The term “food sovereignty” originated in the 1990s with La Via Campesina, a self-described international peasants’ movement that fights injustice in food systems. La Via Campesina defines food sovereignty as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems” (viacampesina.org).
Food sovereignty and tribal sovereignty are inextricably linked. When members of tribal governments in the Puget Sound region signed the Point Elliot Treaty in 1855, the first priority of tribal sovereignty was access to traditional foods. This was maintained in the treaty by access to “the right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations … together with the privilege of hunting, gathering roots and berries, and pasturing their horses” (Indian Treaty Fishing Rights) but continues to be a source of conflict in Washington and anywhere settler colonial contact with Indigenous peoples has taken place.
The acts of harvesting, hunting and preparing our traditional foods are more than just feeding hunger and sense of identity; it is also about our mental health and our own self worth – Valerie Segrest, Muckleshoot
Food sovereignty has grown into a movement in many tribal communities in this region, with access to traditional foods as the focus of educational and cultural programs as well as transdisciplinary research into sustainability and reclamation of wild harvested foods. Conservation is a key focus, but so are the concepts of food as medicine and promoting health, longevity, and healing in Indigenous communities. Food sovereignty, embodied in the practice of harvesting and preparing traditional foods, is one means by which Indigenous groups today are generating and participating in their own survivance, the act of not only surviving but thriving and creating health for future generations.
Decolonizing foodways means exploring the ways that settler colonial contact has violently disrupted the connection between Indigenous bodies and Indigenous land, and exploring ways to reclaim and promote Indigenous health and the health of traditional food systems. It involves situating ourselves, the researchers, reflexively in our work, asking what this research can do to promote and center the needs of Indigenous communities. It also involves using our platform to document and celebrate Indigenous food sovereignty movements taking place and the people – teachers, activists, scholars, archaeologists, tribal governments, chefs, care providers, and protectors of knowledge – who are working tirelessly to enact change.
Valerie Segrest (Muckleshoot) on food sovereignty