Photo by Krisanne Keiser | Basket of acorns at one of the Indigenous Food Festival tables on April 16.
Photo by Krisanne Keiser | Basket of acorns at one of the Indigenous Food Festival tables on April 16.

Indigenous Foods Festival highlights the importance of food sovereignty

"I wanted to try and find some way to help this poisoned food system we have in America right now"

by Krisanne Keiser

On a bright sunny Saturday morning, students, faculty, and local tribal peoples came together to celebrate the Rou Dalagurr Food Sovereignty Lab & Cultural Workspace at the Indigenous Foods Festival. The event was held on the Cal Poly Humboldt campus on April 16 and was part of a month-long Food Summit that is focused on educating students, staff, and the public about food sovereignty. The event featured special featured films, keynote speaker presentations, and numerous outdoor volunteer opportunities working with plants and learning thoughtful ways to gather that respects Indigenous self-determination of land.

Several speakers presented in the Native American Forum, each giving information about their respective organizations and how they are practicing food sovereignty. One event hosted by the California Indian Museum & Cultural Center was incredibly informative. Executive Director Nicole Myers-Lim led the presentation and discussed the projects their native youth are working on as part of the museum’s Tribal Youth Ambassadors program. One of those projects was creating acorn bites, which was an idea that came from one of the youths, and was being sold during the event. I must add that they were extremely delicious!

During the presentation, Myers-Lim reminded the audience that in order to practice food sovereignty, there are several elements to consider such as land access, settler laws and regulations within park systems, as well as handling public harassment and racism when gathering on public lands. Additionally, the monetization and over-harvesting of natural foods such as abalone have prevented their tribe— the Pomo Tribe— from utilizing this natural resource, which is a large part of their culture.

“Our Pomo food that we love is abalone…we can’t eat abalone right now but when abalone was harvested, it was overharvested,” said Myers-Lim. “We’re really trying to educate non-native communities that this is our cultural resource; we need it for the continuity of our culture. It doesn’t have to be sold for $70 dollars on a plate at Oma’s in San Francisco.”

Another aspect that Myers-Lim highlighted was how native youth had gradually lost interest in gathering natural foods and resources due to being subjected to harassment by the public. At one point the racism and harassment became so severe that the youth feared practicing their traditional gathering activities at local parks on local trails. To help mitigate this issue, the Native Youth Program created an educational card pamphlet called the ‘Culture Card: Tribal Member Educational Handout’ to give to park visitors who questioned, disturbed, and accused them of harming the environment while they were gathering. The culture cards discuss the cultural significance of traditional harvesting and gathering as well as explaining how and why gathering is a healthy activity. It also highlights gathering and harvesting permits.

“We’re out there praying and giving gratitude to the plants that are sustaining us and so to be accused of abuse is ironic,” said Myers-Lim. “After hundreds of years of the abuse that’s happened through the Gold Rush, the wildfires and the dams and everything else.”

If that wasn’t harmful enough, the program also has to obtain special 24-hour permits before gathering which is just another hoop to jump through.

“We have to work with them to have ancestral gathering rights that are recognized throughout the state,” said Myers-Lim. “As tribes we need to advocate for that through our consultation policies and try to change that on those levels.”

Past Cal Poly Humboldt chemistry major, Sunny Rojas (Yurok/Karuk/Apache) stated that his people were not equipped to consume processed foods, and doing so has caused much damage to the health of his community.

“It has a devastating effect on Americans and my people…we never ate like that in the past and our bodies are not quite equipped to deal with a lot of things that are surprisingly allowed in our food,” said Rojas.

He expressed that one of his goals as a chemistry major was to learn more about the components of the earth, people, and the contents of America’s food.

“I wanted to try and find some way to help this poisoned food system we have in America right now,” said Rojas.

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