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Protecting and Restoring Indigenous Peoples’ Food Sovereignty

Indigenous Peoples affirm that their food sovereignty and relationships with their traditional foods cannot be separated from their cultures, languages, social life, spirituality, and total identity. In 2002, over 140 Indigenous Peoples, including traditional food producers and knowledge holders from all regions of the world, met in Sololá, Guatemala, adopting The Declaration of Atitlan. The Declaration defines food sovereignty as a collective and intergenerational right based on traditional knowledge and practices and the lands, waters, seeds, plants, animals, and natural cycles that sustain them.

Indigenous Peoples have identified climate change, along with environmental contamination, loss of traditional knowledge, and lack of access to traditional lands and resources as urgent threats to their food sovereignty. They are increasingly asserting their rights to control, protect, and restore their traditional food systems and sources to assure their future survival.

On August 12–13, 2016 in Shiprock, New Mexico, the Shiprock Chapter of the Navajo Nation and the International Indian Treaty Council co-hosted a gathering for Food Sovereignty and Climate Change Resiliency focusing on protecting, defending, and restoring traditional knowledge, seeds, and practices. There were 127 registered participants from the Diné, Yaqui, Opata, Southern Ute, Taino, Pueblo, Hopi, San Carlos Apache, and other Indigenous Nations who shared traditional knowledge and seeds, affirming their commitment to the health and wellbeing of future generations.

Among the focus of presentations and discussion were ongoing concerns in the Shiprock community about the long term impacts of the massive toxic mining waste spill that reached Shiprock’s primary water source, the San Juan River, almost exactly a year before. The discussion focused on the current and continuing threats to Indigenous Peoples’ lands, waters, inter-generational health, and ways of life by extractive industries, including thousands of other abandoned toxic mining waste sites located on waterways throughout the United States and beyond.

The following Declaration was adopted by consensus of the participants on August 13, affirming the rights of Indigenous Peoples to preserve their lands for food sovereignty by keeping them free from genetically modified seeds and plants and all forms of chemical contamination and toxic pesticides “so that our natural world is protected, nurtured and shared.” Presented by the Shiprock chapter’s president, Duane Chili Yazzie, the declaration was also endorsed and adopted by consensus at the 42nd Anniversary Conference of the Treaty Council in Waimanalo, Hawai’i by Indigenous Peoples from 38 Nations around the world on September 11. It will be a basis of work for the survival and well being of Indigenous Peoples worldwide.

— Andrea Carmen (Yaqui) is executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council.

IITC thanks Navajo Nation Shiprock Chapter President, Duane Chili Yazzie, and members of the Shiprock Chapter, the AgroEcology Fund, the Christensen Fund, and the Marisla Foundation for their generous contributions to this important gathering





nihimá nahasdzáán nihee iiná dóó nihi sihasin at’é

(Our Earth Mother is our Life and Hope)



from the east we are blessed with the dawn

we are given the divine gift of nitsáhákees-thinking

we are made to be holy surface peoples of the Earth

our souls are one with the souls of living beings of all time

we were placed here with the four sacred plants to guide us

our original instructions teach us that corn is a root of our lifeways

our songs and prayers resonant with the heartbeat of our Earth Mother


with the south we are given the teachings to make our life plan

we are given reasoning to set our path of life with nahat’á-planning

in our early times we were happy living the Original Intent of the Creator

with the great intrusion of the invader our world became a life of hardship

our original instructions gave us resilience to make our way through difficult times

we are told we don’t own the land, but we belong to the Earth and she belongs to us

no earthly power or law has the authority to deny us our relationship with our Earth Mother


by the west we journey with the sacredness of living

we have been given the precious opportunity for iiná-living

we have profound and troubling concern for the state of the world

where powers of government and business compete to destroy the Earth

where we continue to suffer the consequences of the Doctrine of Discovery

where our life struggle is to rise above the conditions of colonization and dependency

where we must decolonize our policies and practices of food, water and land to live to survive 


from the north we seek wisdom through our reflections

in humbleness we pray for blessings of unyielding sihasin-hope

our struggle to live is one of resistance, resilience and determination 

in our wisdom we know we have the roots, songs and courage to survive

our strength and power is in our Indigenous identity, history, culture and politic

in healing from our intergenerational, historic unresolved trauma we also heal the Earth

we accept our life responsibility to remain Warriors uncompromising, to defend the sacred 


we touch our sweet Earth Mother as we honor her life

we thank her for her life and beg her to have courage for our life

we feel and live her pain, we stand against unrelenting exploitation of her

we demand our Tribal Nations that our home lands be GMO and pesticides free

we stand strong to fight climate change and rally the cry of “Leave it in the Ground”

as Defenders of the Earth we stand together for Indigenous unity to defend our ground

it is of utmost urgency to protect the life of the Earth Mother as it is the future of the children


we pray the heavens to bless us with impeccable principles

as we walk strong to live our chosen lifeways the Creator set for us

as children of the Great Creator and the Earth Mother we demand justice

for our human rights to life, food, water, culture, health and clean environment

we challenge our Tribal leaders to protect our sacred medicines and our natural foods

it is an absolute that to be sovereign and self-determined, we must have food sovereignty 

we call out our Tribal leaders and Warriors to defend our Indigenous lifeways, our Earth, our life



the Shiprock Chapter and International Indian Treaty Council were honored to host the Gathering to

provide this opportunity where relatives from the SW Diné Nation and other Indigenous Nations

could come together to share our traditional food knowledge and our leadership thoughts

about how we can work to restore and protect our traditional knowledge and lifeways

to preserve our seeds, foods and to defend our lands and waters that sustain all life

to grow our grandchildren to be strong in the future to face myriad challenges

our life work is to assure their wellness in spirit, culture and physical health 

we commit to one another to continue learning and sharing in these ways

  we commit to pass this knowledge on to our children for their survival

as our prophesies teach that future times will not be kind to all life


we were blessed with our traditional ways of planting, gathering, and caring for our animals

blessings which were passed to us through our songs, stories, prayers and ceremonies

these lifeways contain answers that are to help the world address climate change 

to restore healthy foods and help institute green sustainable energy production

we fight land theft, deforestation and other threats to our food sovereignty 

we are committed to protect and defend our remaining Indigenous lands

to educate and preserve our lands for Indigenous Food Sovereignty

 our lands must be free from genetically modified seeds and plants

and all forms of chemical contamination and toxic pesticides

so that our natural world is protected, nurtured and shared


we proclaim our Indigenous human rights and our right to self-determination as sovereign free Peoples

we affirm our inherent rights recognized in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

we honor the life sacrifices of our ancestors as we carry on the sacred responsibilities

to our Peoples, our future generations and to our sweet sacred Earth Mother,

we thank the land, water, our relations with the plant and animal worlds

who give their beings and souls to give us all we need for our lives 

we affirm our commitment to the Creator and to one another

to protect our Earth Mother, so that life can continue

it is urgent that we rise and sing the drum

the life of our Earth Mother is our life 


adopted on 13 August 2016

Shiprock, SW Diné Nation


“Indigenous peoples have the right

to maintain and strengthen their distinctive

spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or

otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and

other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.”  

  -- Article 25, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

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