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  • (Ojibwe language)

  • Greeting you in Ojibwe, as you probably gathered.

  • The language from this Oma Aking here.

  • And I am thanking you very much for the honor of being here.

  • I'm telling you I'm from White Earth, up north, from my reservation,

  • I'm calling you my relatives.

  • I wanted to start like that because

  • I thought about what I'm going to talk to you about tonight which is

  • that food for us comes from our relatives.

  • Whether they have wings, or fins or roots

  • and indeed that is how we consider food.

  • Food has a culture. It has history.

  • It has stories, it has relationships, that tie us to our food.

  • Food is more than something you just buy at the store.

  • Something that just doesn't have a stamp on it.

  • In our community, we are told long time ago by our prophets,

  • our Anishinabe people lived on the eastern seaboard.

  • And we're related to those people out there, the Wampanoags and others.

  • And we were instructed by our prophets

  • that we should follow a shell which appeared in the sky.

  • And in following that shell, we would arrive at the place

  • where the food grows upon the water.

  • And that food that grows upon the water is minoman, or wild rice.

  • So we were instructed by the creator to move here,

  • Oma Aking, to this place.

  • And our wild rice, our minoman, is our most sacred food.

  • It is food that is first food given to a child when they can eat solid

  • and it is last food before you pass in to the spirit world.

  • [Unclear] a lot of our feasts, and a lot of ceremonies

  • and it's very important to us.

  • And as you know, we've fought hard and long to keep our rice and to keep it good.

  • This is a picture of Nokomis and Nanaboozhoo.

  • That's our spirit beings from who we descend making wild rice.

  • This is my community today.

  • Do pretty much the same thing as we did for a thousand years.

  • We got an aluminum canoe now instead of a birch bark.

  • Hard to get trees that size these days, but we still rice.

  • And then the month that is called Manoominike Giizis,

  • wild rice-making moon, August into September,

  • you'll see our people go out on the lakes.

  • We feel a great joy when we go out there with our two sticks and a canoe.

  • Go out there and harvest the rice.

  • Sometimes it's tall or short or fat or skinny or,

  • looks like a bottle brush or looks all punked out.

  • It's diverse. And that's how we can keep it.

  • Because when a wind comes through it blows off some of the rice.

  • It doesn't blow off all the rice.

  • There's great diversity in that.

  • We still parch it the same way over a fire.

  • You can dance on your rice in your new moccasins,

  • we do pretty much the same thing for all these years

  • and that defines us as Anishinabe people.

  • Our story of our relationship to food is similar to the relationship

  • that other people have to their foods.

  • This is Jerry Kononue on the big island of Hawaii.

  • This is kalo or taro.

  • There's about 80 varieties of taro that exist in Hawaii.

  • And they refer to it as part of their cosmogeneology.

  • I never heard that word til I was over there.

  • And what they said is that in their regional stories

  • and their original beings, the sky and the stars had a child

  • and the first child born was a son named Callow.

  • And he was born stillborn and they buried that child.

  • And then the mother cried, and when she cried,

  • from that child and from the ground emerged callow or taro.

  • As the elder stillborn, the younger child that was born was Kane, or the Hawaiian.

  • And so they consider that the taro is their elder brother.

  • And so it is not surprising that they, like the Ojibwe people, as you may know,

  • we fought the genetic engineering of our wild rice,

  • also the patenting of our wild rice.

  • It will not surprise you that the native Hawaiians also fought against

  • the genetic engineering of their cosmogenealogy.

  • Of their older relative. And fought the patenting.

  • I like to call this picture, white men can't dance.

  • And it has to do -- these people are doing -- it's like a haka.

  • They're summoning their ancestors in their dance to come forward.

  • And to help them to face off with the enemy.

  • In this case, genetic engineering. In the University of Hawaii.

  • And they're facing a bunch of white guys in suits at the University of Hawaii.

  • Probably a little concerned with the arrival of the Hawaiians here.

  • And in this case, the Hawaiians defeated them,

  • both on the patenting issue, the patents were torn-up at this meeting.

  • On the food itself. And they also, in Hawaii,

  • they have a ban on the genetic engineering of taro.

  • One of the first and only places in the country that such a ban has been maintained.

  • But our peoples are very concerned about our relatives

  • and our responsibility to keep them.

  • There's a similar story that is told with the Maori people of Aotearoa

  • also known as New Zealand.

  • I'm not sure what was new about it, but anyway.

  • So they have this potatoe there called peru peru

  • which has the highest level of Andean genetics of any potato in the Pacific.

  • Andean meaning that is from South America.

  • And thousands of years ago sea-faring Maoris went to South America

  • and brought this potato back

  • before any petroleum or Captain Cook or anybody.

  • And they had this potato. And they grow this potato.

  • And so as you can imagine when the universities in New Zealand

  • wanted to genetically engineer these potatoes

  • they again were faced with the Maoris who said,

  • "We don't think that's a good idea.

  • We don't want you to do that and we're going to oppose you."

  • And they won. There are no genetically engineered potatos there.

  • And in that, they reestablished a relationship with Aymara people from Peru area.

  • Who thanked them for protecting their sacred food as well.

  • So these stories are worldwide issues

  • on the challenges that our relatives face.

  • Whether it is genetic engineering or whether it is patenting.

  • Perhaps the more prominent issue that we are facing is, in fact,

  • the extinction of species of foods in themselves.

  • Over the past 100 years, you've seen this,

  • 75% decline in agro-biodiversity.

  • That is to say, the species of seeds, vegetables, common things

  • that existed 100 years ago do not exist today.

  • Many of them extinct, whether in Canada or in the United States,

  • or on a worldwide scale.

  • And increasingly, you're seeing that, today, for instance,

  • the vast majority of corn that is grown here in this country,

  • has one genetic ancestor.

  • This is something that is a little bit frightening.

  • In additon to that, we are seeing that there is a more concentration

  • of the ownership of these seeds themselves by fewer and fewer.

  • This has big implications for our peoples.

  • My community, the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota,

  • on our reservation, one-third of the population

  • served by Indian Health Service has diabetes.

  • The diabetes is caused by the rapid transition

  • from a traditional food to industrialized foods.

  • And increasingly that is occurring across this country

  • where dietary related illnesses are becoming dominant sources

  • of ill health in this country in themselves.

  • Has a huge health impact,

  • this loss of access to our traditional foods

  • cause today they're saying that,

  • "We get the vast majority of our calories from less than 30 varieties of foods."

  • Concentration in fewer and fewer,

  • and a lot of them, of course, kind of greasy, in themselves.

  • Then there is [an] economic issue.

  • You could look at it a couple ways.

  • One, concentration of ownership of seeds in a few corporations.

  • Increasingly, farmers who held these seeds

  • and had the cultural patrimony, rights, relationship,

  • and the wealth in themselves are being deprived of that

  • by patenting laws, and increasing ownership.

  • About seven corporations control almost all the seeds

  • that are commercially available in the world, yeah.

  • In our own communities though this is a problem in itself.

  • My reservation, you know, our Ojibwe people

  • totally self-sufficient until pretty recently on food.

  • That is to say before 100 years ago

  • we were the northernmost corn producers in the world.

  • We push corn 100 miles north of Winnepeg.

  • Many varieties, a multitude of sources.

  • Maple syrup? That was us way before Aunt Jemima, you know?

  • All those foods, we had in our community, yeah?

  • But today we don't produce most of those foods.

  • So, my reservation, which is stricken with a good deal of poverty, you know?

  • As many other Indian reservations.

  • We find that we spend about eight million dollars a year on food,

  • and of that we spend seven million dollarslike that! —

  • off reservation, purchased Walmart, food service of America, Cisco, etc.

  • If you look at it, it's almost

  • and what we buy on the reservation you end up buying just a little bit

  • that is in the food stores there and what the vast majority

  • of food stores there sell is junk food.

  • You know, good food not accessible.

  • In that, that food economy represents about one quarter of our tribal economy.

  • Which is lost down the drain through different sources,

  • something which could be a source of wealth for us at our community.

  • I don't know how to quantify the culture of grief

  • associated with loss of your most ancient varieties.

  • I don't know what that price tag is.

  • But I know that it's significant what has happened to our peoples.

  • But it is not just what's happening to our community.

  • It's what the future's going to look like for all of us.

  • Because we're sitting in Minneapolis today and it's 100 degrees out.

  • That is climate change is what is going on here.

  • You've got floods in parts of the country,

  • you got a good portion of the country is on fire right now, right?

  • You got tornadoes coming down.

  • They're saying that over the next 20 years

  • we gonna spend 20% of world GDP on climate change related disasters.

  • And amidst that, we have a food system that is increasingly concentrated

  • in both its monoculture and its ownership.

  • They're projecting a 34% loss in corn crop in North Dakota.

  • And what I am concerned about is the fact

  • that we don't have all the seeds we could have at the table.

  • What we have is a concentration, and a rising sense of food insecurity.

  • So we have some ideas on this, this is my community,

  • we have this corn restoration project. This Bear Island Flint corn

  • we've been working on for a long time. It's a good corn.

  • And in that corn in itself, it came from Bear Island in the middle of Leech Lake.

  • I got about this much from a seed grower.

  • He gave it to me and now we have fields of it.

  • Grows about this tall, has big ears,

  • doesn't require irrigation, frost resistant.

  • And when a sear wind comes through, Monsanto's round up ready corn tips over,

  • but our corn is still standing.

  • That is the corn we are looking at.

  • The one in the middle, beautiful, pink lady corn, kind of a magenta colored corn.

  • I just like how it looks, it tastes good too.

  • And this other one, Pawnee Eagle corn.

  • They say that the Pawnees were given corn from the corn mother,

  • had this corn for all their time.

  • And when they lived in Nebraska they did good with their corn

  • and the other people came, the settlers came to see them.

  • And when the settlers came they got on good with the Pawnees.

  • They traded horses and had them fix their wagon wheels and various things.

  • But the government forced the Pawnees to leave and go to Oklahoma.

  • And when they went they took their corn with them but it did not grow.

  • It did not grow.

  • And so for many years they grieved the loss of their corn,

  • got less and less until they just had like 25 different seeds.

  • And then one day the descendants of the settlers in Carney Nebraska

  • asked if they could help grow this corn varities again.

  • And they petitioned the Pawnees.

  • The Pawnees seed keeper talked to the elders and they said,

  • "We'll let them try cause we can't grow our corn."

  • They sent that corn back to Nebraska, and that corn flourished.

  • And their varieties flourished.

  • And so the descendants of the settlers today grow the corn for the Pawnees,

  • and what dad told me was that the corn remembered the land it came from.

  • It is a story. Corn has a history, it has a story, and in this case,

  • it is a form of redemption.

  • That is the work we are doing in our community.

  • We're working to bring back our sugar bush,

  • that's the first harvest of the season.

  • That's my youngest son, sucking the sapp out of the tree, eating my profits.

  • (Laughter)

  • We like this though, we feel good when we are in the sugar bush.

  • And we are trying to grow back all our old varieties.

  • This young man, that's a Lakota squash.

  • And that squash, in itself, was given to me in October, and I ate it in May.

  • Why am I telling you that?

  • Because it's a perfect carbon reduced food.

  • It didn't require refrigeration, freezing, or canning.

  • It just hung out, was a squash. Delicious that much later.

  • Yeah?

  • And so --

  • it's not just that you grow local food it's also what you grow.

  • Cause it turns out a lot of these old varieties are higher in amino acids,

  • antioxidants, protein, trace minerals than anything you can buy at the store.

  • I don't know why that is.