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Tribal-lead integrated food system eliminates Chronic Diseases for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Chronic disease elimination and positive health promotion is achievable through revitalization of traditional foods and cultural practices.

Photo of Rose Bear Don't Walk
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Rose Bear Don’t Walk team member of Indigenous Pact PBC, Inc. in partnership with The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (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.

Indigenous Pact: Keith Novenski, Director Transformative Design Ashley Hesse, Program Development Specialist Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation: Denise Walker, Director Health and Wellness William Thoms, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • Under 1 year

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

Indigenous Pact, Oneida, Wisconsin Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, Oakville, Washington

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?

The pilot place for this vision is the Chehalis reservation in Washington a reservation of 4,438 acres.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Today, many tribal nations are referred to by their exonyms. Names that were created or imposed upon them but not what they call themselves. The names that they use for themselves contain layers of meaning that go beyond identification. Endonyms describe connection to place, being a part of the land, having a relationship and connection to the region they inhabit. The Chehalis people of what is now southern Washington call themselves; q̓ʷay ̓a̓yiłq. As part of a larger body of Salishan language, the root of this word comes from the name of a bay of a terminal river drainage and is a reference for both the Chehalis people and language. The movement of water in the traditional homelands of the Chehalis is the lifeblood of tribal culture. The Chehalis are now located on a defined reservation but consider their usual and accustomed lands a part of their being. Food is the physical connection for indigenous people to their place, their home, and their sense of being and belonging in the world. The foods of Mother Earth provide nutrition and spiritual guidance necessary for life but also maintain the longstanding relationship with the land. Without connection, without food, without culture; Indigenous people would cease to exist. For Chehalis, this connection remains but is segmented. The rivers still run, but the fish are little. The land still bears traditional plants but borders and politics create barriers to them. The people are still here, but are themselves, in poor health. To bridge the gap between place, food, and people aspects of culture, health, and healing in a traditional mindset must be applied. This place has been chosen because the people are ready for change. While this place is unique to the Chehalis, the spiritual connection to land, culture, and lifeway is similar for many tribal nations. To be indigenous is to have connection to land, food, and self. To be q̓ʷay ̓a̓yiłq is to honor those connections and use them to create a healthy tribal future.

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 Chehalis are part of two Salish groups that lived along the Chehalis river in the Pacific Northwest region. Now formally known as the Confederated Tribes of Chehalis, the tribe functions as a sovereign entity. The reservation is 4,438 acres located in Grays Harbor County, Washington. Ecologically the region has a mild, cool climate suffused with woodlands, temperate forests, and coastline. On reservation, people get their food from a plethora of fast food restaurant, diners, and convenience stores. A majority of the food is not locally-sourced even though there is handful of farms nearby. Regional foods are not featured in the Chehalis food economy. The federal governments commodity program exists but is inactive, unused, and seen as a poor food provider for the community. The ancestral diet of the Chehalis was primarily based on fishing and foraging. The word for food in the Chehalis language is synonymous with the word for fish. They are the same, and they come from the earth. Water is a connective force among many tribes of the Pacific Northwest, it provides food and links ecosystems together. Maintenance of the local environment is critical in sustainable food efforts. Each year, the Chehalis hold a First Salmon ceremony to celebrate the spring return of the sacred fish. The people come together and there is a feast. Yet, as time has worn on salmon numbers have floundered, feasts have become filled with less traditional foods, and the people ache for their culture. A documentary made in 2019 will show that only one salmon could be pulled for this ceremony. An elder grandmother weeped in front of the crowd lamenting because there are no fish. A people's with a culture so tied to fishing, canoeing, foraging, gathering; we cannot think what will happen when there are no fish, plants, or food. With so little access to healthy foods and minimal circulating knowledge of traditional foods, the Chehalis people are overrun with diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and obesity. Community youth are receiving first-hand exposure to an unhealthy diet and are following a trajectory of poor health. This does not have to be the pathway forward. The community of Chehalis are ready to revitalize their food system and integrate nutritious, healthy, and cultural foods into the society. In the return to cultural ways and traditional knowledge the people hope to themselves become healthier and well. The interplay of establishing food sovereignty while cultivating space in society for healthy habits will create a new path for the youth and others to walk and carry forward.

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


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

Before the creation of America, years of internal infrastructure, governance, practices and systems were in place that ensured the longevity of a healthy, sustained tribal people. However, in modern day, these tribes are disjointed from culture due to forced removal, relocation, allocation of smaller land bases, and the social assimilation, decimation, and dismissal of tribal culture. Post-colonial health patterns of disease follow a similar path; infectious disease, malnutrition, followed by obesity, cancer, heart-disease, diabetes and depression. American Indians manifest the highest rate of diabetes, compared to other racial minorities in the U.S as well as an increasingly high prevalence of obesity. Western medicine finds direct links between obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular health and mental diseases, to nutritional deficiencies. This epidemiological control of a society, in part comes from control of their food system. The United States government has had a firm hand in the control of Indigenous food systems. Government annuities to tribal nations in the form of food dates back hundreds of years in the treaty era (1774-1832) but remains to this day as the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) also known as commodities. The program still exists today and maintains qualities of inadequacy in providing healthy, nutritious, and culturally relevant foods to tribal people. Continuing trajectories of health show that chronic illness will prevail if dietary habits do not change. There are 5.4 million AI/AN in North America. Tribes vary from region to region, but word of positive influence travels fast. There is an opportunity for all tribal nations to eliminate chronic disease in their communities through culturally-lead food practices. Through a positive-food framework, leaning on traditional values and foods and integrated modern sustainable methods, tribal people can walk together for a healthier, vibrant and culturally-rich future. In 2050, in the Chehalis community, the spirit of the salmon is alive. Crowds gather for the first salmon ceremony, old songs are sung, the people are smiling. Little ones and elders are enjoying fresh fish alongside other tribal foods. Everyone is fed. Groups gather to participate in canoe traditions. Youth are eager to learn and carry them on. The local environment is healthy, abounding with camas, berries, and nuts. The rivers, streams and lakes are clean. Children play outside with their families. Local and regional foods are being used and incorporated into community life. A network between farmers, tribes, fisherman, foragers, hunters, growers, and citizens is in place and regional foods are being shared. Chronic disease is no longer rampant, culture is.  The people are lighter, happier, more connected.  Chehalis is the model but across the nation, American Indians and Alaskan Natives are using their traditions, ancestral foods, and culture to combat chronic illness and make way for the next generation of vibrant peoples. 

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

In America there are 573 federally recognized tribes that have a government to government relationship with the federal U.S. government. This relationship recognizes the inherent sovereignty that tribes possess. Among those tribes there are thousands of American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN) that have cultivated intimate and advanced food systems over millennia before settler colonialism. With sovereignty, tribes can have a hand in changing their circumstances to address their needs as they see fit. The diversity of 573 tribes is immense, no two are alike but that’s what makes their tribal sovereignty so special. Through the facilitation of their own governments, tribes can be the changemakers of their destiny. It’s not an easy road and the federal government is still involved in tribal affairs, but the more steps tribes can take to ensuring their needs are met by means defined by their own people is an opportunity not to be taken lightly. The Chehalis pose an exciting potential for creation and facilitation of a tribal integrated food system. Their land-base, number of households to feed and commitment to change, make them a perfect candidate for the resurgence of tribal food sovereignty in their region. This vision addresses their needs by focusing on the creation and distribution of educational materials and tools on Chehalis traditional foods as well as the facilitation of a local food economy centered on producers, processors, and consumers of the area. Localizing the food economy decreases food miles and dependence on global market economy and shifts the focus to regional, local and tribal foods creating a healthy, sustainable, and culturally-relevant food system. In the essence of health, the vision will decrease dependence on western medicine and pharmaceuticals by utilizing food as a method of chronic disease prevention. Healthy food access will be available for tribal members of the area, on reservation and off. Additionally, the combination of healthy and ancestral foods can address health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress by reconnecting tribal people to traditional practices and teachings. By covering all aspects of health, the physical, emotional and spiritual this integrated food system vision seeks an elevated, thriving, and positive tribal community maintained by food, culture, land, and tribe.

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.

The Chehalis mission statement is to be a “thriving, self-sufficient, sovereign peoples that honors the past and serves current and future generations.” This mission can be realized by 2050. Here, ancestral foods are the norm and people know how to properly use, process, and share them. Chronic illness is being phased out through healthy tribal practices. Biomarkers of poor health are diminished. An economy of local, sustainably-sourced foods circulates throughout the region and serves not just the reservation population but surrounding local communities. Culture and language are suffused in the community and continuing education and revitalization efforts are supported. Youth engagement is high, and the ancestral ways are being passed on. Intergenerational knowledge transmission is happening on all fronts. The environment is working towards balance. Fish population is increasing through sustained conservation and restoration efforts. Traditional food plants can properly identified and cultivated in the region. People know how to engage with traditional foods in a respectful, positive manner. Community events feature traditional and healthy foods. The First Salmon ceremony among many others (thought of to be lost) are coming back. Language is being spoken at home and is no longer on the verge of extinction. The land and people are flourishing. The community is an inspiration to others in North America. Best practices and traditional frameworks are being used to build on modern advances and other tribes are taking on the opportunity to self-sufficient, sovereign and healthy peoples. This is the way.

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

Below are ideas currently in the works in making this vision a reality for the Chehalis people. These ideas were created and facilitated by members of the community, tribal government, and healthcare professionals to enact a holistic approach to mitigating chronic disease and health issues in the tribe. Environment: Information gathering on natural resources. Mapping of tribal food resources (wild game, fish, food plants, etc.) Community-led determinants of what is a healthy population of their food sources and development of maintenance regimes for each. Following is routine assessments of local ecosystems and sustained efforts to mitigate environmental problems. Creation of a calendar that highlights food sources, their seasonality, procurement methods and cultural associations. Continued purchasing of usual and accustomed lands for the use of developing food resources for community use. Potential for tribally-owned orchards, greenhouses, gardens and farms. Diets: Integration of healthy, locally-produced foods obtained by sustainable means. Creation of food and vegetable prescriptions by medical providers. Revitalization of traditional food knowledge and creation of materials that ensure the knowledge can exist in perpetuity. Can be recipes, workshops, cooking classes, gathering events, honoring ceremonies. Educational classes and materials on nutrition, healthy lifestyle and positive habits consistently provided for community. Economic: An abundance of economic opportunity exists currently in regards to realizing a regenerative food future for the Chehalis people Cultural: Support for research on cultural knowledge and revitalization efforts. Creation of materials that highlight indigenous foods, traditional practices, and language learning. Incorporation of pre-existing healthy cultural practices (such as canoe journey) into youth community. Youth focus as pilot and sustaining these practices. Capacity for more events that are culturally relevant and community oriented. Technology: Development of measures of health that can be monitored, updated and available for patients in the healthcare system. Interactive food maps that show local food hubs and places of traditional foods. Food processing, cooking, packing, and distribution center. First alerts text messaging system for tribal members letting them know when food shipments come in, tribal foods are ready, or other important events. Policy: Tribes have the sovereign authority to establish laws and codes to govern their own internal and external affairs. With this in mind t a primary policy objective is to create a set of land use agreements in the form of MOUs or other vehicles to establish the guiding principles, practices and agreements that will lay the foundation to sustainable land use practices and land revitalization efforts desired by the Chehalis. Additional policy developments will seek to strike a more equitable balance between State resource interests and those of the Chehalis and other Indigenous people in the regions to protect existing land and natural resource access and expand access to usual and accustomed territories utilized historically by the Chehalis people. Furthermore, developing policy that begins building additional elements to foster and sustain a burgeoning local Indigenous food economy are necessary to increase access to nutrient-rich and culturally significant foods locally and regionally. This integrated food system will follow the tenets of: Food as medicine; mitigating health issues through the habitual nourishment of healthy and traditional foods. Sovereignty through Sustainability; practices that are led by the people, for the future people. Gift economy not a market economy; decreased dependence on global market economy and focusing on traditional methods of trade, giving, and providing for community. Eliminate Chronic Diseases; through food, culture, connection to land, and facilitation of intergenerational knowledge across all age groups. Lead with culture and allow the past to guide; maintain connection with traditional teachings and ancestral knowledge to engage the tracks of those walking before, and paving fresh tracks for those who walk behind. Chehalis to be first in a systematic change in tribal food-systems. There is the potential to enact and apply this framework in all tribal nations in the United States. With the tribal revitalization of food sovereignty and a positive food economy best practices, protocols and procedures that can be applicable in food sovereignty movements across Indian Country.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) markets conference 2019.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Alana Libow

Hi Rose Bear Don't Walk - Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize!

As you hone your vision focused on tribal entities achieving positive health outcomes through culturally-enriched food projects, how might you:

a. Share more of the community voice with us (within the noted challenges and vision) and how could what and how you share it help ignite a movement?
b. Creatively tell us of your vision in 2050 -- e.g. If a reporter joined you and your Chehalis community in 2050 from Washington, what would the reporter see, feel, experience and how would that be transformationally different from today? How would your day to day life be transformationally different?

We look forward to seeing your updates over the next two weeks.

Photo of Rose Bear Don't Walk

Alana Libow This is a GREAT question and one I've been thinking a lot about in the past two weeks. I am definitely working on sharing the look and feel of what a vibrant, healthy, and food-sovereign tribal community looks like in the final submission. Thank you for this comment! (I saw this a few weeks ago and it really aided my thinking process!)