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A grassroots effort to regain food sovereignty

Keya wakpala Farmers Market
Sicangu CDC Facebook
Keya Wakpala Farmers Market.

The Sicangu Community Development Corporation is a grassroots organization on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation that is working to change the narrative of Western colonialism and broken policy at the hands of the U.S. government with community-driven, Lakota-based solutions.

One of these solutions is fulfilling the notion of food sovereignty. There are 20 communities spread across the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, meaning tribal members have to travel 20 to 30 miles or more to get groceries.

According to Matthew Wilson, Sicangu CDC’s food sovereignty director, choices for food are often subpar.

“Looking at the quality of food here, the produce isn't the best. It's inaccessible, it's unaffordable and leaving many people to rely on the grocery stores who are currently marketing towards an EBT market,” said Wilson. “So a lot of processed foods, people you see getting ramen, frozen pizzas and things like that."

Many tribal members rely on the Commodity Supplemental Food Program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture for sustenance. Commodities are often compared to the rations that were once given to Native Americans when they were forced to live on reservations. This reason alone is why food sovereignty is important in addressing that dependency.

“We kind of had a vibrant food system and that was taken away from us, leaving us to rely on government subsidies and commodity food programs,” said Wilson. “And so there's just been a history of that disconnection with our food and having that power to clearly control our own food system again. And so our goal is really just to create that for ourselves again, a modern Indigenous food system here on Rosebud that's independent and regenerative.”

Sicangu CDC’s farm, Keya Wakpala Gardens, is a 1 acre production and teaching site where most of their produce is grown and used for their seasonal farmers market in Mission.

“I think looking at our community now there's so many people wanting to start their own gardens, start their own backyard chickens, learning how to identify different wild plants and using them in food and medicine,” said Wilson. “And that wasn't really the case just for myself growing up. I wasn't exposed to that. I didn't even know what food sovereignty was growing up. And so that's something that I have been seeing more and more of, even our young people wanting to do this work and learn about this. I think food sovereignty builds a sense of cultural identity as well.”

Sicangu CDC's food initiative is not only helping with regaining that cultural identity, but they also hope to engage youth in becoming interested in agriculture with a farm apprenticeship program.

“In Lakota we call it Waicahya Icagapi Kte (They Will Grow Into Producers),” said Wilson. ”And so we've been doing that. This is going to be our third year now. And our goal really is to increase the amount of local food producers and tribal food producers here, which will ultimately result in more food production here on Rosebud.”

Sicangu CDC’s food initiative is giving their people the opportunity to choose the kind of food that they consume that is sustainable and regenerative. They recently partnered with South Dakota State University to integrate Lakota knowledge into agriculture and science curriculum in schools.

“Our goal is really just to work with SDSU to co-develop a Lakota based science and teaching curriculum for K-12 students here on Rosebud,” said Wilson. “And so some of that is providing workshops and trainings for teachers and how to implement that curriculum in their classrooms, but also having stuff for youth like career fairs, with careers in regenerative agriculture.”

Food sovereignty is a long term goal for Sicangu CDC and they hope that it can not only promote interest in self-sustainability, but also create jobs and potential entrepreneurial ventures for tribal members.