Food poverty is not exclusive to Indigenous communities, but they are disproportionately affected by it.
One in four Native Americans experiences food insecurity, compared to one in eight non-Native Americans. There are a plethora of reasons why: The majority of tribal populations have been found to live over a mile away from grocery stores, incomes are at or below the federal poverty line and some communities live in remote, fly-in-only regions.
Shina Novalinga, an Inuit throat singer with over 4 million TikTok followers, posted a video in September 2021 about price discrepancies in grocery stores. In her video, Novalinga shared photos of strawberries costing $14, Heinz ketchup costing $16 and a bag of grapes costing $28.
“Did you know how insanely expensive food costs in Indigenous communities?” Novalinga asked at the beginning of the video. Commenters were stunned.
“29 DOLLARS FOR GRAPES?!??!?” one person wrote.
Novalinga resides in Canada, but the issue is prevalent in U.S.-based communities too. A 2017 study interviewed Native people living on reservations in 12 states and found that, on average, they were paying $7.51 more for the same basket of food items than the rest of the country.
“I don’t think a lot of people outside of Indian Country know the extent of emotional strain that a lot of Indigenous people go through just to eat,” A-dae Romero-Briones, the First Nations’ associate director of research & policy for Native agriculture, told the Navajo Times after the study was published.
Inflation has also limited access to traditional Indigenous foods. The price of bison — a staple of many Indigenous dishes, especially for communities in the Midwest — went from $13.99 per pound at the end of 2021 to $23.99 per pound earlier this year. Traditional foods now feel more like a splurge.
It’s also important for Indigenous members to know where their food comes from. Hunting, fishing, ranching and farming have been integral to Indigenous culture and identity for centuries, and that traditional prioritization of knowledge and care for food is lost when families can’t access anything other than fast food.
In addition, a CDC study found that Indigenous communities have the lowest life expectancy compared to other races and ethnicities in the U.S. Some of the top leading causes of death — accounting for 79% of all deaths among Indigenous people — include health-related issues like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and hypertension.
One of the authors of the study, Elizabeth Arias, called the situation “an emergency” and said that, because of poor data and the misclassification of race and ethnicity on death certificates, the real numbers could be significantly higher.
What can you do?
As Novalinga said in her video, raising awareness is one of the most important steps for finding a solution to the food insecurity issues in Indigenous communities.
You can also investigate the following resources:
Partnership with Native Americans (PWNA) is a nonprofit that serves over 250,000 Native Americans across eight states each year with immediate and long-term solutions for food insecurity. You can donate to help its mission here.
The Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) is the largest philanthropic supporter of Native American agriculture. It provides grants to groups and individuals who are serving the Native American farming and ranching communities. Read through its educational resources here.
Climate for Justice Alliance (CJA) aims to build a sustainable future that puts race, gender and class at the center of solutions. The group has a big focus on food sovereignty. You can donate to them here.
The Native Food Pantry Initiative (NFPI) was founded by the First Nations in response to the high food insecurity rates across the U.S. In 2022, NFPI awarded 10 grants of $10,000 each to address the food insecurity in various tribal areas. Donate to NFPI here.
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