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American Indians strive to restore nearly lost tribal food traditions

American Indians strive to restore nearly lost tribal food traditions

Reposted from the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the full story here.

FORT BRAGG — A cold evening drizzle fell on this Mendocino County town as Aryana Henthorne and her family gathered on a spit of land just off Highway 1.

The group of five arranged camp chairs around a fire as a foghorn sounded and tires whooshed on the wet asphalt. Here, on the last remaining patch of American Indian tribal land in the town, bordered by a cliff and an Arco gas station, they bent over paper plates full of wild abalone, acorn mush and crispy seaweed. It was a traditional Pomo meal that is in danger of disappearing.

Not, however, if Henthorne can help it. A member of the Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians, the 22-year-old is part of a young generation of American Indians who are working to reintroduce native food ways to their tribes. Energized by a movement sweeping the country, most notably the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock in North and South Dakota, they’re organizing intertribal events to share ideas and reconnect with their culture.

“Indigenous food sovereignty is what I’m really passionate about,” Henthorne said. A graduate student in public health at Washington University in St. Louis with plans to get a medical degree, she wants to reintroduce indigenous foods to her tribe to battle the diet-related illnesses that disproportionately affect Indian populations.

Thanksgiving is the one time of year American Indians are recognized by the wider American society, albeit usually in caricature. To present modern ideas of indigenous food that also recognize precolonial traditions, native chefs from across the continent are flying to New York City over Thanksgiving weekend to participate in a series of pop-up dinners. Oglala Lakota chef Sean Sherman of Minneapolis is probably the most visible symbol of the current native foods resurgence, with a new cookbook, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.”

Despite a growing awareness, Northern California tribal members struggle for the right to gather foods like acorns, mussels and surf fish that have sustained their tribes for thousands of years. Generations have been cut off from ancestral hunting and gathering grounds, and those grounds have compacted as wild salmon and other vital foods dwindle.

For families like Henthorne’s in Fort Bragg, the conflict has become front and center with the ongoing planning of development by a subsidiary of Koch Industries on land that was once designated the Mendocino Indian Reservation, further threatening their culinary heritage.

“It’s near impossible to pass these traditions on,” said Sanjay Rawal, a filmmaker who is working on a documentary about native food sovereignty movements in Northern California, the Southwest and the Plains. “We’ve wrecked their food ways to create our own food ways.”

There are 109 federally recognized tribes left in California and 720,000 people who identify as Native American, according to the 2010 consensus, the highest state population in the country. Yuroks make up the state’s biggest tribe, based near the Oregon border.

Samuel Gensaw III, 23, a Yurok from Requa (Del Norte County) on the Klamath River, has been part of the fight to remove four of the seven dams from the Klamath since he was 14. About five years ago, Gensaw and his younger brother created a youth group called Ancestral Guard to protect and promote traditional food ways.

“It’s something that we have to do to make sure we have decent living opportunities for future generations,” said Gensaw, who teaches kids from Requa — not just native ones — about fishing salmon in a dugout canoe. “This isn’t just something that we love and respect. This is our life.”

Gensaw and Henthorne see themselves as pioneers in their communities, trying to ensure that traditional foods are passed on to future generations. Most Northern California Indians experience such things only at important gatherings like funerals, they said.

Henthorne’s mother, Hillary Renick, 42, a native-food advocate and lawyer at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Sacramento, found that friends and relatives used to be surprised when she gathered traditional foods.

“It wasn’t valued so much as it is now,” she said.

It’s only been a generation or two since reservation children could be forcibly sent off to boarding schools by the government or private groups. That practice officially ended only with the 1978 federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

“People were persecuted if they were native,” said Martina Morgan, 40, a member of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians in Stewarts Point (Sonoma County). That made following native food traditions less popular, she said. “I was lucky that I was a nosy little kid and my elders taught me.”

Brian Nez carries a deer during a deer hunt at Sherwood Rancheria in Mendocino County. Photo: Renan Ozturk

The Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians gathers food only within its aboriginal tribal boundaries. Local and state laws restrict or limit access to many traditional gathering places, including several designated marine protected areas.

A few years ago, the city built a coastal access trail next to the tribal members’ homes in Fort Bragg, including fenced-off access to the tidal zone where members can gather mussels, abalone and seaweed. The trail is adjacent to a former lumber-mill site owned by a Koch Industries subsidiary that is in the planning stages for rezoning that would allow for a hotel and commercial, residential and industrial uses, according to city planning documents.

Renick said the tribe has not been consulted enough during the planning of the trail and the mill site, especially considering that both were originally part of the Mendocino Indian Reservation, a 25,000-acre plot that Congress established in 1856. The Bureau of Indian Affairs allowed a lumber mill to set up shop there in 1858, forcing the remaining Indians off the land in 1868.

In addition to its role as a gathering site, the former reservation contains historic burial mounds, which Renick has tried to protect. Such legal fights are expensive and difficult, she said, even when they’re defended by international law such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which guarantees “the right to life.”

“The right to life means you have the right to subsist,” Renick said. “You have the right to water; you have the right to gather, even if you don’t have a (legal) right to that land.”

Marie Jones, Fort Bragg’s community development director, said the city has cooperated fully with the tribe. “I would say we have gone way above and beyond what we are required on a legal basis,” she said.

In addition to geographic limitations, tribal members must follow strict state limits for collecting abalone, like everyone else. They also face pushback from a growing commercial seaweed trade, Renick said. She recalled helping an elder from her tribe go down to the beach, with her walker, to collect seaweed. They were confronted by a professional forager in an expensive-looking wetsuit.

“That’s my rock,” he told her. “Can you move on?”

Renick’s daughter, Henthorne, approaches the fight to reclaim native food from a medical rather than legal angle. In the rural areas where most reservations are located, access to healthy groceries has been limited. American Indians have twice the rate of heart disease that the general population has, according to a 2015 study from the National Institutes of Health, which attributed its increase over the past 50 years to changes in diet, decreased physical activity and increased smoking among the population.

Henthorne is writing a grant to lead a weeklong immersion camp on gathering and preparing traditional foods next summer. Her eventual plan is to become a doctor at a clinic that serves her tribe, with the goal of connecting the members back to native foods and lifestyle.

“I’m the one who’s being the driving force for my generation to go do something,” said Henthorne. “If I can be the example that this is what we can do, I hope that more people will be inspired.”

For the dinner in Fort Bragg, the family fried seaweed collected from the coast, and cooked black trumpet mushrooms that had been foraged and dried. A sweet and nutty acorn mush was made from a special stash of acorns that had aged since 2010, a technique that reduces tannins and bitterness. Salmon was cut into large chunks and threaded through redwood spears to prop over the fire for a long, slow smoke.

The menu reflected the way the Pomos traditionally gathered all the food they needed from the shore, in addition to what they hunted and traded with inland tribes. But the meal itself also represented something more — a way for generations to connect with each other.

While growing up, Henthorne would go with her elders to the coast constantly, especially in summer. She learned to use an A-frame net to catch surf fish and how to pluck seaweed, mussels and abalone off the rocks during low tides. Her mother did the same thing before her. Those outings, which led to meals like this, are how memories — and histories — are forged.

“That’s when all the stories come out, around food,” said Renick. “You’re sitting there, and then you get to go through the centuries with them.”

Tara Duggan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @taraduggan

Quapaw Tribe Ag programs gain national attention

Quapaw Tribe Ag programs gain national attention

Reposted from the Miami News Record. See the full story here.

The Quapaw Tribe is considered a national leader in agriculture and their Ag enterprises and the leader’s enthusiasm and commitment are the reasons Berrey was asked to speak at the prestigious event.

WASHINGTON – The Quapaw Tribe’s development and accomplishments in agricultural endeavors have gained national notoriety.

John Berrey, Chairman of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, served as the invited keynote speaker at the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2017 American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month in Washington, DC last Wednesday.

The Quapaw Tribe has made innovative and impactful investments in agriculture with the Quapaw Cattle Company, Quapaw Processing Plant, Quapaw Honey, O-Gah-Pah Coffee, and O-Gah-Pah Bison programs and businesses – and the Ag world has taken notice.

The Quapaw Tribe is considered a national leader in agriculture and their Ag enterprises and the leader’s enthusiasm and commitment are the reasons Berrey was asked to speak at the prestigious event.

“It’s exciting for me. I like talking to people about it,” he said. “We’re really trying to get tribes around the country to create a new cooperative that adopts tribes that maybe they have the land, but they need help to get started.”

Most of the Quapaw Tribe’s agricultural programs were the first, or are the only programs of their kind in Indian Country.

In partnership with multiple federal agencies and state leaders, the Quapaw Tribe is also engaged in environmental cleanup of the Tar Creek Superfund Site.

“The challenges are always capital, that’s tough for tribes and non-tribal entities, and you really have to have the support of people who see the vision, and we have all that,” Berrey said. “We have a very solid tribal government. We have responsibilities to our people, and to the community. You know when we think of ourselves; we don’t just think of the Quapaw Tribe, we think of Ottawa County of Oklahoma, and we think of Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas. We’re concerned, and we want to be part of uplifting everyone.”

The recent grand opening of the Quapaw Processing Plant brought palpable excitement to the local and state agricultural community, and economy and the Ag world has taken notice. The recent invitation to speak at a national gathering is another validation and testament to the interest shown in the Tribe’s programs.

“It was an honor for me and the tribe. What’s interesting is the Secretary sought me out. He sent me a letter and said I want to meet you, I’ve heard about you,” Berrey said

After the event, Berrey got to spend substantial time with the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in his office in Washington, DC.

“He is just my kind of guy. He is very friendly, very open. You know he and I are a lot alike, he wants to help feed people and grow an Ag economy,” Berrey said.

Berrey is rightfully proud of the accomplishments of the 4,800 member Quapaw Tribe and the recognition of the importance of the Tribe’s farming and ranching and other endeavors, which has created $700 million in Wall Street revenues.

“After next year it will be nearly a billion,” Berrey said.

The Tribe’s casino ventures, Downstream Casino and the Quapaw Casino helped fund other tribal business ventures, including the agricultural enterprises.

“That’s what gave us the capital, number one, but number two, we have our own markets. Even though we manage them separately, the casino buys our meat at a fair market value,” Berrey said. “So, we have a high-quality product that’s managed well, and it serves the needs of the resort which serves 1,200 people a day, just employees, plus maybe another 4,000 to 5,000 patrons a day.”

Berrey says feels it is of great value to seek enterprise diversification and to develop supportive, self-sustaining businesses.

“We enjoy it. We like farming. Now we have a couple thousand acres that are going to be row crops, and now source non-GMO corn,” he said. “We hope we’re building something that our grandchildren will continue to grow, and all of our community in Ottawa County and the Joplin area, everyone is going to benefit from, not just us.”

At the event, Berrey was not only able to encourage and inspire others, but he was able to make connections and network with others in Native American and national Ag.

“It was an awesome opportunity. I spend a lot of time in DC, and I go to a lot of federal agencies, the EPA, the Department of the Interior, but when you walk into the Department of Agriculture, there’s a different environment there,” said Berrey. “Everybody from the people from the guard desk to the people cleaning the bathrooms to the secretaries, the assistants, everybody seems happy and seems like they’re busy. It’s refreshing, and it’s exciting.”

“The Dept. of Agriculture wants to feed people – that’s the mission of the Secretary, and what he now believes is Native Americans should be very much a part of that because we are some of the largest landowners in America.” Berrey continued. “What I took away was open arms from the Secretary and also true interest in including tribes in effort to feed all of America.”

Berrey said other tribes such as the Navajo, Blackfeet Nation, and Sioux have large farming and ranching agricultural enterprises and programs.

The Quapaw Tribe’s hope is that their own Ag programs and political relationships bring renewed interest and attention to the long well-established farming and ranching heritage of this area, such as hay and cattle production in northeast Oklahoma, and creates an agricultural hub from here to build economically sound progress and more and more jobs.

According to Berrey, support and representation in Washington DC from Scott Pruitt, Senator Jim Inhofe, and Markwayne Mullin, have been positive for the Tribe.

“They’re not about themselves, they’re really about the people of Oklahoma,” he said.

The Quapaw Tribe is committed to agricultural program development while working with other tribes to foster and strengthen tribal food sovereignty and environmental stewardship while also aiding America’s food security.

“My dream is we continue to grow exponentially and clean up the land and make it better as stewards of the land, but I also see us creating a cooperative among tribes throughout the country that collectively can help feed America,” Berrey said.

President Donald Trump, through presidential proclamation, declared November National Native American Heritage Month celebrating and honoring Native American agricultural contributions throughout history to present day.

In the proclamation Trump promises aggressive regulatory reform with government-to-government consultation, to help revitalize the Nation’s commitment to Indian Country, tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

“Native Americans are a testament to the deep importance of culture and vibrancy of traditions, passed down throughout generations. This month, I encourage all of our citizens to learn about the rich history and culture of the Native American people,” Trump wrote in the proclamation.

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.

University of Arkansas School of Law announces Tribal Governments course

University of Arkansas School of Law announces Tribal Governments course

The University of Arkansas School of Law will offer a “Tribal Governments & Business Entities” special topics course taught by dean Stacy Leeds (Cherokee) during the Winter Intersession. The registration deadline is January 2, 2018.

The course will survey the exercise of modern governmental authority in the United States including jurisdictional conflict and cooperation with state, local and federal governments. In addition to discussing legal and regulatory frameworks, the course will highlight business and economic growth opportunities and challenges.


Tribal Governments & Business Entities

1 credit hour
CLE credit available
Registration deadline: Jan. 2
Winter Intersession
Mon-Fri, Jan. 8-12, 2018


For more information or to register, contact Dean Leeds at

Seeds of Native Health helps launch new grant program for health-focused advocacy

Seeds of Native Health helps launch new grant program for health-focused advocacy

The Seeds of Native Health campaign is excited to announce our partnership with the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF) to create a grant program that supports health-focused advocacy efforts in Native American communities. 

The new Fertile Ground Grant Program funds tribes, Native advocates, Native youth, and Native-led organizations to create sustainable community health improvements through nutrition and food sovereignty efforts. The grants of up to $35,000 will provide support for: 

  • Native-led convenings to identify community health priorities 
  • Advocacy and policy strategies that address improving health outcomes 
  • Access to healthy food 
  • Food sovereignty work rooted in tradition, culture, and Indigenous knowledge

The program is funded by $100,000 from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community through its Seeds of Native Health philanthropic campaign and $100,000 from the AHA through its Voices for Healthy Kids campaign. AICAF will serve as the intermediary partner and administer the program. 

Applications for grants are due December 19, 2017. 

Click here to apply for a Fertile Ground Grant


The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative honors Native American Heritage Month!

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative honors Native American Heritage Month!

November is Native American Heritage Month, and a time to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for as we enjoy the harvest season during gatherings with family and friends. In Indian Country, culture and tradition are sustained through shared meals with family and the community.

This month is a time to celebrate our rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories, and to also acknowledge the important contributions that Native people have made to food and agriculture. This is also the perfect time to educate the general public about tribal histories and our proud food traditions.

Native American Heritage Month also recognizes the significant contributions the Native Americans have made as the first peoples of the lands that now constitute the United States.  The foods we all eat, the medicines and remedies we all use, the highways we all travel, our literature and arts, have all been recognized by U.S. leaders as integral to American life and all carry the indelible imprint of Native peoples.  Equally important during this month is acknowledging the countless American Indians who have served and currently serve in our Armed Forces.

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative encourages our friends and supporters to celebrate Native American Heritage month by honoring the many Native American farmers, ranchers and food businesses that work every day during this harvest season to feed our people and our communities.  We also take this time to give special support to our next generation of Native leaders in food and agriculture whose picture we feature in our message today.  Feeding ourselves while feeding others is the important work ahead for these young Native leaders who we honor and acknowledge during this important month.

Section 504 Loan and Grant Program changes webinar Nov. 14

Section 504 Loan and Grant Program changes webinar Nov. 14

Register today for this information webinar on scheduled for November 14 to learn about recent changes to the 504 loan and grant program.  This training opportunity is open to individuals and organizations including nonprofits and public agencies who work with affordable housing products such as weatherization, home repairs, and 504 application packaging.

The one hour course will be offered as follows:

  • Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 11a.m. EST
  • Please utilize both audio and web connection instructions below:
  • For audio, dial into the conference line (800-981-3173) from your phone and provide the access code (5746#)
  • For web, navigate to the following url:

Upcoming trainings will be listed on our website under “Forms and Resources”

This training will provide:

  • A review of the changes to the Section 504 direct repair loan and grant program.
  • A discussion of RD Procedure Notice 504 published on October 5, 2017
  • An examination of the new 504 Automated Worksheet and process.

Questions regarding this announcement may be directed to Danielle Eason (202) 690-1530.