Menominee Nation Food Sovereignty and Health
Note/disclaimer: This webpage is for instructional purposes only and the scenario described below is fictional.
This page was developed as a hypothetical grant proposal for research to be done with the Menominee Nation written by students in Agronomy 471 at UW-Madison.
Hannah Arbuckle, Major in Community and Environmental Sociology, she/her/hers
Ella Gustafson, Major in Geography and Environmental Studies, she/her/hers
Claire Stowe, Major in Geography and Environmental Studies, she/her/hers
We are professors at the College of Menominee Nation collaborative working on the Food Sovereignty program for the Menominee Nation. We are writing a grant proposal to conduct research on food sovereignty and health in the Menominee Nation. Our research will be used to make policy recommendations and grow the scientific understanding of the connection between food sovereignty and community health.
We aim to qualitatively describe chronic food-related illness in the Menominee Nation and examine food sovereignty’s implications for health using interviews of Tribal leaders and surveys of Tribal members. We will use our research to make recommendations on policy and help the Menominee advocate for food sovereignty within their community and help communities across Wisconsin advocate for their own sovereignty. Along with this, we seek to understand how social, economic, and environmental sustainability are key for food sovereignty.
As professors at the College of Menominee Nation, the health and community of the people are very near to us. Food sovereignty is a relatively new term that defines “the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems” (Declaration of Nyéléni, 2007). Food sovereignty “puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations” (Declaration of Nyéléni, 2007). Food Sovereignty empowers communities to make choices that are right for them.
Fig. 1 Visual representation of food sovereignty. Local producers are seen defending their
agricultural practices against uniform large-scale agricultural corporations.
In the context of the Indigenous peoples, Weiler et al. write, “Indigenous food sovereignty describes diverse indigenous communities’ ability to make decisions about their own consumption of healthful, culturally adapted indigenous foods, as well as their harvesting practices and relationships with the land” (Weiler et al.). In the current agricultural system, we see big businesses controlling most of the system, “a small handful of large corporations control much of the production, processing, distribution, marketing and retailing of food” (What is food sovereignty?, 2018). Food sovereignty programs empower individuals and communities to make their own choices in the food system, ensuring that communities have access to healthy and culturally appropriate food. Oftentimes, this emphasizes the role of local producers in the market as they can introduce food that is more nuanced regarding the needs of a community. By reclaiming local control over the food system, communities are beginning to create economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Local food benefits a local economy. It also creates closer relationships between producers and consumers, thus boosting social sustainability. Finally, food miles and processing are significantly reduced, benefiting the environment.
Fig. 2 Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance insignia. The organization is a non-profit
that focuses on "advocating for and supporting all levels of food security and food
sovereignty in local, tribal, regional, national and international arenas."
Fig. 1 Visual representation of food sovereignty. Local producers are seen defending their
agricultural practices against uniform large-scale agricultural corporations.
A breadth of research has been conducted on both food sovereignty and the health of communities on reservations but we see a lack of exploration of the combination and interaction between the two on Reservations and in the Menominee Nation in particular. We know that the Menominee Nation has existing programs to promote food sovereignty in the community. The Menominee Food Sovereignty program is an ongoing project that takes steps towards reviving a connection to the environment and cultural traditions while promoting health and nutritious foods (College of Menominee Nation). It focuses on reconnecting and rediscovering growing practices that are not only healthy but culturally important. The Menominee Nation offers a public website that allows for easy access to their most recent projects such as a campus garden, community cooking class, farmers market, and a seed library (College of Menominee Nation). In our research, we want to expand on how food sovereignty programs can build stronger and healthier communities. With the combination of our academic backgrounds and those of the students with whom we will work, we hope to find meaningful ways to bolster our community’s health through food. We intend to create a case study on the current programs for food sovereignty in the Menominee Nation and how they have an effect on chronic food-related illnesses and community-building.
Fig.3 An Indigenous-Based Theoretical Model of Sustainability
(College of Menominee Nation and Menominee Tribal Enterprises)
Fig. 4 Current Reservations and Tribal Lands of Wisconsin,
Map from Wisconsin First Nations web-page.
Menominee Nation is visible in central Northeast Wisconsin.
Some Research has already been performed on food sovereignty in Native American communities. The literature largely illustrates a disproportionately high frequency of chronic food-related diseases in Native communities (Bell-Sheeter, 2004). This is shown to be strongly correlated with systemic lack of access to healthful and culturally appropriate foods (Fairbairn, 2011). As the United States developed and European settlers dispersed across North America, Indian reservations were intentionally placed on marginal lands with few natural resources; on any reservation land that did have access to valuable resources, the US government enacted policies that would allow non-Native individuals to access and benefit from such resources (Dwyer, 2010). Such policies can leave Native communities with inadequate access to suitable agricultural land, thus leading to reliance on processed foods with high white flour and sugar content (Dwyer, 2010). Diets like these are correlated with higher incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, hence the term “chronic food-related illness” (World Health Organization, 2014). Because of the intentional impairment of tribes and their resources, Native communities often lack access to healthy and culturally appropriate foods, leading to higher incidence of chronic food-related illness. Weiler et al. point out that, “In light of the disproportionate burden of diet-related ill health affecting indigenous peoples, and the role of food and relations to land in cultural identity, many advocates have rallied around legal policy reform in areas such as health programming to promote indigenous food sovereignty” (Weiler et al.) We know that Native communities frequently have programs related to food sovereignty due to their history of decimation by European settlers and the deleterious impacts of post-colonialism. We also know that such a history has led to systemic inequities in the food system, harming Native communities through lack of appropriate food access and institutional racism. These two factors make Native communities of particular interest when studying food sovereignty, health, and resilience.
Fig. 6 Mortality Disparity Rates for some top causes of death
in the US. American Indian and Alaskan Natives rate is compared
to US All Races rate. Data from 2009-2011. Chart from Indian Health Service.
The Menominee Nation has a unique experience with assimilation as they were terminated in the 1950s (The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin). A strenuous grassroots movement was able to overcome termination of their tribe in 1973. Today, the 219,000 of Menominee reservation land are a testament to the Menominee’s strength through assimilation and knowledge of the land. The Menominee Nation has been continually recognized for their sustainable forestry operation (Menominee Tribal Enterprises). Since 1995 they have been recognized by the United Nations, U.S. Department of Commerce, and many others for their work towards sustainable agriculture (Menominee Tribal Enterprises). All in all, the Menominee have withstood multiple attempts to terminate their Nation but have persevered and pursued a sovereign future
Recent interest in local and sustainably produced food has led to a resurgence of traditional agricultural practices and helped to bolster the food sovereignty movement. International notice has incentivized and enabled food sovereignty programs and supported initiatives for Native communities to reclaim autonomy over their food systems (Fairbairn, 2011). The existing literature offers relatively few case studies evaluating the effect of food sovereignty reclamation efforts on community building and health. We wish to fill this gap with our research on the Menominee Nation’s food sovereignty program and the tribe’s relative occurrence of chronic food-related illness. We plan to investigate chronic food-related illness on the Menominee reservation to determine if food sovereignty programs have a significant influence on community health. We know that “many contemporary health inequities worldwide are situated within deep imbalances of political, economic and social power in the food system. Because these food-related health inequities are socially situated, dismantling barriers that prevent certain people from accessing the means to lead flourishing lives also rests in socially created solutions” (Allen, 2008 and Weiler et al., 2014). With this knowledge, we hope to also investigate how food sovereignty can help alleviate ingrained inequities and contribute toward overall community sustainability.
Fig. 7 Three elements of sustainability.
Each are impacted by food sovereignty programs.
Food sovereignty can have a strong impact on social, environmental, and economic sustainability. The United Nations released the idea of the three pillars of sustainability in 1987 delivering a report known as ‘Our Common Future’ (also known as the Brundtland Report) (Peterson H.C. 2013). The report highlighted environmental, social, and economic factors as the pillars of sustainability. The UN Commission stated, “humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Peterson H.C. 2013). Practicing sustainability for more than 150 years has allowed the Menominee tribe to overcome termination and create the well known forestry practice we see today. A focus on future generations is a large part of Native American Culture and narrative. Before the United Nations released the Brundtland Report, Indigenous peoples were making environmental, social, and economic decisions based on sustainability for generations. The fight for sovereignty for indigenous peoples is rooted in their ability to create sustainable societies. Naturally, Sovereignty and sustainability go hand in hand.
Research Overview and Methods
In order to study the relationship between food sovereignty programs and chronic food-related illness, we will collect data using surveys for community members and interviews with Tribal leaders and food sovereignty program leaders. We will provide monetary incentives for people that participate in the surveys and interviews.
The Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool by Alicia Bell-Sheeter and the research by Emily Dwyer both gave examples of questions that would be useful to use in both our interviews and surveys with the tribal council and members (Dwyer, 2010 & Bell-Sheeter, 2004 ). We aim to conduct interviews with Tribal council members discussing tribal organization of resources as well as culturally significant aspects of the food system and food sovereignty. We will also distribute a survey to the larger population of tribal community members that focuses on everyday interactions with food included with their personal perspectives on food sovereignty. We want to include both surveys and interviews in our research because we know that surveys typically have a relatively low response rate. We do not have the time or resources to conduct interviews for every Tribal member so we want to prioritize interviews with Tribal leaders and incorporate input from Tribal members using surveys.
We will send requests for interviews via mail to Tribal council members in early Spring 2021. These requests will ask that interviewees send responses by May of 2021 so that we know who will be participating in our interview and we can set up times to conduct them throughout the month of May. We will begin conducting the interviews in June and continue throughout the summer, finishing by the end of August 2021. Throughout the summer we will code the interviews to ensure our participants’ responses are organized when we begin the analysis in the Fall of 2021. Our interviews will include open-responses only. We will anticipate that our graduate students have prior training in interview techniques and are certified with the Human Subjects Protections Training. We will ensure that each of us as well as our graduate students have a robust understanding of the interview to be conducted by going through the questionnaire question-by-question and discussing the meaning behind the question, potential probes for more information, and hypothetical problems that could arise as interviewees answer the question. By doing so, we are ensuring that each person conducting interviews has a strong working knowledge of the interview structure and the presentation of questions is as standardized as possible.
We will send surveys via mail to all enrolled tribal members in early Spring 2021. Enclosed in the mail parcel, we will include a description of our research and justification for requesting the participant’s participation. We will also include a statement of informed consent and anonymity and a prepaid return envelope. The survey will include 5-point Likert scale questions, rating scale questions (also called ordinal questions), and open-response questions. The Likert and rating scale questions will help us standardize the analysis of our participants’s answers while the open-response questions will bring in a personal element to the survey and allow our participants to highlight issues that they feel are important that may not have been explicitly addressed in our previous questions. On the 1st of June, July, and August we will send follow-up letters to our requested participants reminding them to complete our survey in an effort to bolster our response rate. Although surveys can have low response rates, they can be beneficial as they provide a method of information gathering with inherent anonymity. Plus, surveys allow the participant more time to formulate thoughtful answers to the questions asked, perhaps providing more valuable data for us.
Fig. 8 Sample five-point Likert scale response chart.
In conducting interviews and surveys, we hope to find out how food sovereignty can improve health and build a stronger community in Native communities of Wisconsin. By including both techniques, we aim to gain a broad understanding of the issue, including community leaders and community members. We also hope that by collecting data on the Menominee Food Sovereignty program we will be able to compare the Menominee Nation to other reservations nation-wide in the future.
Some sample interview and survey questions can be found below. We have broken up the questions by subject. We include questions regarding food, health, and programming/organization. Food questions cover the types of food that individuals eat and where they get it. Health questions inquire about community members’ health conditions and underlying issues. Questions regarding programming and organization cover aspects of the larger food system with which individuals and community members interact.
Sample Interview / Survey Questions:
- Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you or your family lived here? Do you know what food sovereignty is? Are you involved in any type of food movement?
Food - What do people eat? Where do they get it?
- Do you know what people in your community eat? Is it nutritious? Is it safe?
- Where do the people in your community get food?
- Is the food supply in your community reliable? Is it subject to federal budgetary limitations?
- Do people in your community pay a fair price for healthy foods?
- Is the food provided by the government healthy, nutritious, and suited to people in your community?
- How far do you travel to get to the nearest grocery store?
- How would your community get food if a natural or other disaster (like a truckers strike) stopped shipments?
- How important is it for your community to preserve cultural food traditions?
- What food traditions are still practiced in your community?
Health - Are community members healthy? If not, why?
- Do people in your community know how diet choices affect health?
- Do you know how many people in your community are sick? Do you know why they are sick?
- Are their illnesses food related? Do these individuals have chronic or acute conditions?
- Do you know the costs to your community in medical bills, lost work time, and spiritual well being for unhealthy community members?
- Do you know who in your community is hungry?
Programming / Organization - Does it exist? Who is involved?
- What role do traditions play in the food sovereignty program? For example, agricultural, hunting and gathering, culinary (traditional food and food knowledge), linguistic, oral, and/or medicinal traditions? Would the community like to see more of these programs?
- Is there a governmental role in food distribution (If so, what is the level of trust?) Who has the power in deciding what and how people obtain food on the reservation?
- Are there people in your community interested in revitalizing traditional agricultural and food systems?
- How is information about the program communicated throughout the tribe? (e.g. newsletters, in-person, posters)
Results and Discussion
We anticipate finding that food sovereignty programs are correlated with positive health impacts such as reduced frequency of chronic food-related illness. We base this assumption on the emphasis placed on healthy and culturally appropriate foods in food sovereignty programs. Historically, food systems in Native communities, such as the Menominee tribe, have been controlled by settler colonialism and what is today capitalism. The introduction of nutritionally deficient food and poor diets to Native Americans has brought much chronic food-related disease to Native communities. Food sovereignty could be an answer to lowering chronic food-related illness in Native communities. Communities who have full control of where their food is sourced and how it is distributed have a better chance at creating healthy diets and creating diets that serve the community through social, environmental, and economic sustainability.
If we find a positive correlation between food sovereignty and reduced frequency of chronic food-related illness, we would be interested in further investigating how food sovereignty programs can be implemented in other places with chronic food-related illnesses. This being said, we know that one solution does not fit all, the findings in the results for this study are specific to the Menominee and might not work for other communities. However, some specific practices could be helpful in other scenarios. This research is important as it could potentially help liberate people across the United States from some of the most common illnesses in the nation. Particularly, our research could help Native communities reverse the cycle of institutionalized racism and inadequate nutrition, both of which have plagued Native communities since European colonization of America.
We already know that a food sovereign community is socially sustainable. Along with this, we anticipate finding a strong correlation between the economic and environmental sustainability and sovereignty as well. By framing food sovereignty using the three pillars of sustainability, we can see how food sovereignty can impact communities on more than one level and make it more appealing for other communities. It is important to remember that Indigenous Peoples are not the only communities that need or want to be sovereign. Other communities also seek more control over their land and the food systems of which they are a part. Similarly, not all Indigenous Peoples seek sovereignty, but rather are comfortable benefiting and being subject to other governances. Again, there is never a universal solution, but our research will help to fit another piece into the food systems puzzle. If we do not find our anticipated results, we hope that we will find specific areas where the Menominee Food Sovereignty program or future programs can be improved upon with a goal of minimizing chronic food-related disease in the community.
Our research will be conducted among members of the Menominee Nation. Data produced here may not be universally relevant, especially in off-reservation contexts, meaning that it may be limited to certain circumstances. Additionally, by using surveys as one of our primary information sources, we are accepting an inherently low response rate. Another limitation is the lack of other research performed on this topic. We will not know if an association between food sovereignty programs and chronic food-related diseases is simply due to chance or if the two are truly linked. To determine this, we and other scholars will need to conduct further research on food sovereignty and chronic food-related illness.
We are professors at the College of Menominee Nation collaborative working on the Food Sovereignty program for the Menominee Nation. Claire is a professor of Sustainability and Food Systems, Ella is a professor of Ecology, and Hannah is a professor of Community and Environmental Sociology. Our previous research has focused on community building in relation to environmental health. Claire's academic focus has been on food waste in restaurants and urban foodscapes. Ella has focused on the importance of pollinators in sustainable agriculture. Hannah has done research on the importance of food sovereignty in community building. Together, our strengths will supplement each other and help us build a critical examination of food sovereignty and community health on the Menominee reservation in Wisconsin.
- Allen. 2008. Mining for justice in the food system: perceptions, practices, and possibilities. Agriculture and Human Values 25: 157-61.
- Bell-Sheeter, Alicia. 2004. Food sovereignty assessment tool. First Nations Development Institute. www.wkkf.org/~/media/D8D237229B804CF9B22E127ECCB80338.ashx.
- DECLARATION OF NYÉLÉNI. (2007, February 27). Retrieved March 9, 2020, from https://www.nyeleni.org/spip.php?article290
- Dwyer, E. (2010). Farm to Cafeteria Initiatives: Connections with the Tribal Food Sovereignty Movement (pp. 9). Los Angeles, CA: Urban and Environmental Policy Institute. https://www.welrp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Tribal-Farm-to-School-project-1.pdf
- College of Menominee Nation. Menominee Food Sovereignty. Retrieved March 24 2020 from http://www.menominee.edu/food.aspx?id=1853
- College of Menominee Nation and Menominee Tribal Enterprises. (n.d.). AN Indigenous Based Theoretical Model of Sustainability. Retrieved from http://sustainabledevelopmentinstitute.org/about-us/the-menominee-theoretical-model-of-sustainability/
- Fairbairn, M. (2011). Framing transformation: the counter-hegemonic potential of food sovereignty in the US context. Agriculture and Human Values, 29(2), 217–230. doi: 10.1007/s10460-011-9334-x
- Indian Health Service. (n.d.). Disparities: Fact Sheets. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://www.ihs.gov/newsroom/factsheets/disparities/
- The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. Brief History-About Us. Retrieved from https://www.menominee-nsn.gov/CulturePages/BriefHistory.aspx
- Menominee Tribal Enterprises. MTE Forestry. Retrieved from https://www.mtewood.com/SustainableForestry
- Menominee Tribal Enterprises. MTE Forestry Excellence. Retrieved from https://www.mtewood.com/Sawmill/Recognition
- Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance. (n.d.). Welcome to the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://nativefoodalliance.org/
- PBS Wisconsin Education, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, & University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education. (2020, March 31). Current Tribal Lands Map and Native Nations Facts. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://wisconsinfirstnations.org/current-tribal-lands-map-native-nations-facts/
- Peterson H.C. 2013. Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics. Michigan, USA: Michigan State University. Retrieved from https://kb.wisc.edu/images/group235/shared/02/Peterson-2013-Sustainability-Wicked-Problem.pdf
- Weiler, A. M., Hergesheimer, C., Brisbois, B., Wittman, H., Yassi, A., & Spiegel, J. M. (2014). Food sovereignty, food security and health equity: a meta-narrative mapping exercise. Health Policy and Planning, 30(8), 1078–1092. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czu109
- What is food sovereignty? (2018, June 12). Global Justice Now. Retrieved April 17, 2020, from https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/what-food-sovereignty
- World Health Organization. (2014, October 6). Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases: Report of the joint WHO/FAO expert consultation. Retrieved April 17, 2020, from https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/summary/en/
This project would not have been successful without the contributions of the outstanding students in our Food Systems, Sustainability, and Climate Change class. We would particularly like to acknowledge the wonderful and challenging questions, and the specific knowledge that students with different areas of expertise provided. We would also like to thank our amazing professor and TAs for their knowledgeable feedback and helpful guidance.
Hannah Arbuckle is a Senior at UW-Madison Studying Community and Environmental Sociology with certificates in Food Systems and American Indian Studies. Her interest is in Food Sovereignty and Sustainable agriculture. Outside of academia, she enjoys running, snowboarding, and camping.
Ella Gustafson is a Sophomore majoring in Geography and Environmental Studies with a certificate in Food Systems. She currently works at Outdoor UW facilitating recreational experiences for community members. She is an active member of the Hoofers Outing club and enjoys hiking, canoeing, running, and rock climbing. She also enjoys volunteering on the farm with F.H. King or cooking with Slow Food UW to distribute fresh, healthy food to the community.
Claire Stowe is a Senior at UW-Madison studying Environmental Studies and Geography with a Certificate in Food Systems. She currently works at the UW- Madison Office of Sustainability and at Whole Foods Market. Outside of school and work, she likes to hike, bike, and camp.