The first answer for food insecurity: data sovereignty

Interview by Brian Oaster: “For two years now, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated almost every structural inequity in Indian Country. Food insecurity is high on that list.

Like other inequities, it’s an intergenerational product of dispossession and congressional underfunding — nothing new for Native communities. What is new, however, is the ability of Native organizations and sovereign nations to collectively study and understand the needs of the many communities facing the issue. The age of data sovereignty has (finally) arrived.

To that end, the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) partnered with the Indigenous Food and Agricultural Initiative (INAI) and the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) to produce a special report, Reimagining Hunger Responses in Times of Crisis, which was released in January.

According to the report, 48% of the more than 500 Native respondents surveyed across the country agreed that “sometimes or often during the pandemic the food their household bought just didn’t last, and they didn’t have money to get more.” Food security and access were especially low among Natives with young children or elders at home, people in fair to poor health and those whose employment was disrupted by the pandemic. “Native households experience food insecurity at shockingly higher rates than the general public and white households,” the report noted.

It also detailed how, throughout the pandemic, Natives overwhelmingly turned to their tribal governments and communities — as opposed to state or federal programs — for help. State and federal programs, like the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, don’t always mesh with the needs of rural reservations. A benefits card is useless if there’s no food store in your community. In response, tribes and communities came together and worked to get their people fed.

Understanding how and why will help pave the way for legislation that empowers tribes to provide for their own people, by using federal funding to build local agricultural infrastructure, for instance, instead of relying on assistance programs that don’t always work. HCN spoke with the Native American Agriculture Fund’s CEO, Toni Stanger-McLaughlin (Colville), to find out more…(More)”.