The Oneida Nation’s Oneida Community Integrated Food Systems (OCIFS) is restoring land and waters for food production in Northeast Wisconsin. Through these efforts, Oneida Nation is reclaiming food sovereignty while improving the health of its members.
Like many Native American tribes forcefully dislocated from their homeland during U.S. occupation and colonization in the 1700 and 1800s, Oneida people have begun to re-localize their food and farming practices around the principles of tribal sovereignty, traditional production methods, community health and economic development for tribal members. These efforts are resulting in reduced diabetes and obesity rates for Oneida Nation, as well as restoring ecosystem health and economic benefits to the rural region.
OCIFS operates an 80-acre organic farm, Tsyunhéhkwλ, along with developing thousands of acres of additional land for farming and hunting and gathering. Oneida produces and sells native white corn, raises buffalo, tends a fast-growing apple orchard and works with a tribally-managed aquaponics center that produces fresh produce and fish. Restoring aquatic ecosystems and wetlands has also brought back wild rice to the area, a traditional, sacred food of other Indigenous People native to the region.
Oneida food products are integrated into both the tribe’s healthy food distribution program and through tribal schools and educational institutions. The Oneida Farm-to- School program serves approximately 20% locally-raised foods, and the Nation is working to expand that volume to a much larger proportion in the future.
Federal policies and funding, articulated throughout the Rural Policy Summit, could help to assist Oneida Nation and other tribes to expand their healthy, local farm and food efforts. Supporting partners, such as the First Nations Development Institute’s Nourishing Native Foods and Health Program and the Intertribal Agriculture Council’s Native Farm Bill Coalition, have called for key policy changes to support these efforts, including:
- Increasing the budget of currently existing programs that support local and regional food systems and establish priority set-asides tenfold for Tribal governments and producers. Programs such as the Local Agriculture Marketing Program, Small-Scale Meat Processing Grants and Community Food Project Grants are critical investments for food system resilience and are severely underfunded. Additionally, Tribal governments with limited resources often have a difficult time accessing these competitive grant programs, as organizations with more existing funding and full-time grant writers are able to more readily obtain the limited funds, so Tribal entities applying for these resources should receive priority access and points in the application process.
- Reform and invest in the rural credit system. Accessing appropriate credit is more challenging than ever. We must rethink and reform our agriculture credits systems to be investments in our producers. It is critical to enact strategic reforms including requiring the Farm Credit System to place a portion of profits in a community-mandated fund for grants and loans to support rural small businesses, mid-tier food system businesses and young, beginning or historically underserved farmers and ranchers. Additionally, reforms to the Small Business Administration prioritizing rural accessibility should be prioritized.
Making these investments and policy changes will be critical for assisting the Oneida Nation, along with other Native American tribes and Indigenous Peoples’ food sovereignty projects, to grow and thrive while supporting healthier people and healthier communities.