Gardening “is our sovereignty right,” said Twila Cassadore, a forager and educator on the reservation.
“I live in a housing unit and I have a big garden. I don’t care.
Come and throw me in jail.
I am still going to feed my family.”
Some Native Americans are trying to strengthen systems for local food distribution.
The Quapaw Nation, in Oklahoma, has donated some of the meat from its processing plant to its elder nutrition program,
to ensure that those most vulnerable are getting enough protein.
Rowen White, the program director for the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, a national group that collects and grows heirloom seeds,
has expanded her efforts in Akwesasne, N.Y., on the Canadian border, home to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.
The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort, one of the tribe’s primary means of revenue,
closed in mid-March in response to the virus, leaving many locals jobless.
The reservation is also downriver from a former General Motors factory that is now a Superfund site.
Ms. White used to receive about a dozen requests for seeds every few months, but that number has grown to 600.
She is packaging seed collections that include the Native American staples corn, beans and squash
(known as the “three sisters” because they are often planted and eaten together), and teaching online gardening classes.
The Intertribal Agriculture Council, based in Montana, is also helping to expand the federal food-distribution program
to include goods from Indigenous producers in the hopes of putting more money in the hands of tribes and providing healthier options.
Organizations like Running Strong for American Indian Youth have fortified existing programs that deliver nutritious food boxes to reservations.
But the virus has complicated those efforts, too.
Some reservations are requiring that food boxes coming from outside be quarantined for several days.
On some reservations that are under stay-at-home orders,
there aren’t enough volunteers to deliver the food, and not enough personal protective equipment to go around.
“We are already so remote,” said Ms. Livingston, the Navajo counselor.
If big cities are struggling with equipment and personnel, she asked, how will the reservations get by?