Honoring Tradition and Embracing Innovation at the Red Lake Nation Food Summit

For the second year in a row, Red Lake Nation members and others from around the region gathered earlier this month at the Redby Community Center, the Red Lake Local Foods Initiative training garden, and the Red Lake Nation College to learn all about Indigenous food. Participants explored a range of topics, including Indigenous seed saving, soil health and nutrient management, agriculture as business, animal farming, beekeeping, food demonstrations, informational sessions on treaties and food systems, and ‘decolonizing’ the diet by eating traditional foods.

I’m fortunate to have been able to attend both years, and this year was just as educational, inspiring, and soul-filling as the first. Here’s a recap of my experience at the Summit.

Honoring and Restoring Seeds

I was most excited about the pre-Summit, “Honoring Seed Workshop,” led by Rowen White. Rowen is a seed keeper and educator, a member of the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, and board member of the Seed Savers Exchange. In this workshop, we learned about indigenous plant origins, seed identification, seed anatomy, hand pollination, and more.

We started the day in a traditional way for Indigenous people, by offering praise to the soil, creatures, insects, sun, moon, stars, and other parts of the natural world. After every prayer Rowen would say, “We could not live this life without you.” Rowen then talked about her dedication to learning about her ancestors’ knowledge of seeds. She is in awe of seeds, but she also admits to feeling grief—that so much of this knowledge got lost in such a short period of time.

“What does it mean that not many people have knowledge of what the seeds look like of the vegetables they love to eat? We need to create a new seed culture, and increase our collective seed literacy,” explained Rowen.

Farming and Local Food Systems

I also participated in a workshop led by the Land Stewardship Project on the future of farming. With fewer farmers training the next generation how to farm, the Land Stewardship Project has developed the Farm Beginnings class—a 12-month training session that helps beginning farmers establish a strong enterprise plan and start building their operation. So far, around 800 new farmers have taken the course, and of those—70% of them are still farming.

I ended the Summit in the perfect way—by participating in a tour of Red Lake’s local food system and getting to know more about its training garden. David Manuel, Foods Initiative Coordinator for the Red Lake Local Foods Initiative and one of the organizers of the Red Lake Nation Food Summit, maintains the training garden.

Gitigaanike (git-i-GAHN-i-kay) means “to make a garden;” David said his job is to help people discover the joys, toils, and fruits of gardening.

Thanks to David, Rowen, Summit organizers, tribal officials, chefs, and participants for sharing their vast knowledge and deep passion for building healthy food systems within Indigenous communities.