Indigenous communities, although only making up 2% of the overall US population, have some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation. Generally, one out of every nine Americans have experienced food insecurity, however, one out of four Indigenous persons can say the same. This stems from a systematic oppression and othering done by the US government, which leaves these communities substantially more prone to poverty, diet-related diseases, and lack of access to nutritional food. Across the nation, the food insecurity rate for Indigenous persons is about 25%, however in specific areas, for example in northern California and southern Oregon, studies have displayed that this rate could be as high as 92%. Although federal programs have attempted to address this issue through programs such as the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), the lack of nutritional and culturally appropriate food is still pressing.  

Furthermore, even though Indigenous communities do receive assistance from programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), SNAP is ultimately ineffective because of the lack of large grocers who accept SNAP in these areas. Indigenous communities often have a low population density, and high poverty rate, once again due to systematic and institutional discrimination, and because of this, large grocery corporations usually do not establish a presence in these areas. The lack of support from the federal government, as a whole, even past the issue of food insecurity, and the gaps in federal food distribution programs, has been unable to fill the food insecurity gap present in indigenous communities. Thus, indigenous activists, community leaders, and scholars have emphasized food sovereignty as an essential means of dealing with this disparity. Food sovereignty, in comparison to food security, addresses the issue of food insecurity from a systemic approach. Understanding that food insecurity stems from inequality and lack of resources, a food sovereignty approach focuses on the creation of nutritious, culturally appropriate food that is created for and by the communities served. Through food sovereignty, solutions and alternatives to the current food distributions that are in place are proposed and tailored to the needs of individual communities. The ability of these communities to be able to traditionally manage their own land, further cultivate traditional crops for food or medicinal purposes, protection of cultural resources, and increased autonomy, is essential in assisting the process towards food sovereignty. 

As a whole, Indigenous communities are forced to carry the burden of food insecurity without government support, which has led to these issues with food insecurity. It is essential that the intensity of the issues being faced by these communities is known, as well as the lack of resources that they have access to. Supporting a transition towards food sovereignty is the best means to address the present food insecurity present in indigenous communities, but in order to support this transition, one must be aware of the challenges faced by Indigenous communities in order to advocate for and affirm the desires presented by them as this issue is dealt with.

By Ireland Griffin

Works Cited:

Decolonizing Food Systems: Food Sovereignty, Indigenous Revitalization, and Agroecology as Counter-Hegemonic Movements 

November is Native American Heritage Month

Indigenous peoples and food insecurity

First Nations Food Environments: Exploring the Role of Place, Income, and Social Connection

Giving voice to food insecurity in a remote indigenous community in subarctic Ontario, Canada: traditional ways, ways to cope, ways forward

Indigenous Food Security is Dependent on Food Sovereignty 

Food Insecurity among American Indians and Alaska Natives: A National Profile using the Current Population Survey–Food Security Supplement 

Food security and access to healthy foods in Indian country: Learning from the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations