Improving Food Sovereignty in Native American Communities

Native American communities experience historical trauma with devastating health effects.Over 60 reservations across the United States are food deserts, andNative American households are 400% more likely to experience food insecurity.They also experience 1.7 times the rate of diagnosed diabetes (15.0% compared with 8.6% for all U.S. adults), and Native American mortality rate is 1.8 times higher than non-Hispanic whites during COVID-19. University of CaliforniaCooperative Extensionin Riverside Countypartnered with CalFresh Healthy LivingandUniversity of California, and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe todevelop community-led initiatives thatadvancefamily and community food security, health and tribal food sovereignty.Three grants, including through the Torres Martinez Tribal Leadership and grant department focused on health activities. This multisector collaboration that started in 2018 is generating interest in community health, and leadingtoorganizational behavior change. The Tribal Youth Participatory Action Researchproject engaged 11 youthsages 12-17 in an exploration of the community food environment and raised questions about the low availability of healthy foods. The project contributed to the tribe’s decision to reinstate the Tribal Youth Council, which incorporates youth feedback in the design of community programs. An intergenerational group of tribal members participated in vegetable planting atthe A’Avutem (elders) garden. Forty tribal members participated in the Extension-led farm tour, and over 20 youthsparticipated in education about farm to school. One tribal member remarked, “The tour made me see how the tribe can benefit from an organic farm and I see many opportunities especially for organic farming which will play an important role in agriculture of the future.”During COVID-19, the Tribal Council led efforts to increase access to healthy food by distributing 1,600 U.S. Department of AgricultureFarmers to Families Produce Boxes to 400 tribal families and the surrounding community. Finally, the tribe has recently formed a nine-member Community Wellness Committee to guide the food sovereigntyproject. All partners arecommittedto abundant, healthy food for all Californians and developing a more inclusive and equitable society for all.