MATIKA: This is All My Relations. We have a beautiful episode for y'all. Because this is a topic that is so true to our bellies and something we can all relate to. We all got to eat. But how are we eating? Or better, what are we eating? And how has colonization disrupted our relationship with our traditional foods?
ADRIENNE: That's why today's discussion on food sovereignty is so important, because we all know that colonialism destroyed our food systems, sometimes on purpose and sometimes as a byproduct of other colonial policies. But separating Native peoples from the way that we traditionally ate and harvested was a very effective tool of colonization.
MATIKA: Fortunately, we are living in a time of reconnection and revitalization and there are many people throughout Turtle Island doing this good food sovereignty work. Listen in, as we talk with Valerie Segrest on the definition of food sovereignty, learn how breastfeeding supports the food sov. movement, and how all of us, even if it's just in tiny ways, can become food sovereignty activists.
ADRIENNE: Valerie is a Native nutrition educator who specializes in local and traditional foods. As a member of the Muckleshoot Indian tribe, he serves her community as coordinator of the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project and also works as Traditional Foods and Medicines Program Manager. In 2010, Valerie co authored “Feeding the People, Feeding the Spirit: Revitalizing the Northwest Coastal Indian Food Culture”. Valerie received a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University, and a Master's in Environment and Community from Antioch University. She is also a fellow for the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, Valerie aims to inspire and enlighten others about the importance of a nutrient dense diet through a culturally appropriate common sense approach to eating
MATIKA: The concept that we're going with here for this entire show is understanding our relationships to one another, or relationships to land and our understanding of, of our identities being primarily based in our relationships. were wondering if you could just introduce yourself in your traditional way, maybe with like your family or your clan, and specifically talk about your purpose as it relates to the concept of all my relations.
VALERIE SEGREST: Okay. My name is Valerie Segrest. My, my father is Apache and Hessian from the Germanic tribes, and my mother is it's a long story, but she's Assiniboine Sioux and then Coast Salish, so Swinomish, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Muckleshoot, you know how we are here in the northwest, or we're all my relations, related to pretty much everybody. And even just introducing myself that way, is a long story, because she was a foster child. And she was a confidential adoptee case and the only person who ever kept in touch with her was Lona Wilbur, so our very close relative, and to be able to explain that our family lineage and where we come from, and the connection, the deep rooted connection with the lower family is really important to us. So like the whole idea of all my relations and somehow being brought here. And you're you've always been really close to me in close proximity. When you went to school for photography, I was just like 30 minutes south in Ventura, California. So, you know, we've always been really close. But this is like the first time that I think we've ever been able to actually have a conversation professionally and work together, which is really cool. And the purpose, you know, for me, was really brought back to what our ancestors carried here. And in trying to find our identity as people who have, it's been systematically taken away from us, but then in my own family, being adopted out and sort of our identity being kept from us for so long. Coming back, and realizing that food is a really great place to begin, has been sort of the guiding light and purpose and in all the work that I've been asked to carry. So that's how I would introduce myself, but it's like why it's so meaningful to be here with you today.
MATIKA: You know, I'm really glad youʻre here, Valerie, I really am I, I've been following your work really closely and, and yet, I never see you. So it's really good. I'm really happy just to have you here and see you face to face and, and really get to dig into what your work is about. And I think it's so important. It's so meaningful for so many of our people, and it's impacted our communities so profoundly and I'm really excited to share that work with with other people.
ADRIENNE: I think we just want to start with the most basic question, which is also a question we could spend an entire hour just talking about. But what is food sovereignty? And why is it important for Native communities?
VALERIE: Right. And if you were to just simply google food sovereignty, it would tell you, it's the the La Via Campesina defined it as the inherent right of people to define their own food system. And there are many different implications on how to do that. I think in the Pacific Northwest, and even for tribal communities, across Indian country, the term sovereignty has a different weight for us. And mostly because it's sort of our method of being able to return to our, you know, original instructions. It's something that our ancestors in signing treaties and negotiating not just ceding our lands to non-Native people, but securing our rights to be able to harvest our foods and medicines, and hunt and fish, and drink clean water and use your dreams for all the things that we've used them for for 10,000 years, anybody would say since time began. Sovereignty means a lot. It means a way of healing. It's the remedy, right? So and it's not just something that exists. It's like something that we have to keep alive in everyday actions. So that can be as simple as fishing, or drinking a cup of nettle tea, or choosing to stand up for water rights, you know, those are all parts of strengthening sovereignty and keeping it alive.
MATIKA: Could you discuss how you are practicing food sovereignty in your own life?
VALERIE: Sure. And I get this question all the time. So actually, when I first started doing this work, and I came to Hank Govan from the Tulalip tribe, and said, I've got it, everybody just needs to eat their traditional foods and, you know, use their traditional medicines, and then we'll heal everybody that way it's going to be, and he just looked at me like I was a child, and was like, but nowadays, our traditional custom harvesting grounds are KFC and Safeway, and Albertsons. And so how are you going to help our people, you know, strengthen their sovereignty, when they're, you know, navigating those kinds of food systems. Out of that came some really thoughtful principles around how to live, you know, how to have a traditional foods diet and a modern lifestyle. And that could be as simple as eating locally, right? Like that way, we're supporting a local economy. And we're supporting our local food producers, more specifically, our tribal fishermen, or our hunters and gatherers. It can also be that traditional foods or whole foods consist of one ingredient, you know, I don't know of any, like, rivers of diet, soda, or shrubs of Lucky Charms, like those things just don't exist in nature. So if you're walking through the grocery store, you know, bring your ancestors with you. And that's really what I think, you know, we try to we strive for, I always think, are, am I making my ancestors proud in these decisions I'm making or not, if I choose to not speak out, or speak out, you know, what, what would they be proud of, because they've sacrificed so much in order for us to be here, which is just a total miracle, when you really start to look at historical trauma. And how, they never meant for that to define us. But it was always meant for us to acknowledge and then move on, and, and get out of this survival mode and start to acknowledge the healing opportunities that we have in front of us. And that's by making people you know, doing the work to making people more visible in a modern way, and also acknowledging the best of what was what is available to us. Our ancestors were always really innovative people and that could be, you know, utilizing a new technology or thinking in a new way, right.
ADRIENNE: I was really struck by in your intro talking about all of these ways that you've been connected and disconnected from your own identities as a Native person. And I know for me as a scholar, as well as someone who grew up away from my communities, and that through research has been kind of a way that it offered me an entry point into that reconnection path. And I would love to hear kind of about your journey through this work, kind of how it started. And the ways that the research piece sort of wove its way through it as well.
VALERIE: My mother is a retired, she's more than just a foster child. She's a retired woman who used to work for the United States government, she served the troops. And my father is a retired Command Master Chief in the United States Navy. And so I spent my entire life until I was about 25, officially, in the Department of Defense System, like growing up in the schools, in the the culture of it all, and not necessarily looking at my own culture because we didn't know where we were from who we were really. And when my mom is back to Washington State and retired, she took a job working for the Chief Seattle Club. And two weeks there she all we knew was her mother and father's name. And so she put them into the system. And her mother passed away when she was eight years old, Marilyn Purcell, who was, had the Wilbur Lineage. But her father Raymond Stryke, was living three blocks away from her office in downtown Seattle in Pioneer Square, which is one of our traditional village sites, actually. So there's all these like, implications around just that place, that really special narrative to place. And when she met her father, he was in our life, one year to the day, he passed away of liver disease. And I spent that year with him, traveling to different doctors to try to get him help learning the health system of a homeless man and a Native man at that. And he spent his time telling me about our family from Montana, and how they were medicine people that they carry great knowledge of food, and tradition, and that that it was his hope for me that I would take this experience of spending this time with him and translate that into my life. And this was at a time when I was calling my mom saying, Why can't you be like all the other parents just tell me to like, be a dentist, or whatever, I donʻt know what to do with my life. And so that's why I went to school to study nutrition. And I spent some time working with the Muckleshoot elders to to try to get to know, my family and what they did there, who they were and what they were all about. And our whole line had been adopted out. So we all kind of returned at the same time. And we've all been, you know, really struggling with finding our identity and place, but the implications of it are immense, like the medicine is just right there waiting for you, you know, right outside the door, you go stand in Camas prairies that have been there for 10,000 years, or fish, the waters that our ancestors have been managing since time began. It's, it's medicine. And it's the reason why I do what I do is sort of like, really selfish, right? Because I get to learn more about who I am and where I come from, but I get to share it with people. And that is, yeah, that's the medicine and what it's all about. I see so many people have this like profound response to a simple cup of tea, because it's just like activating through taste all your DNA memory senses, it's just activating all those little interceptors that have been waiting for that medicine for so long, right? Just like wakes you right up. So I think it's really important. And that's what the study of epigenetics is all about, you know, our, our environment has shifted, our DNA has responded to that, but if we can use the best of what's available now, to make that shift back, then our DNA will respond.
MATIKA: Yeah, there's a saying around here, and I know you're familiar with it, they say that our spirit gets hungry. And I, I've heard my elders have told me like, Matika, you're behaving like your spirit is hungry, you need to come home and come to ceremony and eat some traditional foods and be around your people. And you need to be fed with the food that it can only be found in these regions that your ancestors have been eating and also not just the food in your belly, but we have to think about feeding our minds and our hearts, and we have to feed them with song and with the sound of you know, paddles on on water and the sounds of drums beating and, and voices harmonizing and and once you feed yourself, you'll stop back in so hangry. So can you talk a little about that? Have people talked to you about that same concept?
VALERIE: Absolutely and you know, very important part of that is also feeding other people. So that's something that I would say, Hank Govan and [unintelligible name] did a really good job of, you know, instilling in me is every time I bring him some food or something, he would say, oh, you're feeding my Indian, you're gonna be blessed. That is part of the reviving of our system is not just like we have this consumer-based relationship with food where we go to the grocery store, and it's transactional, or just buying this blueberry and we're, you know, going and eating it alone. And when you are out harvesting huckleberries, and you know, the teaching is to bring some back to somebody who is less fortunate than you, because they don't have the time or the money or the ability to be able to get up and harvest their own. But you open the opportunity up for people to share their experiences, or their memories, or they're good blessings with you. And that that is part of the design of being a good citizen, it's part, you know, civic action, it's part transformational instead of transactional, and you really get to have new relationships with people, all because of food. And because you're feeding that spirit, it's so beautiful.
MATIKA: Right? And that's why the potlatching system is a much stronger form of an economy than this Western form because with the potlatching system, the most noble are those that spread the table and, and host a potlatch, and so.
VALERIE: Very different being judged by your generosity, right? versus being judged by how much wealth, money dollar amount you you are obtaining.
MATIKA: Yeah, Vy Hilbert one time asked me when I was young and coming of age, she asked me, well, if you want to know what your purpose is, you only have to ask yourself how you will feed the people.
VALERIE: Oh, my gosh, thatʻs so beautiful.
MATIKA: You know, and how will you how will you spread the table for them? Yeah. And it's something that's really stuck with me. You know, like, my purpose to spread the table is through sharing stories and images and making that available to people so that we can learn about ourselves and see ourselves authentically and and I think atthis table, and I would write we're all spreading the table in different ways. But I love that concept, you know?
VALERIE: Yeah. So beautiful.
ADRIENNE: I know that there's been work that has been done in communities about examining what happens to Native bodies when you are eating traditional foods, only pre-contact foods, and was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that. I think you've been involved in some of those projects, and the ways that actually ingesting these foods and medicines changes our health outcomes.
VALERIE There are physical, mental and spiritual outcomes that come out of research like that. And essentially, what happens if so the Pueblo Food Experience is a good example of that, or Decolonizing Diets, which was done by Dr. Martin Reinhardt, out of Michigan. And it's so funny, because both of them, the things that they have in common is eating grasshoppers, which is like not there are things that I have to get back to. Iʻm working on that. But but it turns out, they're like excellent protein and mineral sources. I think, that clams in our region are really great. But what they found is after committing to those diets for a certain period of time, I think the Pueblo Food Experience like 90 days, people have these profound health outcomes. So they're reversing diabetes, their blood pressures are evening out. They're dropping weight like nobody's business. And so we know that our bodies respond really, really quickly to eating just traditional foods. And it's also kind of challenging, right? Like, it's not that easy. We couldn't all return to a traditional foods diet tomorrow, just there isn't enough food in the system to sustain us all. And you probably would starve a little bit and people have like, some of them getting off of the carb fix can put you into the hospital like people feel terrible. They call it the carb flu.
ADRIENNE: Yeah. Not my favorite. Anyway, but so people experienced these profound health outcomes and did they measure sort of the like mental kind of spiritual aspects of that too like, what it feels like to be eating like your ancestors.
VALERIE: I don't think it was measured, like in numbers, but definitely in people's stories around their experiences that they just realized how this brought people together more they were collaborating talking about food in different ways, and developing recipes and refining and perfecting them, but those recipes had also been in existence for 1000s of years. And so you're really honoring this really old tradition by doing it. And I think in those ways it makes impacts for us. There are lots of studies out there around being in nature for 30 minutes decreasing our stress hormones like forest bathing. The Japanese got it. Got it, right. It's a whole study that they did that I think is profound, you know, when you're near trees, just to have your stress hormones be depleted. Know that. But to have it measured is really, really cool. I want to do that so bad, I'm such a cortisol geek, I really do think that we need to study it more. It is the like common denominator around following historical trauma. And then knowing that the remedy is prayer and meditation and a deep breath and being outside in nature, right, like, that's what brings our stress down to baseline. And when we can model good stress management to our next generation, that's what's really going to change, you know, that's what's really going to impact the health because we can have the most pristine diet in the world. But if we don't manage our stress properly, it's all at a loss.
ADRIENNE: You mentioned the next generation in your last answer, and you're also a mother. And I would love to hear about the ways that you hope the future can be different for your daughter in these connections to traditional foods.
VALERIE: I think that the first time that thought occurred to me was not actually during pregnancy, like the nine months, I was just trying to stay calm, because I knew this was a force that was going to change my life entirely. And I'm still trying to manage it. Nobody ever talks to you about the, like, 10th month of pregnancy, right? where you're actually, you have to feed this thing. And so breastfeeding to me is another important act of food sovereignty. And because I had this whole moment where I was feeding her, and in my feeding her, I realized I was reading a report about how all of the eggs that we have, are inside of us at birth rate. And so I'm feeding my grandchildren in this moment, and I go to the doctor and be like, Look, look at this thing. myself, you know, like, she's all 12, 12 pounds of her. And for a year, like, for six months, she was exclusively breastfed, which was so hard. But for me, I was thinking in those moments how important it is to be thinking about her, to be thinking about my grandchildren, and trying to, you know, maintain a good, like, way of thinking of prayer while I'm feeding her. And so that I can feed that next generation, I feel like that's, that is the story of, you know, what we're put here to do is not just figure out how to feed ourselves. I've heard Winona LaDuke say it before that, you know, if you're making goals that you're gonna see in your lifetime, then you're not dreaming big enough. Like that's how we're designed is inherently to make things happen, knowing that we're never going to see the outcome of it, but somebody is going to benefit from it, and six or seven or eight generations. And so that's really like the take we have to have on food sovereignty or or reclaiming our food systems to be thinking that far out.
MATIKA: You talk about that moment in your TED Talk with grandma and the little boy, could you tell that story? You talk about how little boy but there was a kid who was talking about how he was going to grow these cherries, these crab apple trees.
VALERIE: I had these like little sound bites of encouragement come at me sometimes it's really kind of it's almost in the moment when you need it the most. Right? So we installed an orchard at the Muckleshoot tribal school and we didn't just put in like heirloom apples and things. We also included Native plants and crab apple trees, for example. And we brought out some educators who were specialists in fruit bearing trees. And we had about I don't know I showed up and was standing on top of this wood chip pile with all these Muckleshoots running around like little wild Indians in the garden. They're so happy to be outside, like kids just need to be outside more can you imagine? In 10,000 years, your knowledge system and learning was like huckleberry meadow or camas prairie. And now you're like sitting in a classroom staring at a screen. And we wonder why kids have behavior issues, like you take them outside and they're engaged. They know exactly what's going on and profound learning happens and just like learning in places, right, this young man came up to me and I said, how's your day going? And he said, Good, I just planted a crab apple tree that's gonna feed people long after I'm gone, it's gonna live to be 500 years old. Like it can be that old. That's what I learned today. And I just thought this child, like, I can retire happy now, right? Like, this was the best day of my life. They get it, they understand. And they see that very easily understand that what they're doing is going to make a change far beyond their life.
MATIKA: For people that I was new at home, or for myself, what are some small ways that we can incorporate these ideas of food sovereignty into our life, I know you mentioned about thinking about going to the grocery store with your ancestors. You know. And I also love this concept that I'm feeding my grandchildren. How do we really do that? What are some really small ways or tiny ways that we can begin practicing some of those principles?
VALERIE: I think you hit the nail on the head, first of all, is just making tiny steps, right? If we think about all the changes that we could make in our life, you just sort of you know, create panic attacks. Even just starting with like going outside and harvesting one thing like commit to just that one thing a year or choosing to become a good ally in one foodʻs life. You know, I think about Billy Frank and the salmon. And I think about my own teachers, Warren King George and huckleberry how much he loves that plant. I think about [Native nation ] elders like Trudy Marcelli, who are about camas, so you can just choose one thing and become it's really, really good friend. And that will take you so far. For me, you know, I have I think nettles changed my life. I think I wrote a really obnoxious like article in Yes magazine about how nettle changed my life. And it was like a cup of tea and I read it now I'm like, Oh my God, Val. But it's true. Like those those foods and plants are your greatest teachers, and they're waiting for you right outside the door. So you just have to pay attention to them and focus on them and they will, and surrender your life. They'll take you anywhere you want to go, you know, or they need you to go,
ADRIENNE: Ask Aunty?
MATIKA: Oh, yes, time for Ask Aunty.
ADRIENNE: Okay, we put to our friends on the internet's and said, Do you have any questions about food sovereignty or any questions for Val? And we're just going to read a couple out and see if you have kind of short answers that might be helpful for folks. One that I found that I thought was really interesting is what is the difference between traditional food advocacy like fighting food deserts and food sovereignty? Or is there a difference?
VALERIE: Hmm. food desert. I'm going to start with saying like that is a term that was you know, very, I think with good intention created by the USDA to just say, Hey, you know, you don't have a grocery store within a 10 mile radius of you. I grew up in Nevada, where the desert is beautiful. Home means Nevada, home means the hills. That deserts food systems that have fed people very well for a long time. So So food sovereignty would sort of like, be prodding of it that, you know, maybe that's a different. Traditional food advocacy and food sovereignty, to me are the same thing,
ADRIENNE: My colleague at Brown, Liz Hoover often talks about that misnomer of the food desert and gives all these amazing examples of the time she's been in the desert with people who are from there, and they're just picking things off of cactuses, and from the brush and being able to feed themselves, because that's what they've done for since time began. And it's so interesting how those small reframings are things are things that we donʻt think about, but the power of that phrase food desert implies lack, it implies not abundance, but if you talk to an indigenous person from the desert, desert implies sustaining life-force, it implies all of these food systems and life ways that are just so different than the mainstream conception of what a food desert is.
VALERIE: Yeah, the perspective of a desert came out of you know, colonizers who were pioneering through the West and didn't make it, they were eating their own. It's called the Donner Party, Google it. And they didn't know you were surrounded by the Paiutes and Shoshones who were feeding themselves very well in the desert.
ADRIENNE: Oh, another question that came from Twitter was from a college student who was asking, what ways if you're bound by a dining hall or in a college environment, can you still start to enact these practices of food sovereignty?
VALERIE: Well, what I did was every report and homework assignment I had I made about food sovereignty, you know, spend time thinking about it, if it's not nearly like right nearby you or you can really enact it. Or yes, so many opportunities to learn. So right about it, then.
MATIKA: Yeah, so even if you're in the dining hall and can't necessarily be eating Indigenous foods, you can be working on these other aspects of it. And then maybe, with your different associations on campus, you know, you can ask for some invite a speaker. You can also like host Indigenous food meals, like a community table. I also think you can, if you want to get real protesty about it, you can protest and ask that they offer some Indigenous foods for the Indigenous students who maybe change policy, because students have all of the power on campus. You know, I think it's, they can think of themselves in that way as having the opportunity to exercise their sovereignty in their own space and ask for and demand or create opportunities for themselves to eat the kind of foods that matter to them.
ADRIENNE: And I've seen with my own students at Brown, that being able to eat and access traditional foods is such a powerful way of combating homesickness, of kind of tying you to your community, remembering why you are there on campus, so they find opportunities all the time to even using the hot plate at the student center to make blue corn rush or having their mom or their aunties like send dried fish or dried meat and everyone's just gathered around at the NAB meetings like eating all these snacks from home and so it's that powerful connection to home too that's not just the like I'm going to the dining hall to eat my food kind of thing.
ADRIENNE: This is our, sort of rapid fire round.
MATIKA: You pick a question out of the basket you can either answer it, pass, or defer to the previous question you go first.
ADRIENNE: Stew or frybread.