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.
Prairie Pothole Wetlands create opportunity for bio-habitat protections while exploring the ability to create higher profitability for commercial food production that is informed by orthodox Amskapi Piikani lifeways.
ARMP team members post up at the Blackfeet Community College to collect O'komi land use and commercial food production surveys.
Chief Mountain, the highest point in Blackfeet Country. Picture are ARMP team members who climbed the peak as a exercise and nutrition challenge for Blackfeet youth.
Blackfeet Iinnii (Bison) are an integral cultural lifeway for Blackfeet People. With the disappearance of bison, our Amskapi Piikani food system changed paving the way for runaway health disparities, supressed economies, and a different way of life. Today's efforts are to restore bison to the landscape, convert to commercial bison production, and get that nutritious meat back into our local food delivery system.
A Blackfeet rancher in practice.
Terry Tatsey, a Blackfeet Tribal Business Council member (Elected Government Official). The ARMP enjoys proud support from our governing body.
Solar powered off water stock water options are integral to greening the system through solar powered pumps, protecting riparian zones where a majority of Amskapi Piikani medicinal plants and tradition foods grow. These efforts will create new management practices that are translational to other indigenous nations as well as non-Native spaces as well. It ill also keep local costs down for alternative conservation practices.
International marketing with the Blackfoot Confederacy on the northern side of the Canadian border will aide in creating better marketability for Blackfeet food products and help move Blackfeet producers into voluntary conservation management practices.
The ARMP team is working on a water delivery system that is informed by traditional indigenous methodologies for water resource management, including wetlands creation to bank spring mountain runoff and get late season in stream flow that will aide in mitigating late season drought.
Amskapi Piikani commercial agriculture.
Our Amskapi Piikani Core Values inform everything we are doing from policy development to creating modern management practices that are driven by Amskapi Piikani traditional ecological knowledge and substantiated by western science.
O'komi Survey of Blackfeet producers, landowners, medicinal plant gatherers, traditional food preparers, all contribute to a holistic approach to planning that aids in community informed and developed planning methodologies and invites all of our stakeholders to be a part of the process.
Amskapi Piikani 4-H Fair
Amskapi Piikani 4-H program directors.
Amskapi Piikani 4-H Fair, Investments in Youth. Blackfeet 4-H has the highest prices per average for sale of 4-H stock in Montana
Amskapi Piikani 4-H Fair, Investments in Youth
Amskapi Piikani Team upon completion of the draft Agriculture Resource Management Plan
A systems approach to attaining food and economic sovereignty at Amskapi Piikani (Blackfeet Nation of Montana)
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
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Browning, MT USA
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 current Blackfeet Nation (1.5 million acres) with five watersheds at the headwaters of the Continental Divide.
The traditional territory of the Amskapi Piikani (Blackfeet) People.
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)
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.
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?
An overview of Blackfeet ARMP efforts via podcast: https://attra.ncat.org/blackfeet-agriculture-resource-management-plan-podcast/
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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