Air date: June 5, 2017
Welcome to Rootstock Radio. Join us as host Theresa Marquez talks to leaders from the Good Food movement about food, farming, and our global future. Rootstock Radio—propagating a healthy planet. Now, here’s host Theresa Marquez.
THERESA MARQUEZ: Hello, listeners. I am Theresa Marquez, and we are about to listen to Part 2 of our interview with Paul DeMain, managing editor and CEO of News from Indian Country and a produce for IndianCountryTV.com. Paul is part of the Ojibwe tribe and he is a member of the Bear Clan. I think that you will all be fascinated as he talks about Native food sovereignty in this Part 2.
Paul, I’d love to hear more about how it is that the Oneida got to Wisconsin.
PAUL DEMAIN: Well, that’s a story of a nation migrating to get away from the violence and the encroachment upon their lands in upper state New York. So the Oneidas came to Wisconsin in 1822. They were trying to flee both the Mohawks, who were still angry at them—the Mohawks supported the British in the Revolutionary War; the Oneidas went with George Washington’s army. It’s interesting that during that winter at Valley Forge, when George Washington’s army was surrounded to a great deal, that a group and delegation of Oneida women—which were, by the way, with the militia from the Oneida Nation; [unclear—Honeyway/Hunniweh Dockstater?], one of my distant great-great-grandfathers, was in Valley Forge with both of his wives, and those women went to upper state New York and brought back several thousand pounds of corn, beans, and squash. And the reason they were able to do that is because the Iroquois Confederacy, in their oral history, were told that the longest route that ever existed was seven years long, and so that they always tried to store enough corn, beans, and squash to last through seven seasons. So those were bean seeds, those were dehydrated squash, dehydrated corn—anything else that was stored away. But they attempted to try to make sure that they had enough food stored away into these great, big, huge underground pits that it would be able to feed a community for up to seven years, because that’s what they were told to do.
So this delegation brought those several thousand pounds of corn, beans, and squash down into Valley Forge and fed the army—George’s Washington’s army—there and literally saved, I think, the battle on behalf of the United States government. Despite that, Oneidas were forced to remove [from] New York because of all kinds of attempts to swindle them out of their land. And when they came, they brought the Stockbridge, the Munsee, and the Brothertown Indian communities as well out of upper state New York and into the Green Bay region, originally having a million-acre reservation that was negotiated with the Menomonee Nation and later, in modern day now, have about a 70,000 acre reservation there, touching the southwestern end of Green Bay where several thousand Oneidas now reside.
They brought with them what was called “the Three Sisters”—corn, beans, and squash—and were gardeners, as compared to many of the foragers and hunters and fishermen in the Great Lakes area, though we have come to understand that historically there are great garden plots up on the Menominee River, Manistee, Michigan. On the Menominee Reservation on the Wolf River, there’s a raised garden bed there. Some of these garden beds, the one at Manistee involved hydroponics; it involved raised gardening, sunflowers, corn, beans, and squash. And so we see these products—in fact, we see these products that the Iroquois had on the East Coast throughout the Great Lakes and even on to the West Coast.
Just about every indigenous tribe seemed to have some kind of brand of corn: blue corn amongst the Hopi; popcorn amongst the Tama Iowa; Bear Island flint in northern Minnesota; there was supposed to be a white flint corn that was grown on Madeline Island. We’re looking for seeds in historical archives for that. But that migration brought parts of the Iroquois Confederacy into Wisconsin. Some of those people went on to a temporarily reservation in Kansas and then ended up down in Oklahoma, which was considered Indian Territory at one point. There were Senecas in the New York remnant tribes.
So that’s quite a history of migration. The Stockbridge-Munsee, who originally were in the Connecticut area and were attacked by John Mason’s army at one point, took refuge amongst the Iroquois and the Oneida in upper state New York. Some of them dropped off in Indiana and a couple other places along the way. So they have even a longer migration story, which is now the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, kind of tucked up under the Menominee Reservation here in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has eleven tribes—six of them are Ojibwe; the Menominees; the Potawatomi; the Stockbridge-Munsee; the Ho Chunk—who have been here historically. Like the Menominee, for many, many years, can tell you perhaps a thousand or two thousand years’ worth of history in this area. And then the non-federally-recognized Brothertown Indians as well.
TM: Wow, what an amazing history.
PDM: One of the things that I think is important in the realm of food sovereignty is, a lot of the activities by the Honor the Earth organization, whose executive director is Winona LaDuke, and a lot of people in newspaper articles and in general perception see her as an “Indian activist,” you know, a female Indian activist. But what she is, is she’s a Harvard-educated economist. So when she gets up there and starts talking about being against pipelines, it’s not just because she wants to be involved in a protest. And people who went to Standing Rock, some of them went there because they wanted to be involved in a protest, but more of the people went there because of a much bigger stake in the issue of extractive industries and fossil fuels, global warming. And so there is a lot of information that people can get by going to honortheearth.org online, or finding the Facebook page.
But here’s what I have to say about Winona LaDuke: when she gets up there and starts talking about data having to do with the fossil fuel industry, it’s because she’s thought out the paradigm on the other end. Because it’s important to balance the idea that we’re not against job creation—we all are, she is, much for the creation of jobs and activities that produce things for a community but also protect the environment. So the battle against the fossil fuel industry is balanced off against this drive to grow corn, beans and squash, to raise her own cattle, to have horses, to forage in the woods. And she’s involved in those activities. Sometimes you’re actually going to see her with dirty hands because she’s been in the garden weeding and those kinds of things. But I believe it was her father who at one point had told her, you know, “Don’t talk to me about sovereignty until you know how to grow corn.” And I think that’s a good idea for everyone to think about, whether they’re in tribal government or elsewhere. You know, you want to get involved in activities and politics and other things? Do that. But make sure that you can feed yourself, because that is such an important element.
And that element, historically—hunting and fishing and other things—a lot of men were hunters and fishermen and brought the food back, but that food went to the clan mothers in the community. It was controlled by the elderly women in the community in terms of its dispersement, so that if there was a mean-spirited uncle down the path in the woods over here, he might get the leftovers of everything. And if there’s someone over here who isn’t working at all, they might get thrown a bone. But the women in our indigenous communities controlled that. And you want to think about the political economic power that women had in terms of food and politics when they controlled the food in our communities. That’s also why I think that the forefront of this movement—to protect the water and to protect the food sources and seeds and so forth—it’s kind of their responsibility because these things give birth to good things. And some of our women are certainly focused on rebirthing those good things in our community and taking control of our future again.
TM: Well, that is really lovely and beautiful to hear, and inspirational. So, Paul, you are working with the Great Lakes Native Food Sovereignty movement. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
PDM: Well, it’s certainly a Great Lakes Food Sovereignty movement. I work part-time as a special projects officer for the Intertribal Agricultural Council. The Intertribal Agricultural Council in the Great Lakes area has sponsored a number of events in conjunction with tribes. There was a fall food sovereignty summit at Red Lake this spring. We went to the Gun Lake Potawatomi or Boodewaadamii tribal lands at Camp Jijak near Hopkins, Michigan, where close to 400 people gathered to bring their knowledge about seeds and seed saving and seed nurturing and seed planting and discussing the spirit of the seeds. And we talked about sapping different products. I’ve, in the last five years, have tapped several different varieties of maple trees on land at Lac Courte Oreilles—birch trees. I have friends who have sapped some walnut trees. And so we’re beginning to look, again, looking back to find out what we used to do in terms of sapping maple trees—which, by the way, have 25 elements in them as compared to 12 elements that cane sugar has, as compared to 6 elements that sugar beet sugar has, as compared to the 4 calories that corn syrup sweeteners have and may not have any other redeeming value other than being sweet, and is used because it’s so cheap. But it may also be killing, frankly, killing people in terms of how it’s being used.
TM: Contributing to diabetes?
PDM: Contributing to all kinds of things. I read a report not too long ago that says that some of these refined sugars are feeding cancers. They don’t create them, but they’re feeding them when someone does get them. And so we get back to maple and look at the kinds of things that are in maple and understand that we didn’t make syrup—we made sugar. And so there wasn’t the filtering in order to make the syrup pleasant to the eye, or pleasing to the eye. And we don’t take out, when we make that sugar, some of those elements that are nutritious or calcium based. And one of the elements in maple is an element that stimulates the pancreas to create insulin. And once you get diabetes, you’re not going to reverse it by taking maple, but maybe, I keep thinking that maybe that’s one of the reasons we didn’t have diabetes, is because maple products allowed our pancreas to just function better.
And that’s really what we’re trying to get at, is how do we do things for our body that make all the body parts function better. And that’s reaching back into our communities and into our forests to look at those food and medicinal products that come out of the woods, and getting them into our system the way they used to be. The European diet and the commodity food survival diet that’s come to the Indian reservations has been deadly to our community, where it was high in fats and high in flours and high in greasy things that obviously led to some very, very high cancer, diabetes, heart problem rates in our community, and an unhealthy community in general. You know, we’re feeding things to our kids, I think, that are slowing down their ability to think in schools as they’re learning. So if we can get back to some of these products, that’s what the Great Lakes Intertribal Food Summit in Hopkins, Michigan, in April was about. And there’s been a food sovereignty summit cosponsored by the University of Wisconsin–Madison, which featured indigenous products.
And there was interesting things, because there’s an indigenous culinary chefs’ movement that has developed out of this, in which I think there’s 30 or 40 people who are official members of this organization, who we’re kind of looking to to reconnect with Great-great-great-great-grandma. Even though she doesn’t exist anymore, to find out some of those recipes that were passed down in the family, to understand how they historically made food taste really good. And so I heard that one of these culinary chefs, Tashia Hart from Red Lake, recently created a fiddlehead and wild onion pesto of some kind—I don’t know what the recipe is but it sounds really delicious. And I think they might have used that over at Jijak, as well as a sauce over Red Lake walleye or Lake Superior whitefish that was obtained from the Red Cliff Reservation. So utilizing the products we have in our community, for example, wild rice, and learning new ways to cook it and use it for cold salads, to use it in puddings, to use it in desserts, to use it as a bedding for certain things, adding wild onions to soups, utilizing mushrooms in a way we haven’t thought about.
So our idea really is to explore all avenues and get people together. There’s nothing better in the world to do than to be forced to go to a conference where you have to eat really, really good food for four days from breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, and whatever is left over for the chefs to create as a snack later on. There’s nothing more phenomenal than to be able to go to a conference like that and to eat stuff that’s wonderful, I think makes us think clear, makes our bodies feel better, and is historic and filled with culture and history, because we utilize all these things to learn about life and living and nourishment.
And I think those are the lessons from the woods. Those are lessons from the foods, where we see people dedicated to taking a particular product—let’s say we had a goat butchering session in which every single piece of that goat was used for something. I’ve been to places where, in northern Wisconsin the Ojibwe people took one of the first elk after it was introduced, and the State of Wisconsin wanted to have a 10-permit elk hunt. The Ojibwe tribe went and issued a ceremonial permit for Ojibwe people to take one elk. They took that elk, and it was done in a very ceremonious way. It went down with one bullet, which was a good sign the elk came to the hunters. And then that elk was taken apart with groups of people standing over it who were organized to say, “Here’s what this is going to be used for. Here’s what this is going to be used for.” And everything was utilized and dispersed into the tribal community.
So groups of people remembered different parts that were utilized for medicines, for clothes, for functional activities, for artwork, for food, for whatever it was. To reinvigorate that idea that you wouldn’t just drop an elk to take the back straps or the hindquarter. If you’re going to drop an elk or a moose or a deer or whatever it might be, you learn how to utilize everything to the best of your ability. And that’s a reverence toward creation and life that I think should be sustained throughout everything that we do.
TM: If you are just joining us, you are listening to Rootstock Radio, and I am Theresa Marquez, interviewing Paul DeMain, who is the managing editor and CEO of News from Indian Country and IndianCountryTV.com.
How are you being able to disseminate these things that you’re learning? I’m assuming that others are learning, but probably not as many as you’d like. Are there ways that you’re disseminating that out throughout the tribes and the Native American nations?
PDM: Well these kinds of activities, I think, are growing everywhere. I mean, right now the Intertribal Agricultural Council’s been involved in planning a conference down in Denver, out in Arizona, based on the same philosophy. Red Lake had one last fall, brought together about 150 people to discuss these things. So we’re talking about them in several different ways. Number one, we’re hoping that these help create jobs. Number two, we hope that it allows Ojibwe people and other tribes who have the right to exercise off reservation, hunting, fishing, and gathering rights an opportunity to get out there and utilize the thousands of resources that aren’t being harvested now. Number three, we’re hoping that these products get into the cupboards of our families so that they can be healthier.
We’re hoping that we can get them into the elderly feeding programs and the nutritional feeding programs at our schools on the reservation, which means that you have to get through some certifications for USDA to get those products—good practices, safe practices, cleanliness, gathering practices that allow the plants to thrive rather than to eliminate them. So we’re bringing in wild onions here at Lac Courte Oreilles now, and I’m trying to encourage the people who are bringing them in to say, look at, you know, 15 to 20 percent of any particular wild onion colony, snap off the roots at the bottom, allow the plants to regenerate. Move throughout the woods; don’t just work on one particular area. Things that are good practices. And then as these products come in, we’re trying to teach people that they need to be…you know, how to clean them up to particular specifications so that we can get them into these programs at the local level, without having someone say, well, you can’t take deer meat into the school lunch program, or you can’t take wild rice into the school lunch program, or you can’t have wild onions—you can’t have this, you can’t have that, because it’s not certified. Let’s try to figure out how to get them into these programs.
And then, if a harvester or a forager has a surplus, how do we take the surplus and package it into something that fits all the regulatory authorities, describes it, looks nice, puts it into the market where they get the best value, sale value that they can out of it, so that that is part of their revenue streams for supporting the family. So it’s really a much bigger holistic picture of things that are going on with…
You know, at Jijak this year we had conversations about tapping ironwood, which is a tree that no one would think would be tapped, except that we did run across several people that said they had heard about that. So the question is, what were they tapping ironwood for? When do you tap ironwood? What does it run? How does it run? What’s the sugar ratio? Because birch trees give a lot of sap, and birch trees are utilized much more for medicinal than recreational purposes. Like maple, you think pancakes, except that I had to tell my mother that we weren’t thinking about pancakes when I’m producing maple syrup anymore. She’s 94 years old, by the way, and lives in Wausau, Wisconsin. I gave her a bottle of syrup and she says, “Oh, we’re gonna make pancakes.” And I say, “Mom, it’s so much more than pancakes. It’s about health factors and living longer in life. Maybe it might extend your life another ten or fifteen years.” And she looked at me and she’s holding this bottle of syrup, and she hands it back and says, “No, thank you.” Well, at 94, she can do that. I say, “Mom, take the syrup back and make some pancakes.”
But philosophically, the whole thing is such a bigger concept involving, everything from religious, spiritual connotations—because when people get married in this community, or they have a [unclear—sounds like chiday wegon], or big drum ceremony, which they have in the spring, fall, winter, and summer—four seasonal dances and celebrations with a huge feast table, giving thanksgiving to everything that’s on the table. So there are ceremonial, spiritual connotations; there are health, nutritional; there are commercial streams; there are family household revenue streams; there’s family activities; there’s the cuisine component of it—there’s a lot that’s going into it.
And to some part, I think what we’re trying to do is look back at what we think were some of the world’s greatest trade routes that came through from the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes, up over the mountains, into the Columbia River Basin, where the Treaty of 1855 has a long list of products that were being bought, sold, and traded at Walla Walla—where their treaty was made with the Yakama Nation. And because they were so concerned about taxation issues, the chief started naming off all these food products. Well, after they got done with salmon and huckleberries and all the things that are out in the northwest, they were talking about buffalo robes and giant tobacco and blueberries and wild rice and maple syrup and all kinds of things that were coming out of the Great Lakes. And when they were done listing those off, there was even other products, like wampum and other things from the East Coast—which meant that they were trading these things historically. And we believe that, some of us, anyway, believe that there were some great trade routes that once existed in which tribes bartered trade and commercialized these products all over. And I think there’s evidence of that at Madeline Island and Walla Walla, and in the history of people. It was just lost for a time and needs to be rediscovered.
TM: I’m wondering, I know that much of it probably is some verbal history. Are there books, and can you actually give some resources to myself and to our listeners about where they might go to learn more about this? I’d love to hear any resources that you might have.
PDM: Well, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission in Odanah, Wisconsin, has a great deal of information on wild plants, harvestable plants, wild rice and things like that. Key words to maybe search for are “food sovereignty,” “mobile farmers market,” “Intertribal Agricultural Council,” “ancient garden beds.” Those are some of them. Go to the Intertribal Agricultural Council—they focus a lot out west on cattle and other big products, but in this area and other areas east of the Mississippi, I think they’re looking much more at food sovereignty in agricultural in a different way than people out west that raise cattle do.
So those are some of the key words I would suggest. But keep searching—the information is out there, and some of it’s historic, but there’s a great deal of first-generation information. People like Kevin Finney, who has worked for the Potawatomis and done historic work on the ancient garden beds at Manistee, has a lot of information. So the resources are out there. And the Lac Courte Orielles Community College has a farm. The Bad River Reservation in Odanah has a food sovereignty program. The Menominee Nation has an office of sustainability at the college of the Menominee Nation. The Oneida Nation has a local farm where people are involved. So if you’re in those areas, it doesn’t take too much to reach out to the tribes and ask what they’re doing. So any of those tribes can be resources for some of this information.
TM: Well, this has been so enlightening, and thank you so much for listing out all those resources. I’m struck with how we started out talking about Standing Rock and the resistance there, but I really feel, as we’ve talked, this big connection between what we’re trying to do honor the earth, as well as protect our water, and the whole idea of food sovereignty and bringing back our grandmothers’ and great-great-grandmothers’ wisdom and trying to learn more from it. So once again, thank you so much, Paul. It’s been a real honor to be talking with you today.
PDM: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
You can listen to Rootstock Radio on the go at iTunes and Stitcher, and find us online at rootstock.coop/radio. Rootstock Radio is brought to you by Organic Valley Family of Farms.