Friday, 4 July 2014

Mino bimaadziyaang: We are living well!

By Kaitlyn Duthie-Kannikkatt, 1st year MDP student
What do you think about when you think of good food? Is it a favourite dish your grandma used to make? A fish caught fresh out of the lake and fried up over a cook fire? Maybe it’s as simple as a loaf of bread baked fresh and served with a melting pat of butter?

Food means many different things to people, but one thing that almost always rings true about good food is its link to culture. The foods that were important to us growing up, or that remind us of home, or that connect us with our ancestors in some way are the foods that make us feel most satisfied. They become more than just something we put in our bellies – they are nourishment for the soul, and they help sustain traditions and cultural practices that are critical to the survival of a people.

More often that not, those foods are the foods that keep us feeling healthy as well. For the White Earth Land Recovery Project in Northern Minnesota where I’m currently doing my placement, growing healthy community is closely linked to building sustainable food systems rooted in Anishinaabe culture and the traditions of this land.
Photo of School Mural from

WELRP was formed some 25 years ago with a mission to facilitate the recovery of the original land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation while preserving and restoring traditional practices of sound land stewardship, language fluency, community development, and strengthening our spiritual and cultural heritage (

It’s done a lot of interesting work over the years to make this happen. It began Native Harvest – a native foods producer that sells locally grown and processed wild rice, maple syrup, corn, crafts, and a whole slew of other products made either in house or by local White Earth harvesters.  It started an Anishinaabe Seed Library to revive and protect native seeds and empower community members with the skills to grow them. It started the first Tribal Farm-to-School program, connecting schools on the reservation with local farmers to create healthier breakfast and lunch menus and to educate youth about the foods that are native to their home. The list could go on, and WELRP is an inspiring example of a community-rooted organization doing innovative work to assert tribal food sovereignty.

While I’m here, I’m working on developing a reworked USDA food pyramid that can be more relevant to the health and cultural context of the Anishinaabe on the White Earth Reservation and used as a tool for home and school menu planning. I’m also supporting a foodshed mapping project that is seeking to assess the current food growing, processing, and purchasing capacity of the reservation and reimagine land use policies for a more food sovereign community.

In between office hours, I’m serving hominy-bacon and three sisters soup at the White Earth Pow Wow, making bannock for a funders meeting, learning about edible bugs and Russian fish soup at the Wild Food Summit, planting fruit trees at the tribal college, and getting my hands dirty in my own garden that I’ve planted.

The diversity of the work and the sheer number of things going on is keeping me busy, and I couldn’t ask for a better placement. In just six weeks, I feel like I’ve learned so much – about the work of WELRP, about the White Earth community, and about living well. I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks have in store!

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