The Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project

Here in Washington State, there exist a number of contemporary programs that aim to reconnect native people with their traditional foods. One such project is the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty project, based on the Muckleshoot Reservation. The Muckleshoot tribe is a group that did not exist before colonization, a confederation of tribes that banded together to represent one united front to the united states government during treaty negotiations. Today, they are known by most colonizers in Washington State for their Casino and Bingo Hall, rather than their history. But by connecting Muckleshoot people to their traditional foodways, the project is helping people connect back to their own histories and their lands.

By the 1970’s, the Muckleshoot had been reduced to a one-acre reservation. Before the project, it was nearly impossible to access some traditional foods, nevermind the fact that treaty rights were often being violated. On such small amounts of land, it was nearly impossible for anyone to continue cultivating foods from the land or access many traditional sites of shore harvesting. And before th 1974 Boldt decision, native fisherman were only taking in 5% of the salmon catch across the state, limniting the access of many to this important cultural resource. The project was started to make the most of the space the Muckleshoot had, and it also began buying up private land to add top the reservation just to grow food. Now, they have raised beds, orchards, and more to grow traditional foods which are served to elders at lunches. Through this food, they not only access what program director Valerie Segrest called the “physical, mental, and spiritual medicine” that its traditional foods but a greater sense of community and tribal solidarity. By serving these foods to elders, it helps to strengthen social connections between younger and older members of the tribe, as well as give younger members access to traditional knowledge that the elders might be able to give them. The reason this project is so important to food sovereignty is because of this potent combination, which serves to make people healthier physically, mentally, and spiritually.

The food that the project is accessing are diverse and spread out not only within the reservation but outside of it. Aside from their “farm to table” program (mentioned above), they also access salmon fisheries, clam beds off Vashon island, fruit orchards, deer, huckleberries, and community medicine gardens. This wide variety of foods allows participants to reclaim their food sovereignty in a way that is independent of the government or anyone outside of their community, moving the tribe towards a truly sovereign model of indigenous and traditional food production. With a better model of food production, food sovereignty advocates believe that indigenous nations can begin to reclaim independence from their colonizers.

Source: “Foods Still Matter: The Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project.” Native Knowledge 360, Smithsonian Museum of the Native American Indian, 2018.

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