Panel of local Indigenous people discuss Native American Food Sovereignty

Virtual video conference screenshot of Indigenous food sovereignty panel (starting from the top left, going clockwise): Sharon M. Day, Alanna Norris'19, Jessika Greendeer, Alexandera Houchin, and panel facilitator Carmelita Sharpback MAHS'20.

Over 70 people joined a virtual panel discussion on November 24 with St. Catherine University and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet communities to discuss Native American food sovereignty. The panel consisted of four local Native American community members and advocates, Sharon M. Day, Alanna Norris, Alexandera Houchin, and Jessika Greendeer. The discussion was facilitated by St. Kate’s Master of Arts in Holistic Health Studies student Carmelita Sharpback MAHS’20. Sharpback is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and she is also an academic community strategist with the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women.

Sharpback welcomed everyone to the virtual event, then panelist Sharon M. Day, executive director of Indigenous Peoples Task Force and enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe, said an Ojibwe prayer to offer traditional thanks to center the event and the participants on the discussion about Indigenous food sovereignty. St. Kate’s Director of Equity and Inclusion Sandra Mitchell, CSJ Consociate Karen Zeleznak, and St. Kate’s student sustainability coordinator Rachel Schauer ’21 presented the CSJ and St. Catherine University joint Land Acknowledgement of the ancestral homelands of the Dakȟóta People, specifically the Wahpekute and Oceti Sakowin.

The discussion was in response to a synchronous virtual screening of the film “GATHER: The Fight to Revitalize our Native Foodways” presented by multiple departments and groups from St. Kate’s and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates. “GATHER” is a documentary that traces the intentional destruction of Native American foodways and the renaissance to reclaim indigenous agriculture and food systems.

Sharpback and the panelists discussed their reactions to the movie “GATHER.”

 “‘GATHER’ is a beautiful platform to discuss food sovereignty while illustrating what it takes to reclaim that right behind the scenes,” said panelist Jessika Greendeer, Seed Keeper and Farm Manager for Dream of Wild Health and enrolled member of Ho-Chunk Nation (Baraboo, Wisconsin).

 “Food sovereignty is about caregiving, not caretaking. That is how I feel when I put my time and energy into growing plants,” said Panelist Alexandera Houchin, who is an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and lives in her tribal community, Nahgahchiwanong (Cloquet, Minnesota) where she volunteers her time with the Ojibwe school master gardener. Sharon M. Day reflected, “Sovereignty gives me agency to build reciprocal relationships between the earth, plants, and people… We are all part of a community. Everyone, and everything, has a job and a purpose… It is not about the enrichment of one person, but a resurgence based on our values and a society where everyone has enough.”

Panelist Alanna Norris’19, nutrition program coordinator for Dream of Wild Health and enrolled member of the Red Lake Nation of Ojibwe graduated from St. Kate’s with a bachelor degree in nutrition science. When asked about the quality and nutrition of the food grown in traditional Indigenous methods, Norris said, “Research of soil quality shows that it affects the quality of the food. By enriching the soil, it enriches our food. If you know where your soil is coming from, you are going to have a great outcome for your produce.” Greendeer, who supports regenerative soil farming at Dream of Wild Health, said, “Excess carbon in our atmosphere is because we have a broken system. By practicing Indigenous farming and incorporating Indigenous knowledge, we pull that carbon back into the soil and are being a good relative to the earth… Our plant relatives are trying to take care of us.”

The panel discussion took place just days before Thanksgiving. When the panel was asked about Native American views of the holiday, they shared their own family traditions, including mourning, fasting, gathering with family, and story-telling. Day said, “We have thanksgiving every day,” asking the attendees to be grateful for what the earth has provided, not just on special days, but all days.

During the closing remarks, Jessika Greendeer offered a call to action. “Learn about the story of your land — the land you live on. Find out about your ancestral ’seeds,’ your ancestral foods… We live in relation to all things.”

November is Native American Heritage Month, an important time to reflect and consider the history of Indigenous people. At St. Kate’s, we value reflection and the importance of listening and being in community with “Our Dear Neighbor.” This panel discussion elevated crucial voices in the discussion of Indigenous food sovereignty. With this knowledge, St. Kate’s community members can learn and discern wisely, so we can live and lead justly.

This event was sponsored by members of the following groups and communities:

Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women

St. Catherine University Library & Archives

CSJ Justice Commission, Native American Awareness Working Group

Outdoor Active Katies for Sustainability (OAKS)

St. Catherine University Holistic Health Studies Program

St. Catherine University/CSJ Food Insecurity Project

St. Catherine University’s Multicultural and International Programs & Services (MIPS)

CSJ Celeste’s Dream

St. Catherine University Office of Equity and Inclusion


View the “GATHER” library resource guide here: