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Indigenous communities—the planet’s first farmers—have always been at the forefront of agroecological practices. Even as they’ve been dispossessed of their land, they’ve sought to exercise food sovereignty, preserve biodiversity, and protect for future generations the territories they steward. On every continent, Indigenous Peoples resist the industrialized model of agriculture forced by colonization and globalization. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are leading recovery efforts, mobilizing mutual aid, and pressing for policy change.


For decades, Million Belay has worked locally, regionally, and internationally to change the way people think about social, cultural, and food systems in Africa. An expert in conservation, food sovereignty, biodiversity, and Indigenous cultural rights, Belay is general coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, in what he describes as the biggest social movement on the continent with over 40 members in 50 countries, reaching more than 200,000,000 people.


Mina Susana Setra (Dayak Pompakng from West Kalimantan) is an Indigenous, environmental, and land rights activist. She is currently the deputy secretary general of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), an Indigenous organization based in Indonesia. AMAN spans 33 provinces with 2,271 member communities serving 19,000,000 people via 21 regional and 119 local chapters. Their mission is to ensure that Indigenous Peoples are politically sovereign, economically independent, and culturally dignified. Cultural Survival recently spoke to Setra.


In the mountains of Talamanca in Costa Rica, a family has cassava and banana crops; another, corn and yams. A “weaver of knowledge,” a woman in charge of maintaining the database and accompanying the producer families in their community, collects this information and sends it via WhatsApp to the central team of the Kábata Könana Women’s Association. In the central office, these women establish a route for the exchange of products. The result: the families in the Indigenous territory have all the food they need, harvested according to ancient methods, on their own land.  


When we say “food is medicine,“ we do not mean it as a metaphor or a catchphrase. If we eat the things that we are supposed to be eating, we will not suffer from the diseases of colonization. Traditional foods have the medicine that our body needs to prevent and heal illness. These foods do not just feed and heal us physically, but also mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Traditional food is spirit food.


Dawn Morrison (Secwepemc) is the founder and curator of the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty. Since 1983, she has worked in and studied horticulture, ethnobotany, adult education, and restoration of natural systems in formal institutions, as well as through her own personal and community healing and learning journey. Morrison has been dedicating her time and energy to land-based healing and learning, which led her to her life’s work of realizing herself more fully as a developing spirit-aligned leader in the Indigenous food sovereignty movement.


This year and at this time, more than ever, we give thanks to Ranginui (Sky Father) for the life giving rain and the celestial beings who signal to us the time to plant, of what the climate will be, and our harvest for the year. To our Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) for the richness of the soil, the respect that it teaches us, the clay that provides nutrients, the millennia of soil life.


At an autumn Learning Lodge in Coast Miwok, Southern Pomo Territory, Elder Leroy Little Bear (Blackfeet) shared with us a powerful teaching: as Native Peoples, “we find our cultural resilience in the medicine of the land.” As a place-based, Indigenous-led intertribal organization, The Cultural Conservancy takes this teaching to heart. It is a reminder that when things are difficult, we can look to the medicines of the land to strengthen us, and in times of disease or hunger, they are our blessings. Food is medicine.


Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough (Iñupiat) is the International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Carolina Behe is the Indigenous Knowledge and Science Advisor for the Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska. Cultural Survival Indigenous Rights Radio Producer, Shaldon Ferris (KhoiSan), recently spoke with Behe and Dorough.


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