you're having, you know?
[00:19:56.510]Did you put some Timpsula in there?
[00:19:58.530]Have you ever tried chopped cabbage in your soup?
[00:20:02.382]Have you ever tried to make fry bread with part acorn flour,
[00:20:05.640]or, you know, or even part almond flour,
[00:20:09.440]you know, which is something easier to access now.
[00:20:12.910]You know, I talk about, oh, okay,
[00:20:14.910]I see you're gonna have a bowl of ramen noodles.
[00:20:18.700]Have you ever thought about making it beautiful
[00:20:21.290]and putting radishes and cilantro and sliced onion
[00:20:25.110]on your ramen noodles?
[00:20:27.240]Or have you ever thought about using bone broth in there
[00:20:30.240]instead of that horrible seasoning packet?
[00:20:32.540]You know, those are the kinds of things that I try to say,
[00:20:35.620]because I believe that food sovereignty
[00:20:37.210]is going to come almost in baby steps,
[00:20:40.060]but I see the impact of those baby steps every day,
[00:20:43.320]so it's exciting.
[00:20:47.060]What can non-indigenous people do
[00:20:49.920]to support food sovereignty and indigenous rights?
[00:20:54.980]Yeah, that's a great question.
[00:20:56.290]I think that, I think,
[00:21:00.070]of course, something that non-native people can do,
[00:21:05.090]is to really think about food sovereignty
[00:21:09.370]in their own lives, you know?
[00:21:11.010]Think about their connection to food
[00:21:13.630]and how they can support community gardens
[00:21:17.890]right there in their community.
[00:21:19.660]Plant a garden yourself and then share what you produce.
[00:21:24.730]I think that, you know, I mean,
[00:21:26.750]there are huge things, right?
[00:21:27.970]We all want to see, you know,
[00:21:31.920]do I want to say it, the fall of the patriarchy
[00:21:35.011]and destructive uncontrolled capitalism, you know?
[00:21:40.741]But even that, I believe, is going to come in baby steps.
[00:21:44.960]We see the impact of that already.
[00:21:46.910]We see that happening.
[00:21:48.650]And, you know, I think that growing a garden
[00:21:52.640]is an act of resistance, right?
[00:21:54.630]Because that's food that they don't make money off of,
[00:21:58.130]that they don't have control of.
[00:21:59.860]They can't spray that with 55 different herbicides,
[00:22:03.650]pesticides, and fungicides.
[00:22:05.460]And you know, that that is an active resistance
[00:22:07.980]that we can all participate in.
[00:22:09.730]You know, and for people who don't have,
[00:22:12.270]you know, having access to land even for a garden
[00:22:15.160]I realize is a privilege, you know?
[00:22:17.610]And so, you know, you can, this spring,
[00:22:21.420]we were growing huge amounts of arugula and lettuces
[00:22:25.810]in old foil turkey roasting pans, you know?
[00:22:29.000]Those round, oval-shaped turkey, roasting pans?
[00:22:32.060]We were growing arugula and lettuce
[00:22:34.070]and cilantro in those, you know?
[00:22:37.033]You know, it doesn't have to be fancy,
[00:22:40.020]and I think that that's something that a lot of people miss,
[00:22:44.530]and this goes for non-indigenous people, too.
[00:22:47.820]Food sovereignty doesn't have to be bougie, right?
[00:22:51.120]It doesn't have to be fancy.
[00:22:52.900]It's just a matter of making the choice to eat
[00:22:58.050]food that doesn't contribute to the problem, right?
[00:23:03.524]It's just about making those choices in your everyday lives
[00:23:06.970]and starting off small.
[00:23:09.380]Instead of, you know people are going to be
[00:23:12.260]eating a bunch of meals, you know,
[00:23:14.460]as families for the next couple of months,
[00:23:17.570]you know, because of various holidays or whatever.
[00:23:20.780]Instead of serving corn from a can,
[00:23:24.670]try looking for indigenous varieties of corn.
[00:23:27.680]And if you, you know, have access to those,
[00:23:31.476]contact indigenous producers.
[00:23:36.000]I mean that's a huge way to help, right?
[00:23:38.230]Like, I know so many indigenous farmers,
[00:23:41.254]indigenous producers, friends who grow their own corn
[00:23:46.170]and then nixtamalize it, package it, and then sell it.
[00:23:50.600]But a lot of my friends, you know,
[00:23:52.430]who are indigenous producers actually,
[00:23:55.430]you know, you can pay them, right?
[00:23:57.540]Everyone needs, we do live in a cash economy
[00:24:00.400]and that's important, but you can also support them
[00:24:03.740]by offering trade items as well, you know?
[00:24:07.329]And, you know, if you want to think of it that way,
[00:24:10.840]So, you know, we recently traded
[00:24:13.490]a bunch of dried buffalo meat for, you know,
[00:24:17.060]some maple syrup, for example. (laughs)
[00:24:20.600]So, you know, those things are really important.
[00:24:22.610]So growing your own food, looking at food sovereignty
[00:24:25.630]in your own everyday life,
[00:24:27.370]but also supporting indigenous producers,
[00:24:29.830]I think are just two really simple things
[00:24:32.370]that people can do.
[00:24:33.580]And there are lists all over the place
[00:24:35.870]of indigenous restaurants, indigenous farmers,
[00:24:38.640]indigenous gardeners, indigenous food producers,
[00:24:44.520]But Linda also really is a big advocate
[00:24:48.480]for mutual aid and indigenous education,
[00:24:53.360]and works with Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef,
[00:24:57.380]and Native American Indigenous Food Alliance,
[00:25:01.820]and I've really witnessed in the last nine months
[00:25:08.801]the complete and total rise of mutual aid
[00:25:12.800]from indigenous communities
[00:25:14.800]providing non-indigenous people a path forward.
[00:25:20.850]And actually, you know,
[00:25:21.940]I'm glad that you mentioned Sean, because, you know,
[00:25:26.100]Sean has this gorgeous restaurant that just opened.
[00:25:30.140]You know, it's basically a restaurant,
[00:25:31.730]the Indigenous Food Lab in Minneapolis.
[00:25:35.040]And, you know, he has a another restaurant
[00:25:38.100]that we'll be opening, and this is, to me,
[00:25:42.430]so typical of what's going on
[00:25:43.930]in indigenous communities right now.
[00:25:46.020]Instead of opening this restaurant and, you know,
[00:25:48.860]charging the money per plate,
[00:25:51.410]they got a grant and they are literally cooking
[00:25:53.980]hundreds of meals a day to hand out, and even freezer meals.
[00:25:57.940]They're freezing them and handing them out
[00:26:00.230]to community members, even non-native community members,
[00:26:03.360]you know, and Sean is doing that on a large scale,
[00:26:06.350]but he's not the only one, right?
[00:26:07.910]You know, even here in Bismarck, like I said,
[00:26:09.950]we are providing food for families and individuals.
[00:26:14.874]Down in Rapid City, Natalie Stites Means
[00:26:18.270]and Skybird Black Owl and Helene Gaddy,
[00:26:22.333]down on the Pine Ridge Reservation,
[00:26:24.460]you know, they're all trying.
[00:26:26.448]So, we have this network,
[00:26:28.050]it's the craziest thing, through social media,
[00:26:30.270]where someone will say, "Does anyone have an extra squash?
[00:26:34.250]'Cause I'm cooking today, you know, for 40 people,
[00:26:36.720]and I need a squash,"
[00:26:37.780]and someone will say, "Okay, I have one.
[00:26:39.200]I'll run it over to you."
[00:26:41.260]That's the type of network that we've built up,
[00:26:43.700]to where someone will say, "Oh, hey.
[00:26:46.017]You know, Linda brought me
[00:26:47.930]two pounds of wild rice the other day.
[00:26:50.491]Now I'm gonna feed 60 people
[00:26:53.190]with those two pounds of wild rice
[00:26:55.080]and a bunch of other stuff that I'm throwing into here."
[00:26:57.340]Or one of our friends, she butchers buffalo all the time,
[00:27:00.400]and she hands buffalo bones out to all of us
[00:27:02.750]so we can make huge amounts of buffalo bone broth
[00:27:06.600]to make soup, you know, for community members.
[00:27:08.760]And I really think that that's such a beautiful phenomenon
[00:27:12.560]that I'm not seeing in the non-native community.
[00:27:15.489]I don't mean to call people out or anything,
[00:27:17.840]but you know, why aren't some of these amazing restaurants
[00:27:22.180]that have had to, you know,
[00:27:23.360]some of them have just closed their doors for awhile.
[00:27:26.810]Why, instead, aren't they finding funding, you know,
[00:27:29.690]maybe from local state, federal governments
[00:27:32.950]to keep their doors open and just cook for people?
[00:27:38.790]I don't see enough of that,
[00:27:40.850]but I'm seeing that in indigenous communities,
[00:27:43.160]and I think that it's a really beautiful example
[00:27:46.330]that people could take.
[00:27:48.080]We have to feed each other, you know?
[00:27:50.080]And food, I think, you know, good food,
[00:27:52.610]good, healthy food is really the key
[00:27:54.930]toward making sure that we're able to weather
[00:27:58.460]these pandemics in the future.
[00:28:00.880]We just thank you so much for talking with us today.
[00:28:03.560]And Mikal, thank you for being here as well,
[00:28:07.217]and we really appreciate it.
[00:28:09.970]So, this has just been so nourishing for me as well,
[00:28:12.780]so thank you so much.
[00:28:14.606]We'd like to thank Linda Black Elk
[00:28:15.900]for speaking with us today.
[00:28:17.720]Find all of our short Great Plains talks and interviews
[00:28:20.660]as videos and podcasts at go.unl.edu/gplectures.
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