“My community needs its own food,” says Winona LaDuke, executive director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project. “We cannot afford the industrial food system.”
Native American tribes across the country are rediscovering food plants well adapted to their regions and conducive to good health.
Among those reclaiming native seeds are the people of the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota, whose White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP) is restoring old, endangered varieties of corn and other crops once grown by native farmers.
Starting in 2001, the project began collecting traditional varieties of seeds. These strains are more resilient and don’t need petroleum-based fertilizer. The group focuses on crops that can thrive in Minnesota’s short growing season, such as Bear Island Flint corn.
Seed banks and individual growers provided the initial stocks. Working with seed breeders at North Dakota State University and native farmers, WELRP grew the plants to produce more seeds and keep the diverse strands alive.
Their work is reconnecting native communities with their food traditions, which include healthier foods that can prevent diabetes and other diet-related diseases.
More than 25 percent of native adults in Minnesota have Type 2 diabetes, according to WELRP. “We are doing this,” LaDuke says, “because we want to survive.”