Restoring Access to Native Foods Can Reduce Tribal Food Insecurity

Native Americans suffer from the highest rates of food insecurity, poverty and diet-related disease in the United States. A new study finds that Native American communities could improve their food security with a greater ability to hunt, fish, gather and preserve their own food.

Huckleberries are a native food in the Klamath River Basin.

“We know our efforts to revitalize and care for our food system through traditional land management are critical to the physical and cultural survival of the humans who are part of it,” said Leaf Hillman, program manager for the Karuk Tribe’s Píkyav Field Institute. “This study will support our ability to bring that message to the decisionmakers who need to hear it.”

The study conducted by researchers at UC Berkeley and four Native American tribes shows that 92% of Native American households in the Klamath Basin suffer from food insecurity.

 “How food security is framed, and by whom, shapes the interventions or solutions that are proposed,” said Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, who led the study in partnership with the Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa, and Klamath Tribes. “Our research suggests that current measures of and solutions to food insecurity in the United States need to be more culturally relevant to effectively assess and address chronic food insecurity in Native American communities.”

Native American tribes in the Klamath Basin seasonally harvest, consume and store diverse aquatic and terrestrial native foods including salmon, acorns and deer. In survey responses, 86% of the participants said they consumed native foods at least once in the previous year. Yet significant barriers, including restrictive laws and wildlife habitat degradation, limit availability and quality of these foods.

While 64% of Native American households in the Klamath Basin rely on food assistance (compared to the national average of 12%), 84% of the Native Americans using food assistance worried about running out of food or had run out of food. This suggests the need to consider more effective solutions rooted in eco-cultural restoration and food sovereignty to address food insecurity in Native American communities.

Study participants strongly expressed the desire for strengthened tribal governance of Native lands and stewardship of cultural resources to increase access to native foods, as well as strengthening skills for self-reliance including support for home food production. Community members suggested solutions including tribe-led workshops on native foods gathering, preparation, and preservation; removing legal barriers to hunt, fish and gather; restoring traditional rights to hunt, fish and gather on tribal ancestral lands; providing culturally relevant education and employment opportunities to tribal members; and increased funding for native foods programs.

While growing evidence suggests that native foods are the most nutritious and culturally appropriate foods for Native American people – and over 99% of people surveyed in the region said they want more of these foods – nearly 70% said they never or rarely get access to the native foods they want.

With the study results indicating that increased access to native foods and support for cultural institutions such as traditional knowledge and food sharing are key to solving food insecurity in Native American communities, Sowerwine and the research team propose including access to native foods as a measure for evaluating food security for Native people.

The assessment is based on 711 surveys completed by households from the Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa and Klamath Tribes, 115 interviews with cultural practitioners and food system stakeholders, and 20 focus groups with tribal members or descendants.

In addition to Sowerwine and Hillman, the study was conducted by post-doctoral researchers Megan Mucioki and Dan Sarna-Wojcicki, and research partners from the Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes.

“Partnering with tribal community members in the research makes the research stronger, and that is especially true in this unique food security assessment,” said Sowerwine. “With the study design grounded in nearly a decade of relationship-building and respectful engagement with our tribal partners, we are confident that our results reflect their priority questions and concerns while contributing valuable new information to the field of indigenous food systems.”

Reframing food security by and for Native American communities: a case study among tribes in the Klamath River basin of Oregon and California” is published in the journal Food Security. This research was part of a $4 million, five-year Tribal Food Security Project funded by USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture-Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Food Security Grant #2012-68004-20018. For full results and recommendations from the project team, see Publications.

Increasing Tribal Ecosystem Resilience in a Changing Climate

Two hands against green leafy background hold a huckleberry branch with several berries (left) and a fistful of tanoak acorns (right). Right wrist has leather watchband and plaid sleeve.

Assessing traditional foods after prescribed burning. Klamath Salmon Media Collective photo.

As California and the nation grapple with the implications of persistent drought, devastating wildfires and other harbingers of climate change, researchers at UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources are building on a decade-long partnership with the Karuk Tribe and the US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station to learn more about stewarding native food plants in fluctuating environmental conditions. UC Berkeley and the Karuk Tribe have been awarded a $1.2 million USDA grant for field research, new digital data analysis tools, and community skill-building aimed to increase resilience of the abundant cultural food and other plant resources – and the Tribal people whose food security and health depend on them.

Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley and co-founder of the Karuk-UC Berkeley Collaborative, and Lisa Hillman, program manager of the Karuk Tribe’s Píkyav Field Institute. will co-lead the xúus nu’éethti – we are caring for it research project.

“We are delighted to continue our connection with UC Berkeley through this new project,” said Lisa Hillman. “Through our past collaboration on Tribal food security, we strengthened a network of Tribal folks knowledgeable in identifying, monitoring, harvesting, managing for and preparing the traditional foods that sustain us physically and culturally. With this new project, we aim to integrate variables such as climate change, plant pathogens and invasive species into our research and management equations, learning new skills and knowledge along the way and sharing those STEM skills with the next generation.”

UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Karuk Department of Natural Resources will support the project with postdoctoral researchers, botany, mapping and GIS specialists, and Tribal cultural practitioners and resource technicians. Dr. Frank Lake, Research Ecologist and Tribal Climate Change liaison at the US Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, will contribute to research and local outreach activities. The San Rafael-based Center for Digital Archaeology will help develop a new data modeling system. “This project underscores the enormous successes we have had with these long-standing collaborative partners,” said Hillman.

Project activities include expanding the Tribe’s herbarium (a research archive of preserved cultural plants launched in 2016 with UC Berkeley support), developing digital tools to collect and store agroecological field data, and helping Tribal community members and youth learn how to analyze the results.

The research team will assess the condition of cultural agroecosystems including foods and fibers to understand how land use, land management, and climate variables have affected ecosystem resilience. Through planning designed to maximize community input, they will develop new tools to inform land management choices at the federal, state, tribal and community levels.

All project activities will take place in the Karuk Tribe’s Aboriginal Territory located in the mid Klamath River Basin, but results from the project will be useful to other Tribes and entities working toward sustainable management of cultural natural resources in an era of increasing climate variability. Findings will be shared nationwide through cooperative extension outreach services and publications.

The new project’s name, xúus nu’éethti – we are caring for it, reflects the Karuk Tribe’s continuing commitment to restore and enhance the co-inhabitants of its aboriginal territory whom they know to be their relations – plants, animals, fish, water, rocks and land. At the core of Karuk identity is the principle of reciprocity: one must first care for these relations in order to receive their gifts for future generations.

This work will be supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Resilient Agroecosystems in a Changing Climate Challenge Area, grant no. 2018-68002-27916 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Securing Our Fruit Trees

Group of about 25 people in a field with pruning tools. Evergreens in background.

MKWC pruning workshop with Food Policy Council for Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands. DNATL photo.

 

Mark Dupont of Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC) has put together a beautiful how-to manual on the care of neglected fruit trees, based on MKWC, the Karuk Tribe, and the Salmon River Restoration Council‘s five years of collaborative work to restore local orchards as part of the Food Security Project. Here’s a preview:

Orchard Revitalization and Heirloom Fruit of the Klamath and Salmon Rivers: Preserving the Past, Securing the Future

Introduction

You’ve probably seen them, on the edge of the woods, or in a clearing that was once a homestead. Old fruit trees blend into the surroundings – they’re hardly noticeable until they’re covered in blossoms in spring, or heavy with fruit in the fall. They stand quietly year after year, with no care or tending, no pruning, irrigation, or fertilization. Yet somehow they survive, and even thrive, producing fruit year after year. They’ve become part of the landscape, and each has a story to tell: of a great grandfather who managed to obtain a seedling or a graft from some faraway place, of a family that planted and tended the orchard, of kids who grew up in the shade of the trees and picked and ate the fruit through the summer and fall. Continue Reading →

Five Years Building Tribal Food Security: What we’ve done, what’s next

AFRI Food Security Team members. Stormy Staats photo.

Recently, the Klamath Basin Tribal Food Security Project held our fifth and final all-team meeting, hosted by the Klamath Tribes near Chiloquin, Oregon. These annual meetings bring together Food Security staff from the Karuk, Yurok and Klamath Tribes, the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC), UC Berkeley, UC Extension, and the USDA Forest Service to share information about our programs in different river locations, exchange ideas and get advice, and celebrate project milestones in the effort to build more food security in the Basin. Continue Reading →

Managing land for Tribal goals: researchers share findings at the Píkyav Lecture Series

Sibyl Diver describing co-management strategies. Bari Talley photo.

On Thursday, April 20th, two affiliates of the Karuk-UC Berkeley Collaborative and the AFRI Klamath Basin Tribal Food Security Initiative presented their research to the community as part of the Píkyav Lecture Series organized by the Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources.   The newly launched Píkyav Field Institute aims to improve the academic performance and college and career readiness of Karuk tribal youth. The lecture series is conceptualized to expand opportunities to learn from the time-honored traditional knowledge, practice and belief systems of their ancestors, as well as learn about the Karuk Tribe and academic partners’ collaborative research done over the past decade within the Tribe’s Aboriginal Territory and with Karuk Cultural Practitioners. Continue Reading →

Sharing Collective Learning for New Collaborative Partnerships

Group of seven people stand in semicircle on dirt road, with green trees in background.

Don Hankins welcomes visitors to his tribe’s ancestral lands. Jennifer Sowerwine photo.

The University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Division is home to California’s statewide county agricultural extension system, known as University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), which includes staff at both UC campuses and County Extension offices. In a recent statewide survey of UCCE staff, over 100 people reported that there are Tribes in their communities that might benefit from Extension, but only a third of these currently receive Extension services. In response, Jennifer Sowerwine, Janice Alexander, and Deborah Giraud recently offered a 2-day workshop to UCCE staff interested in supporting local Tribes. Continue Reading →

Climate Change and Food Security

Snowy roadway with large fallen tree trunks blocking passage. Cloudy sky and dark green forest on both sides.

Salmon River Road in early January. Photo by Aja Conrad.

Weather has been much on our minds lately because there’s been so much of it. The Food Security Project includes research on the barriers to accessing healthy, culturally appropriate food. Our gardens need water and sunshine, and our cultural terrestrial foods require cool, slow burns, but what about when the weather itself is a barrier? This year, after yet another summer of drought and catastrophic wildfires, our changing climate brought the Klamath Basin record rains, river flooding and unusually heavy snow. Icy roads, downed trees and landslides made it challenging for people to travel to work, school and to the store for food. Continue Reading →

Building Collaborative Networks: a visit with the Owens Valley and Mono Lake Paiute

 

Nine people stand in front of the University & Jepson Herbaria

Owens Valley visitors at the University & Jepson Herbaria

In late February, members of the Bishop, Big Pine, Lone Pine, and Mono Lake Paiute Tribes traveled from the Owens Valley area to visit UC Berkeley, and met with the UC Berkeley Food Security team. The now-arid Owens Valley lies north and east of Los Angeles. The Owens River and the Valley’s groundwater supply were decimated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to enable the expansion of Los Angeles beginning in the early 20th century.

Since 2011, Bishop Paiute tribal elder and water activist Harry Williams has collaborated with Berkeley professor Pat Steenland and the students in her “Researching Water in the West” American Cultures class. Continue Reading →