Mackenize Martinez, a member of the Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit class of 2016, was recently awarded first place and a $500 check in the Intertribal Agriculture Council Indian Ag Youth Alliance Essay Contest.
Martinez’s essay addressed the need for intertribal agriculture extension services in Indian Country and described her vision for the future of Native American agriculture.
“I feel that food sovereignty is important in Indian country because it is such a necessity in everyday life,” Martinez said. “All Native American tribes have some sort of ancestral connection to agriculture.”
When Martinez talks about food sovereignty, she’s referring to the right of Native American peoples to create and define their own food systems through environmentally sustainable and culturally relevant methods and processes.
The goal of organizations like the Intertribal Agriculture Council that recognized Martinez’s essay, is to strengthen the food sovereignty of Indian Country by providing extension services and technical assistance to Native American communities and reservations across the United States.
“Many native communities are very rural and isolated,” Martinez said. “For them to be able to feed themselves would drastically help the economy of their communities and essentially improve the quality of life on reservations.”
Martinez understands rural isolation and its connection to agriculture. The high school senior is based out of Zwole, La., with a population of 1,984 according to a 2013 census, where she has been involved in showing livestock and gardening since her early youth.
“I showed my first hen in fourth grade, but I did it on and off, it wasn’t every year, and I showed pigs when I was in the eighth grade,” Martinez said. “My family’s always had our garden … it definitely took everybody to keep it going.”
Throughout her high school years, she said she has been heavily involved with Future Farmer’s of America, competing in extemporaneous speaking, and agronomy and floriculture events.
She also conducts Broiler chicken projects, where she raises 15 to 20 chicks for livestock presentation and meat production. “We’re trying to grow these birds from a six ounce chick to a ten pound bird in seven weeks.”
Martinez is a proud citizen of the Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb, La., whose headquarters are in Zwole. The tribe was recognized by the state of Louisiana in 1978, and has been working toward federal recognition ever since.
In her essay, Martinez discussed how state recognized tribes could play a greater role in improving agriculture throughout Indian Country.
“I feel that all of Indian Country would benefit from state recognized tribes playing a bigger role in food sovereignty because there are so many successful agricultural producers who aren’t members of federally recognized tribes,” Martinez stated in an email. “State recognized tribes are such a prolific agricultural force on their own and have to be very independent and self sufficient.
“State recognized tribes have so much potential to really advance the movement for food sovereignty in Indian country.”
Martinez’s essay was one of three winning papers in the Indian Ag Youth Alliance essay contest and conference, which brought together 56 Native American youth for a modified version of the IAC’s 30th annual membership meeting in Las Vegas, Dec. 4-8, 2016.
The annual meeting is designed to educate, empower, and strengthen the ever-growing network of Native American farmers, ranchers and agriculturalists working throughout Indian Country.
To enter the essay contest and be accepted to the conference, youth were asked to read the 1987 Final Findings and Recommendations of the National Indian Agricultural Working Group, a report that laid the foundations for establishing the Intertribal Agriculture Council.
Martinez said she was shocked when she found out that her paper was one of the winning essays.
“When I found out I’d actually won the essay contest I was like ‘woah,’ this is cool.“ Martinez said. “And then I actually got to Vegas and saw how big of a deal they made out of it, and how much of an honor it was to actually win it, and that really opened up some more doors too, so it was a really great experience.”
After giving her speech, Martinez was offered a scholarship to attend the University of Arkansas. She said after considering her options, the young agriculturalist has decided to attend McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., where she’ll pursue a major in agricultural business.
“I’d really like to study it and relate it to how it affects my own community,” Martinez said. “And learning some management skills is something everyone needs.
“I think when you talk about agriculture and its importance, you have to know that it affects everybody everyday, so it’s not something to be taken lightly.”