Food System Preservation Program

Spring 2002

In order to revive the prevalence of these indigenous plants and sustain the traditions of their use, the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center is initiating a Traditional Food System Preservation Program. Besides passing traditional knowledge to the next generation and developing future economic potential, the Program will also help address the problem of hunger. According to a recent radio show on “Native American Calling,” one in five Native American families lack the resources to feed their families each month. By nurturing the indigenous plant life that has traditionally sustained us, the Program takes the Resource Center’s past garden-promoting activities to the next step, helping support the nutrition and healthy diet of our heritage.

First, the Program will provide indigenous fruit plants and herbs to grow on Yankton Sioux Reservation lands, yards, and community areas. Moreover, elders will offer workshops instructing people about how to make the traditional food products, how to identify indigenous plants, and what purposes they can be used for. For instance, the chokecherry provides wojopi, a traditional pudding; dried chokecherry patties for a ceremonial food called wasna; cherry juice for Sun Dances; and jam for toast and biscuits. Indigenous wild mint makes chiaka, a medicinal tea that soothes stomach problems or a colicky infant, and soap that helps heal skin rashes. When participants learn these skills, they can generate revenue from most of the products by selling or trading them for other goods.

This year the Program will hold a produce fair during the Fort Randall Wacipi, with prizes for contests like best chokecherry jam, wasna, wild plum pie or wild plum jam. Each year the contest categories will be expanded, and these activities will help encourage families to develop products that can be sold at local outlets. Program participants who want to market their products will be provided technical assistance in packaging, labeling, distribution, and business. The Resource Center also plans to purchase some traditional food products to sell on its website, and give to elders as gifts through its Food Pantry holiday boxes.

Even as chemical sprays have killed and contaminated indigenous vegetation, mainstream demand for these plants is high. In fact, many mainstream followers of indigenous ways repeatedly over-harvest indigenous plants from reservations on all our native lands, including the Yankton Sioux Reservation, without permission or regard for future yields. To combat these problems, the Program will work with the Tribal Government to develop codes and resolutions that restrict the use of harmful herbicides and pesticides on indigenous plants, and regulate who can harvest the plants from Tribal lands.

If you are interested in participating in the Traditional Food System Preservation Program, please contact the Resource Center by calling (605) 487-7072. The Center will assist families in planting the indigenous items, and is currently surveying the community for what kinds of vegetation people would like to plant, and what kinds of traditional food preparation skills they would like to offer or learn. Plants offered through the Program include: elderberry, chokecherry, wild plums, mint/chiaka, currant, sandcherry, Mongolian cherry, mulberry, juneberry, buffaloberry, riverbank grape.