Published: Nov. 24, 2021

UPDATE: Your input on food sovereignty and Native supply chain concerns and solutions in Indian Country is valuable! Please take our Native Food Sovereignty Survey by Monday, February 7, 2022. We want to hear from people who work at Native-owned food businesses such as farms, ranches, fisheries, harvesting businesses, restaurants, catering, food processing, and other food practitioners. Native-owned food businesses that permanently closed during the pandemic are welcome to participate as well.

Native Food Supply Map via NAAFLike many sectors, Native food supply has experienced significant disruptions over the last 18 months. This has exacerbated challenges that have existed for well over a century due to land grab policies and exclusionary agriculture policies codified by the U.S. government. Understanding where solutions and opportunities exist is critical to supporting food sovereignty in Indian Country.

Native food supply chains are instances where a Native food business is buying from or selling to another Native food business or to Native customers. This could also include working with Native-owned businesses for transportation, processing, or other aspects of the food supply chain. First Peoples Worldwide views cultivating Native supply chains as one among many critical approaches to enacting food sovereignty.

The reasons to build Native food supply chains are manifold: to create economic opportunity by keeping capital circulating within Indian Country, to increase access to Native and Indigenous foods, to support Native food businesses, to provide avenues for Tribes to provide their communities healthy food, and to maintain and further cultivate Native control of Native food systems.

As tribal nations and Indigenous Peoples in the U.S. work towards economic recovery and rebuilding their communities, Native enterprises are demonstrating resilience, integrity and innovation that can be captured and translated into further success. Native food entrepreneurs are creating solutions and navigating and strengthening Native supply chains, but there remains work to be done. 

With support from Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF), First Peoples is engaging in conversations with Native businesses and producers throughout the U.S. to incorporate their insights into a research project to support Native food sovereignty through building Native supply chains. In this multifaceted project, First Peoples has partnered with the owners of the Denver restaurant Tocabe, Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra. Through this partnership, Tocabe has opened an online Indigenous Marketplace which expands market access for Native food producers. At the same time, Tocabe has provided expertise and consultation that has informed the design of our research. Inspired by the ways that Tocabe and other Native food businesses are currently enacting food sovereignty, First Peoples’ research is aimed at amplifying and uplifting the vital work that Native food producers, processors, and restaurateurs are already undertaking to cultivate Native supply chains.

Working towards release in 2022, a report will discuss ways that Native food businesses have adapted to the pandemic and illustrate ways that Native business owners are currently working to expand Native food supply chains. Research also draws from experiences and the expertise of Native farmers, ranchers, and restaurateurs to compile recommendations about how to further Native food sovereignty by identifying specific ways that Native organizations, food systems participants, investors, and others can support Native food businesses and strengthen Native supply chains in the short- and long-term.

Self determination and tribal sovereignty are essential to food sovereignty. During the research, input is gathered in alignment with data sovereignty principles, and the research report will be made publicly available. The report will be shared with and through Native organizations involved in food, agriculture, and finance work, as well as with investors to encourage support of Native supply chains and action on any recommendations identified in the research. The goal of the study is to build capacity for Native suppliers to consider and operationalize shared, proven solutions, and to have access to information, resources and networks to further build and grow their businesses.

Image via NAAF's 2020 report Reimagining Native Food Economies.