A Return to Traditional Foods Helps Residents of White Earth’s ‘Hunger Hill’

Fighting hunger is such a serious issue on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota that there is a neighborhood people often refer to as Hungry Hill, reported MPR News. Nearly 50 percent of American Indians on the White Earth reservation live below the poverty line, Tribal officials estimate.

A return to gardening and eating traditional foods is helping some families on the reservation afford to eat more food—and healthier food than the white flour-, sugar- and salt-laden commodities provided to them through food stamps.

Winona LaDuke is one home-grown advocate. The White Earth member is spearheading the shift to gardening from processed foods through her organization White Earth Land Recovery Project. LaDuke, the executive director, says processed foods have contributed to health problems on the reservation. A third of the American Indians on White Earth have diabetes.

“I don’t think you should have to buy all your food,” she told MPR News. “I think you should grow it. That’s the reality. You don’t have the money to buy all the food, and you shouldn’t. Our Anishinaabe people were entirely food self sufficient.”

In an effort to bring healthy foods to tribal members, two small farmers markets sold vegetables on the reservation for the second summer. And the White Earth Land Recovery Project continues to provide produce for local schools.

LaDuke’s ultimate goal is for White Earth residents to one day feed themselves like their ancestors did. “The creator didn’t say, ‘Go to Safeway, go to Coborn’s, or go to Supervalue,’ ” she said. “The creator said, ‘Grow your corn, eat your berries, make sure you harvest your wild rice, and pray.’ ”

The home-grown movement is slowly catching on. For instance, tribal member Bill Paulson teaches people how to harvest wild rice. Finding food through traditional means has helped Paulson and his wife cut down their expenses. “Everyday I’m trying to figure out what is coming next in our season,” he said.

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