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Indigenous Pathways to Food Systems Change at Amskapi Piikani (Blackfeet Nation of Montana)

By 2050, we will attain Blackfeet Food Sovereignty through economic development, reduction of health disparities, and investments in youth.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Piikani Lodge Health Institute

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Agriculture Resource Management Plan (ARMP) - Blackfeet Tribal Government Program

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.blackfeetarmp.com

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Browning, MT USA Blackfeet Nation www.blackfeetnation.com

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Blackfeet Nation (Reservation) covers 1.5 million acres in western Montana, adjacent to Glacier National Park on the west and Alberta Canada

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The People and Place of the Blackfeet Nation are one in the same. The Piikani relationship to place is long standing and deep, being connected to the land in all aspects of what it means to be Niitsitapi (the original people). It’s about having respect for the land and all living creatures because in reality we are all one. It’s where the stories come into play as an elder gathers the young ones around a campfire to share their knowledge and wisdom. This is how the stories continue to live on from generation to generation. When you look to the west there are majestic mountain peaks that our ancestors once roamed so freely and without fear. It’s knowing where the traditional plants are and spending time in nature gathering and harvesting the plants for later use during the winter months. Spring and summer months are spent gathering plants that will be used for teas and medicine as an offering of tobacco is placed upon the ground for thanksgiving and honor. It's about honoring the iinii (buffalo) as it roams the landscape, it's hooves creating small craters in the dirt as it travels, spots for seeds carried on its dense fur to drop into, and the honor we show it when it teaches and feeds us. The Blackfeet Nation is a close knit community where families call each other family even when they are not biologically related. It’s about having each other’s back in times of need especially with the harsh winters that exist in this place we call home that lies beneath the Eastern Rocky Mountain Front of Montana.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Blackfeet Nation lies along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains and the Canadian border and is the eastern gateway to Glacier National Park, encompassing 1.5 million acres of the intact Crown of the Continent ecosystem in parts of Glacier and Pondera counties within the state of Montana. Livestock, grain and forage production, oil and gas production, fishing, and forest industries play major parts in the Nation’s economy. The primary industry is agriculture, with the Nation’s lands supporting 575,256 acres of crops harvested for grain (wheat, barley, and oats) and forage production, of which 50,082 acres are irrigated and approximately 1,014,000 acres are grazing land. There are 50,347 producing beef cows, 6,452 horses, and 587 sheep pastured or penned on the Nation. The farms and ranches are owned and operated by 906 agricultural producers, 54% of whom are Amskapi Piikani (Blackfeet).

Unlike many tribal nations in the US, the Blackfeet (Amskapi Piikani) remain within their traditional homelands. Archaeological evidence supports Piikani Creation stories that place current-day Blackfeet on the same lands that our ancestors inhabited over 10,000 years ago. The Blackfeet people were nomadic, roaming 780,000 miles of land that stretched from the Saskatchewan River in Canada to the Yellowstone River in Wyoming. This vast area of land provided a great deal of traditional plants and an abundance of buffalo, which was their main staple. Piikani people were the first conservationists and their knowledge and life ways are place-based.

Every year during the month of July a four day cultural event is celebrated called North American Indian Days where Native American regalia is displayed through categories of different style dancing. This dancing is inspired by experiences offered by the land. It’s a gathering of Native Americans that come from all four directions from the United States and Canada, a chance to view all the many colors of outfits worn by men, women and children.

This place is where the farmers and ranchers raise their grass-fed cattle so their families have Montana beef to eat, in hopes of one day having their beef sold in local grocery stores to feed their community. Colonization has altered which animals the Blackfeet grow and live around, but the deep connection to the time-honored tradition of raising cattle for sustenance, and respecting the nutrition derived from that food, remains deep in Blackfeet hearts.


What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

6070

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

18000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The Blackfeet Nation is located in Montana’s North Central climatic region, which has seen an average temperature increase of 0.51*F each decade from 1950 to 2015. As a result the region is experiencing decreased spring snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt, which has contributed to declining stream discharge, particularly in August when demand for water is highest. This has also led to increased numbers of noxious and invasive species in Blackfeet Country, which have shifted and negatively affected culturally significant flora and fauna and contributed to a tangible loss of traditional ways of knowing, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), and connections to our Place. The Amskapi Piikani thus experience widespread health disparities that are often rooted in severed connections to traditional Native food systems (TNFS). Decades of food insecurity caused by minimal access to fresh, nutritious foods compounded by employment inequity and highly processed food consumption has led to increased incidences of preventable health conditions across the Blackfeet Nation such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, and inflammatory diseases. Diabetes is particularly prevalent: In 2016, the incidence of diabetes among the Tribe (14%) was higher than that of Montana (9%) and the rest of the US (9.2%). 

Temperature, snowpack, snowmelt, and streamflow trends are expected to continue into 2050. These changes will result in increased instances of flooding in spring and droughts in summer that will increase economic uncertainty and volatility for Blackfeet producers and suppress the numbers of youth who wish to take up agriculture. Such uncertainty will pose challenges to producers who are attempting to inject fresh, nutritious foods into the local food delivery system, as well as those producers who are growing culturally significant, traditional foods or whose lands support their growth. Preserving the land and water’s ability to support the growth of traditional foods in the face of climate change will prove challenging as the native ranges of many traditional foods become increasingly restricted due to increasing temperature and competition from noxious and invasive species. 

While the challenges facing the Blackfeet food system (now and in the future) are generally well understood, there is also a lack of institutional frameworks and policy solutions that are necessary to fully address these issues in a holistic manner consistent with Blackfeet ways of being. It will be challenging, but necessary, to create policy solutions that address the food system in a way that engages the environment, diet and health, economics, culture, and technology; it is who we are as Amskapi Piikani. (2,722 characters)

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The Amskapi Piikani are a proud, resilient people with a deep sense of connection to our communities and to our lands. In recognition of the challenges posed by severed ties to TNFS and TEK, the community created the Food Sovereignty Strategic Plan (FSSP), a holistic, community-driven response that places Blackfeet health in Blackfeet hands, reintegrating culturally appropriate drivers of health, traditional foods, food distribution practices, TEK, community planning, and economic development into the local food system. 

The FSSP aims to build capacity in the multiple areas in which the Tribe and community members seek to implement food sovereignty, as well as facilitate community engagement and training in the strategic planning process itself. The Blackfeet Tribe wishes to take a different approach to planning by increasing the probability for implementation through building capacity within the Tribal government. This will be achieved via in-house plan production, stakeholder identification, and community participation in the development of the plans themselves. The FSSP also strives to be translational, enabling other tribes to implement positive food systems changes at a fraction of the cost. 

 Food insecurity is directly linked to suppressed economies and the inability to afford or access healthy food. Sustainable economic development and the creation of a middle class in the Blackfeet economy can be achieved by bolstering commercial food production to form the foundation for sustainable economic growth. We will create favorable policies and strategies that lead to sustainable agricultural practices and increase resiliency, exploring innovative ways to reduce the median age of Blackfeet producers through investing in youth programs, diversifying the Blackfeet agricultural profile, and encouraging the production of healthy, nutritious foods to be included in our local food delivery systems. 

 Finally, to build capacity in Blackfeet Country, the Blackfeet team will collaborate with the Montana State University Native Land Project by co-facilitation and provision of training for a Blackfeet Food Sovereignty Coordinator/Project Manager and team. The Blackfeet Agricultural Resource Management Plan Project Manager will collaborate on food policy for the Blackfeet Tribal government, as well as consult with the general public and local farmers, ranchers and producers to extrapolate necessary data to inform the planning process. The Food Sovereignty Coordinator/Project Manager will also be responsible for the coordination of the local food delivery systems both inside and outside of the Tribal government.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Below you will find the two community developed visions derived from a cross section of stakeholders and community members. One defined for the overarching Blackfeet Agriculture Resource Management Plan (ARMP) and the other for the Amskpai Piikani Food Sovereignty Strategic Plan (FSSP). 

ARMP: "We envision the Blackfeet Nation fully engaged, informed, and actively involved in the development of holistic agriculture resource management for economic, environmental, and health of the people, land, flora, fauna, and water. Together we will work to embrace our natural laws, values, and relationships based on respect, trust, and healing. The ARMP will provide a means for establishing reciprocal partnerships among producers, businesses, and landowners to increase international access and availability of quality Blackfeet agricultural products. Our Blackfeet youth will have mentoring opportunities to learn from elders, producers, and leaders to contribute their voice to a qualityBlackfeet way of life.”

FSSP: "We will improve access to affordable, nourishing foods within our local food delivery systems to promote healthy living by leveraging natural biodiversity; Amskapi Piikani ecological knowledge; local agriculture production; hunting, fishing, and gathering practices through teaching youth; honoring our first foods; and establishing effective policy and partnerships."

These two community developed visions define the foundation for all agriculture and food system related work being done within Blackfeet Country. To ensure that these visions are accomplished the truly indigenous planning process took into account the importance of assigning a timeline and human capital to each of the goals and objectives. 


Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

In January 2018, the ARMP (Agriculture Resource Management Plan) program developed a strategic plan to support programmatic efforts of the agriculture and range resource growth. The ARMP strategic plan serves as a long range plan to guide strategies around the use, protection, conservation, and restoration of agricultural lands for the benefit of the Amskapi Piikani and future generations. ARMP is implementing the strategic plan for comprehensive management of the nation’s agricultural resources and to develop tribal policies based on the visions that the tribe and tribal landowners have for their nation. See attached graphic entitled "Amskapi Piikani Food Sovereignty" depicting this planning strategy through an indigenous approach to systems change.

ARMP’s overarching strategic plan highlights the need to develop the tribe’s food sovereignty initiative embedded in three strategic pillars: Invest in the Piikani People; Strengthen Our Cultural Knowledge; and Promote Health, Healing, and Nutrition. The pillars encompass the following objectives: policy, education, land access, agriculture resources management, data, water irrigation infrastructure, and economic expansion.

The Amskapi Piikani Food Sovereignty Strategic Plan (attached) fulfills one of the pillar’s primary objectives, which is to develop a strategic plan to guide and promote the sustainability of traditional foods, agriculture, food and land access, and the health and wellbeing of the Amskapi Piikani.

In November 2018, ARMP’s Food Policy program hosted a 2-day strategic planning workshop and invited community members, students, tribal programs, traditional knowledge holders, industry partners, and state partners to collaborate in a community-based planning event. The strategic plan identifies ways to create sustainable economic development and provide healthy, traditional food options for the community. It outlines how ARMP’s food sovereignty initiative will take root within the community through strategic pillars, strategic outcomes, and specific action steps to implement the strategic pillars.

- Develop a tribal and local food sovereignty policy

- Engage youth and the community in food sovereignty education initiatives

- Invest in practices that promote food sovereignty self-sufficiency 

- Build and align local and regional partnerships in support of food sovereignty

To ensure that these community visions and pillars are accomplished the PLHI and ARMP teams will have to undertake significant fundraising and capacity building efforts. If the Amskapi Piikani vision is funded it will underwrite an o the ground development director with the responsibilities of underwriting the efforts of both the ARMP and FSSP  creating local jobs, capacity building opportunities, sustainablity through investments in youth, and ultimately implementing the long term visions of Piikani People. 

In everything that we do here at Blackfeet we develop in such a way that can be utilized as a translational model to be shared across Indigenous communities and non indigenous communities allowing those with less capacity to carry out the same work at a fraction of the cost. By investing in these translational models we can effect food system change on a much larger scale and are not limited to only the Blackfeet community.

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Attachments (12)

Amskapi Piikani ARMP Approach to Systems change.jpg

Food Sovereignty Efforts at Amskapi Piikani from a holistic approach.

Blackfeet Innovation pathways to Food Sovereignty.jpg

Innovations to Blackfeet Food Sovereignty from a holistic perspective

How we Plan.jpg

Piikani Planning Methodology

Piikani Well Being Index.png

Piikani Well Being Index being created at Amskapi Piikani.

Regenerative Grazing.png

Regenerative Grazing Program Development at Amskapi Piikani.

Final ARMP Survey 4.4.2018.pdf

Okomi Survey Instrument for Blackfeet stakeholders. We received nearly 700 responses that included a door to door outreach campaign.

AA. Combined Final Report 031819.pdf

Okomi Survey detailed report of results

Blackfeet ARMP infographic survey analysis - GO summary infograph DRAFT.pdf

Overview of results of O'komi (our voice) survey

First Nations Food Sovereignty Summit Climate Change 092619.pdf

Amskapi Piikani approach to Climate Adaptation and Food Systems Changes

Intertribal Agriculture Council Rocky Mountain Region - Polson 082919.pdf

An overview of current projects at Amskapi Piikani traditional homelands.

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