Data Recognizes Historic Harms and Contemporary Challenges, and Demonstrates Native Food’s Intrinsic Sustainability, Self-Determined Value, Economic Opportunity, and Bridge to Community Health and Post-Pandemic Innovation
From 2021-2022, First Peoples Worldwide engaged Native farmers, ranchers, harvesters, fishers, chefs, and entrepreneurs in the U.S. – over 85 participants in total – to research the current state of Native food supply chains. These encompass any situation where a Native American-owned food business is sourcing from Native food suppliers, buying from or selling to other Native-owned food businesses, selling to Native customers, or working with Native-owned businesses for transportation, processing, or other aspects of the food supply chain.
The culminating report, Supply Chains and Sovereignty: Native-led Food Systems Solutions shows that Native food supply chains are a vital approach to enacting food sovereignty. Research examines overarching trends within Native food chains across industries and collates recommendations towards strengthening these chains from the perspectives of Native food producers. The report spotlights Indigenous values such as sustainability, community health, and generational approaches in Native food businesses; innovation and economic resilience after COVID-19 pandemic impacts; and an array of Native visions for food supply chains from Native food producers working today.
During seven months of community-driven applied research, First Peoples Worldwide collected qualitative and quantitative information through direct engagement with 42 Native food producers and entrepreneurs via interviews and focus groups, and 45 Native food entrepreneurs via an online survey. Utilizing extensive testimony directly from research participants, the report storifies factors that shape Native food entrepreneurs’ supply chain choices from Native food producers’ expertise and experiences.
Overarching themes in the report include:
- Native food businesses are creating food systems that care for both Native and non-Native people, guided by Indigenous values and self-determination.
- Systemic racism and inequitable access to capital continue to have profound and far-reaching impacts on Native food systems, from lack of infrastructure to limited personnel bandwidth.
- Many of the barriers limiting the current supply of Native-produced foods can be addressed through creating sustained and equitable access to capital.
- At the broadest level, Native food producers are creating immense social value through their work, guided by Indigenous values that see the interconnections between Native food systems and individual, social, and environmental wellbeing.
The paper concludes with nearly 40 high-level recommendations toward: expanding steady markets for Native food businesses and food access for Native communities; supporting production and Native food systems; removing roadblocks to processing and expanding infrastructure; facilitating networking, supply chain connections, distribution, and logistics; addressing regulation and certification barriers; supporting knowledge sharing and education; building strong relationships and partnerships, and expanding capital access and investments.
“Research participants emphasized the economic value of Native food supply chains, in addition to their cultural, political, environmental, relational, and gustatory value,” said Kate R. Finn, Executive Director of First Peoples Worldwide, and co-author of the report. “Strong Native food supply chains keep money circulating within Indian Country, and allow Native businesses to thrive at each phase of processing and distribution. Providing more market access for Native farmers and ranchers allows traditional ingredients to find new appreciation with consumers and to find their way to Native families, instilling a love for Native foods in their homes. Building Native food supply chains is building sovereignty through supporting the continuation of longstanding Native foodways for generations to come.”
Melanie Matteliano, First Peoples Worldwide Sustainable Development Fellow, and co-author and research director for the project noted how the report centers the voices of Native food systems participants. “The food systems participants we engaged with almost ubiquitously supported the idea of strengthening and expanding Native food supply chains. Many would like to see intra-tribal, local, regional, and national Native food supply chains enacted simultaneously,” Matteliano said. “We found that Native food service workers and food producers are already cultivating strong Native supply chains through their work. We are proud to elevate the ways that these supply chains support Native communities’ access to culturally relevant foods produced by Native food producers, and support strong relationships centered around Native food systems.”
Research for Supply Chains & Sovereignty: Native-Led Food Systems Solutions was funded by the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) and NDN Collective, and was conducted as part of the Seed to Soul project, a partnership between First Peoples Worldwide and Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra, co-owners of Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery. While First Peoples Worldwide conducted the research independently, the research topic was inspired by work done by Ben and Matt and their experiences knitting together a Native supply chain for their restaurant and for their online marketplace. Carla F. Fredericks catalyzed this scholarship and these partnerships while Faculty Director of First Peoples Worldwide.
The Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) is a private, charitable trust serving Native farmers and ranchers created from the historic Keepseagle v. Vilsack litigation settlement. The Trust’s Mission shall be to make grants to Eligible Grant Recipients, described in section 8, to fund the provision of business assistance, agricultural education, technical support, and advocacy services to Native American farmers and ranchers to support and promote their continued engagement in agriculture. More at nativeamericanagriculturefund.org.
Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery is currently the only American Indian owned and operated restaurant in Metro Denver specializing in Native American cuisine. Co-owners Matt Chandra and Ben Jacobs were inspired to open Tocabe by Grayhorse: An American Indian Eatery, which was established in 1989 by the Jacobs family. As part of the Osage Nation, Tocabe utilizes its American Indian roots to help educate people on Indigenous culture. Their vision is to embrace the traditions of American Indian Cuisine and ingredients by building community through food. Tocabe also operates Tocabe Indigenous Marketplace, which makes Native-produced pantry staples and ingredients accessible nationwide via their online marketplace. More at www.tocabe.com and shoptocabe.com.
First Peoples Worldwide is an Indigenous-led organization that translates on-the-ground impacts of investment affecting Indigenous Peoples to corporate decision makers through the intersection of business, law, and finance. Having started the flywheel of Indigenous-centered corporate engagement in the 1990s, First Peoples Worldwide is now a leader in deploying strategies to move the market towards respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples. By building the business case for Indigenous rights and wellbeing, First Peoples Worldwide increases corporate accountability, facilitates investor engagement aligned with Indigenous priorities, and supports Indigenous leadership to achieve self-determined economic goals. More at www.colorado.edu/program/fpw.