Chap. 5: Native Food Sovereignty

Sovereignty means many things in Indian Country. As with tribal sovereignty, food sovereignty often runs the risk of being more of a declaration than a guarantee. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to produce healthy and culturally-appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, as well as the right to define their own food and agricultural systems. TOCA has collaborated with other native groups to forge a shared vision of native foods sovereignty. The resulting declaration is reproduced below:


From the “Principals of Food Sovereignty Forum”

Taos, New Mexico  •  February 6-8, 2008

We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.  As the world comes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise.  To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.  We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.  Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations. – The Earth Charter (2000)


We, the Indigenous Peoples from many parts of North America convene at the sacred homelands of Taos Pueblo; do recognize our historic agricultural achievements and the important contributions we have made to the United States of America and the world and the issues and challenges faced by many of the forum participants.


We recognize our ancient values of food and seed sustainability and the systems of trade and commerce with each other and find it necessary to exercise our sovereignty and self- determination with regards to the protection of our cultural resources.


We endorse the Declaration of Nyéléni adopted at the Forum for Food Sovereignty in Sélingué, Mali, 27 February 2007 by about 500 delegates from more than 80 countries:


Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation. It offers a strategy to resist and dismantle the current corporate trade and food regime, and directions for food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems determined by local producers. Food sovereignty prioritises local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability. Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees just income to all peoples and the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition. It ensures that the rights to use and manage our lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food. Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social classes and generations.


In addition to affirming this view of food sovereignty, we also assert these Principles of Native Food Sovereignty:


• Native Foods for Native Peoples First – Native foods support Native health, culture, values, communities, language and families.  They should first be used to feed and support Native peoples with surpluses made available to a larger community.


• Native peoples need to be the ones to define a “Native Foods Movement” and “Native Food Sovereignty” – The principles, goals, needs, priorities and strategies of Native Food Sovereignty need to be defined by Native peoples for Native communities.


• Native Food Sovereignty is essential to tribal sovereignty – Tribal communities cannot assert broader sovereignty without also addressing sovereignty in the production, processing, distribution, nutrition and consumption of food.


• Native Foods are more than commodities and must be valued for all of their qualities – Native foods most not be defined “monetarily” and commodified.  Native foods are essential to cultural revitalization, health and wellness, language, spirituality, community, family, the environment and all aspects of life.


• Native Food Sovereignty addresses food systems not just food production – Production, processing, distribution, nutrition, cultural expressions, cooking and eating are all essential aspects of Native food systems.


• Work between Native communities and non-Native organizations and individuals requires true collaboration based upon honesty, equality and engagement – Non-native organizations must develop projects with Native communities, not for Native communities.  Native people need to be actively engaged in determining the what and how of projects from the very start, not brought into projects whose priority and design was determined outside of Native communities. The non-Native food movement’s gatherings and events should begin with recognition and thanks to indigenous peoples for the keeping of plants, foods, medicines, diversity and seeds that feed and contribute to wellness world-wide.


• Native communities have the responsibility to maintain, protect and revitalize cultural resources, including our ecosystems, seeds, water and foods – We must plan for future generations in a changing world while drawing upon and respecting the wisdom passed on to us from previous generations.

A Brief History of

the Tohono O'odham Food System


Chapter 1: The Traditional Tohono O'odham Food System


Chapter 2. The Loss of the Tohono O'odham Food System


Chapter 3: The Impact on Health


Chapter 4: O'odham Foods and  Diabetes


Chapter 5: Native Food Sovereignty

How to cite "A Short History:   Reader, Tristan. "Chapter 5 Native Food Sovereignty," The Tohono O'odham Food System: A Short History. Version 2 (2012) Source: Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA) and date accessed.

For other publications by TOCA co-founders, see our reading list.

Terrol Johnson, Tristan Reader, Co-founders of Tohono O'odham Community Action