Reviving Farming Practices to Sustain Community
Cultural identity permeates all aspects of the Band’s health and wellness efforts. Today, 11 different tribal divisions collaborate to create programs that make healthy Ojibwe foods accessible. As Rita Karppinen says, “We could not do what we are doing if it wasn't a group effort.” Band members are now reclaiming traditional farming practices to keep their families and communities fed. To do so, the nation’s sovereign government must often navigate state and local policies that prevented members from using traditional practices to feed their community. Despite this, they are reviving long-held practices, such as protecting and harvesting wild rice, fishing, foraging, and wild game hunting.
Gitigaaning (The Place of the Gardens) is the heart of the nation’s Food Sovereignty Program. A 36-acre farm, Gitigaaning is where many Band members are learning to grow food for the community. The nation uses food grown at Gitigaaning to help Band members maintain healthy diets, preventing diseases like diabetes that became widespread as a result of colonization.
For centuries, the Ojibwe’s nomadic lifestyle and natural diet kept the community healthy. Diabetes became prevalent only after decades of harmful U.S. government treaties and policies forced the Ojibwe people into a sedentary lifestyle and cut them off from their longstanding food sources. But through the nation’s food sovereignty work, Band members are regaining parts of their traditional diet.
The Band’s Health and Human Services Division, Resource Management Division, and Agricultural Division worked with the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College to create a Veggie RX program to provide Band members with produce and local meat. The Fond du Lac Ojibwe School also created a farm-to-school program, which uses food from Gitigaaning and other community gardens to feed students. These efforts have strengthened community pride by showing that Ojibwe people can, should, and always have united to provide healthy food for themselves and their community.
Collaboration—one of their most deeply held cultural values—is how Band members are overcoming systemic barriers to the community’s health. Reflecting on the harvest season, Naawakwe sums it up best: “It’s hard to go out there and pick rice by yourself. You need a partner and you need people. It helps to have people back at the camp to parch and dry your rice and help finish your rice. To collaborate is core to who we are. We may have lost a bit of that along the way. But we are in the process of taking our way of life back. Because that's what gives us a good life. For us, a Culture of Health is based on being collaborative with one another and depending on one another.”