Indigenous Peoples Driving the Conversation about Change

26 Aug 2020

“It’s a great honor that our work and network are recognized by Food Tank. Thanks to the producers, cooks, activists, researchers, and everyone in this network from around the world. We’ll continue to protect food culture and biodiversity of indigenous peoples’ and promote Good, Clean, and Fair foods for all,” said Dai Kitabayashi ITM Advisory Board Member (East Asia). 

The entire Slow Food movement, share his sentiment and celebrate the amazing work the Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM) network has done in the past years to safeguard indigenous peoples’ food heritage, and protection of their rights to land, water, seeds, and food sovereignty.

“This recognition makes me feel proud! It’s the result of a coordinated effort between members of the ITM Advisory Board, the Slow Food international office, and, of course, all the indigenous communities in our network. A recognition to all indigenous peoples who from their trenches are defending their lands, their seeds, and their right to good, clean and fair food. It’s one more opportunity to recognize that we who safeguarded life on this planet remain committed to our mother earth,” said Dalí Nolasco Cruz, ITM Advisory Board Member (Latin America and The Caribbean).

 width=Since its inception, the ITM network’s goal has been to bring indigenous peoples’ (IPs) voices to the forefront of the debate on food and culture, to institutionalize indigenous peoples’ participation in the Slow Food movement and its projects, as well as to develop both regional and global networks. They have worked across the globe to raise awareness of the challenges that indigenous communities face, building a strong network to fight the injustices and discriminations they have historically faced while exchanging knowledge, and celebrating the uniqueness of their cultures, including inspiring the youth with joy.

“It’s important to promote and protect our sacred population, our food heritage, and to elevate awareness on the critical role of food in our health at this very time. The importance of providing local Indigenous foods is a major priority including healthy foods; as well as finding more ways to access these foods to distribute to the communities, and activate ways to partner with local growers and organizations to connect our tribal citizens to these foodways. We have collaborated with Food Tank and have spoken at events, like the Food Tank Summit, and The Wisdom of Indigenous Foodways, and about Indigenous Seed Sovereignty, among others,” said Denisa Livingston (Turtle Island – USA), Slow Food International Councillor for the Indigenous Network of the Global North.


Kenya – Image credit

Several allies such as IFAD, The Christensen Fund, Tamalpais among others have advised and supported this network since its very beginning. Today, this recognition shines a light on the importance of networking and this network for the future of indigenous peoples’ food systems. So we asked the ITM Advisory Board members what is next for the network, their initiatives, and efforts. Here is what they told us:

What is next for the network? What are you working toward now? 

Dalí: At the global level, the network has an action plan with clear goals, also at the regional and local levels other action plans were created with the active participation of young leaders. Youth who are our generational replacement and key to continue our worldview and knowledge. We continue to train members, seek alliances with international and national organizations to support the local work each community is promoting; and add new communities to our network and our movement.

Melissa: Revitalizing our traditional trade routes to exchange our Indigenous foods across lands, waters, and regions. To reinvigorate our sustainable economies through reciprocal trade and mutual support. Return to traditional ways of preserving foods to store them and share them over time: dried fruits and nuts, jerky, canned, smoked, etc.  Also, find ways to better protect, legally, our sacred foods that are threatened by genetic engineering and other negative impacts. Melissa K. Nelson, ITM Advisory Board Member (Turtle Island)  

Dai: In this pandemic, self-sustaining in terms of food is one of the most important topics. Our younger generations have been away from the soil, and don’t know how to grow foods and cook them into dishes in our traditional ways. So now we are focusing on food education for our youths. Inheriting our wisdom and knowledge is a top priority.


Image credit Paula Thomas

What are some of the challenges indigenous peoples face today?

Joel: The laws imposed on them by their governments. Some of these laws contradict their relationship with their land and natural resources. In many instances displacing them in the name of development for progress. Joel Symo, ITM Advisory Board member (Melanesia)

Melissa: I underscore Joel’s comments above and add other major challenges I see for Native Americans in Turtle Island: 1) access to ancestral foods locked up in private lands or protected areas and parks, so are off-limits to traditional gatherings; 2) genetic engineering of foods;  3) commodification and commercialization of certain Native foods without Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples who are the guardians of those foods; 3) ecological imbalances, climate change, new diseases are negatively impacting the health and abundance of our traditional foods; 4) access to Traditional Knowledge Holders who retain and can share the knowledge of how to gather, grow, process, and feast certain traditional foods.

Dalí: Policies denying their human rights, their right to their land, to their autonomy, to preserving their worldview and their culture. The capitalist system persecutes and kills the defenders, it wants to appropriate natural resources, land, and seeds; the countries use policies and discourses of supposed developments, which really mean dispossession, death, poverty, Human Rights violations for indigenous peoples. Our struggle to protect our lives and the existence of our peoples remains our challenge.

Denisa: Many of our IPs are very vulnerable and high-risk tribal citizens with pre-existing health conditions and pre-existing continual health epidemics. As we see the dire need to address food insecurity, access to healthful foods, clean drinking water, and a need to reclaim our ancestral practices of food traditionalism, we’re eager to raise awareness of the importance of healthful food in our communities with community members, especially when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. If we don’t prioritize these concerns, the results could be devastating.


Taiwan -Image credit Zhan Boren

Why is it important, at this moment in time, to work with indigenous peoples? 

Dai: Indigenous peoples have been practicing sustainable ways of living with nature. They would be the keys to decrease the natural disasters the world is facing. Now is the time the world can learn from this and adapt to lifestyles to maintain a sustainable relationship with nature. However, it is important that the world understands they are the wisdom, culture, and tradition of indigenous peoples. Therefore, we should first secure spaces for indigenous peoples to live and prosper. 

Melissa: As an effort to gain historical justice and work toward reconciliation between the Indigenous and the settlers. There have been many traumas and brutal impacts on IPs due to colonialism. It’s time to heal from these legacies of violence and transform these relationships into more balanced and respectful ones where IPs can exercise their sovereignty in real and meaningful ways. Additionally, IPs are the only peoples to demonstrate sustainable living over millennia, so settler societies can be of service to and learn from the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Indigenous Peoples to create a more just, resilient future.

Anneli: Climate change is setting requirements for a future action plan and a dialogue about opportunities for adaptation. The IPs of the world didn’t create climate change, but we are the most affected. In our case, [as Sami people] climate change is affecting individual reindeer owners and the existence of Sami reindeer husbandry and culture is threatened in the future. Therefore, urgent action is needed now. Anneli Jonsson, ITM Advisory Board Member (Europe)


Sami peoples – Slow Food Archives

How could we begin to shape a more fair and inclusive food system for everyone?

Dai: It’s important that the world becomes aware of how indigenous peoples are sacrificed for this mass-production, mass-consumption, the mass-disuse system not only in this modern society but also historically.  Listen and learn from the indigenous peoples near your community; together we can build a better food system based on respect and community. 

Joel: This can only happen if indigenous peoples maintain control of two major assets at their disposal: land and resources. Only then we could address the issue of inclusiveness. For the IPs when there is a surplus it’s always shared among other members of the extended family and beyond. 

Melissa: Yes, IPs must control land and resources, including seeds and water so we can nourish our own communities and then share with other communities, if and when there’s surplus.  We must end food waste and create better systems of sharing food to those in need.   

Raja: “Shaping a fair, inclusive food system can only begin when organizations, especially NGOs start to decentralize and follow the 5 Is: include, indulge, interfere, introspect and ingest,” said Raja Sharma Rymbai, ITM Advisory Board Member (Southeast Asia)

Denisa: There is a dire need to continue to support opportunities that raise awareness of the importance of Indigenous food sovereignty, local Indigenous food establishments, eateries, and healthful food access points, continual support of young Indigenous food leaders to elders, and a need to strengthen our relationships, visions, and strategies of all who play a role in our survival, resiliency, and adaptability. We cannot afford to just go through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to grow through it. 


Thank you to ITM Advisory Board members for their words, and their continued work for this network.  width=

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