Graham Billard He will never forget the taste of his mother’s traditional blue corn mash. A rustic, hearty dish made with ground blue cornmeal, water and juniper ash, the recipe has been passed down through generations, from great-grandmothers to grandmothers to mothers and finally his own bowl and spoon. has been passed down to Biard doesn’t say he mastered the recipe as much as his mother. But Biard, a traditional farmer who manages his family’s farm in the San Juan River Valley near Shiprock in the Navajo Nation, comes before him every time he scoops up a sip of corn mash. Respect not only to those who kept this line. Not only is his corn seed alive, but he also contributes to a wider movement that takes root in Indian Country.
Food sovereignty is the right to access such food. That means healthy, culturally-appropriate meals that are locally produced using sustainable methods and agricultural practices. In countless tribal communities, food sovereignty has evolved from a concept to a full-scale movement. Biyál is just one of many farmers in this area of northern Mexico. Recognizes the importance of growing, harvesting and cooking as his ancestors did. For them, food sovereignty is not only about maintaining a good relationship with the natural world, but also with a new generation of traditional farmers.
But the road to food sovereignty is not always easy. At least at first. Tiana Suazo of Taos Pueblo remembers when she started farming. At her eight or her nine, she worked alongside her father under the unrelenting sun and sowed the seed for her relative’s initiation ceremony later that year.
“I remember it being hot. I hated it,” she said. “But our people, the Pueblo people, are farmers. Growing these traditional crops means being part of something bigger than ourselves.”
As much as she hated being outside in that summer sun when she was a child, the experience stuck with her. currently has four greenhouses and 1.5 acres of crop fields, all overseen by Suazo. More than just a place to procure food for the community, Red Willow is the groundwork for the food sovereignty movement.
“Growing these traditional crops means being part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Suazo and her team work with young people in the Taos Pueblo community to teach them the ins and outs of farming and pay them above minimum wage for their work. Suazo teaches young people how to learn to see the best in the work they do and how to provide their families with healthy traditional food, just as she did when she was a child. She sees the continuation of these age-old practices as part of the nutritional cycle, like Biard’s blue corn mash.
Like any farmer’s plant, this cycle is nothing new. For thousands of years, children have watched their parents go out to the farm to learn what plants to plant in the spring, how to harvest them, and most importantly, how to access rich, healthy meals.
And, as Suazo was quick to point out, knowing the life cycle of crops is a necessity for young tribe members. It’s a way to learn how and why certain plants are used in rituals, and why different crops have different dances.
“The life cycles of these plants are closely related to our traditions. It is very important to see these cycles and understand the importance of why we farm,” Suazo says. said. “We need to involve our children because without them we have no way to reconnect. Once we lose this information, it’s hard to get it back.”
Likewise, in the Navajo Nation, Biar ensures future generations have access to the same plants and crops that their predecessors did. Biyáál self-identifies as a seed keeper who maintains plant seeds from the traditional diets of communities and countries. He hopes to gain a social following on his media and inspire other indigenous people to reconnect with their tribal diet, take back their diets, and prepare traditional recipes such as blue corn mash and blue corn cookies. and share your life as an indigenous organic farmer. Vegetable stews and hearty wild meats such as elk and venison. In his online store, Navajo He carries Nation-grown seeds, so people can easily get jars of his Navajo blue corn to other Indigenous farmers looking to add seeds to his bank. can send.
When U.S. forces forced the Dineh out of their homeland in the 19th century, some species and native plants were lost. But the corn used in Bilar’s mother’s recipe lasted longer. Grown using seed from the previous year’s crop, this corn dates back hundreds of years and has fed the Biard family for generations. Biyaar uses his seeds not only to provide crops for traditional ceremonies, Dineh diets and meals, but also to current and future farmers looking to reaffirm old methods and traditions. can provide.
“We need to look at what the land already has to offer and adapt it to our diet. Just as our ancestors did.”
The dissemination and preservation of seeds was a regular practice of the Bilar ancestors, as was the Suazo mission to disseminate the knowledge necessary to cultivate seeds. The chili, sunflower and corn varieties grown and perfected by Diné’s hands spread throughout the Southwest, East Coast and even Canada, making the unique strains and hybrids of the Navajo tribes more culturally significant.
The importance of preserving these goes beyond symbolic. Biyál has seen and lived with the limited store-bought options available to him and other of his Diné citizens. These options often contain high levels of sodium, fat, and added sugars. His goal is to free Navajo health, diet and traditional foods from colonial rule. His farm grows vegetables people have enjoyed for centuries, including pumpkins, beans, tomatoes, corn and melons.
“We need to look at what the land already offers and adapt it to our diet,” he said.
In his tent, Biard is already planning the next harvest, carefully deciding which crops to plant next to each other based on how each will affect his neighbors.
Every time he walks the land of his family—the land of his ancestors—I can’t help but see a positive version of the future, a future filled with Diné farmers and sowers. In time, he hopes indigenous-owned and operated organic grocery stores will thrive in the Navajo Nation.
“I really think we can get there,” he said. “It’s missing from our reservations, so it’s something I like to do to provide people with healthy options. But I want it to be a traditional food.”
Lyric Aquino is an Indigenous multimedia reporter from Lorraine, Ohio and currently based in New York. She is dedicated to telling the stories of underrepresented people and enjoys reporting on the communities she belongs to. holds a master’s degree in science, health and environmental reporting from .
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