Reclaiming Innovation in Indigenous Food Systems

Navigating COVID-19 disruptions and enacting post-colonial foodways

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The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated long standing challenges to the economic and public health of tribal communities. In 2020, infection rates among tribal citizens were 3.5 times greater than among non-Hispanic Whites. Associated market disruptions for local and regional food markets resulted in a significant negative impact on producers and their communities. Bottlenecks in livestock and seafood processing presented significant challenges to producers, and closure of farmers markets and other market channels caused negative cascading impacts across indigenous operations.


Tribal nations collaborate through coordinating entities, such as the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (IFAI) to develop policy-based innovations while supporting new programming and sharing best practices. Important areas of work during COVID-19 include targeted efforts to expand livestock processing facilities, coordinating the development of model food and agriculture codes for tribal nations, and reconfiguring food aid and distribution programs for elders and children.


Despite generations of dispossession and structural inequalities enacted by European settlers and the US Government, American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) food producers epitomize the resilience critical to both cultural and economic vitality for tribal nations. By centering tribal food sovereignty in policy and program development, indigenous agricultural initiatives work to support reinvestment of economic and cultural wealth in the tribal nation.

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