Date: June 6, 2019
Interviewer: Sarah Ballew, Headwater People
Interviewee: Denisa Livingston (Diné /Navajo), Food Justice Organizer
Quick Stats about the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance:
DCAA formed in March 2012 as a reservation-wide group of volunteers or health promotion specialist. DCAA recognized the high rates of obesity, diabetes and related complications among children, youth families and Navajos living on the reservation. DCCA members are grassroots level community health advocates to raise awareness, educate, and mobilize community members to combat health issues with healthier lifestyle information. After participating in training and meetings, the group decided to seek a tax on “junk food” as legislation with the Navajo Council with revenues returning to chapters for wellness projects.
DCAA is comprised of grassroots level community health advocates from various communities to raise awareness, inform, educate, and mobilize community members to combat obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health issues.
Navajo Nation passed the Healthy Nation act of 2014, a 2% tax on unhealthy food (foods that have minimal-to-no nutritional value) increased the total sales tax to at least 8% on these foods. The revenue created by the tax fund community wellness projects that are distributed throughout all of the 110 Navajo chapters. By the end of 2017, 4 million dollars were generated and over 1000 community wellness projects were created.
The 5% tax on healthy foods were also eliminated in 2014.
Strengths, Keys for Success:
The conversation had been focused on food deserts. DCAA wanted to change the conversation to go beyond what the USDA was saying. By looking to community members and traditional food wisdom to crate solutions, they shifted the conversation to protecting food ways and life ways. Elders affirmed that some type of taxation had always been some type of taxation had always been utilized in the community.
DCAA’s organizational structure is based on a shared leadership model and practices a traditional form of consensus led by indigenous youth and elders. They’ve been able to mobilize community members intergenerationally by paying attention to who has time and skill and talents, regardless of educational status or background.
As a grassroots organization, building an impactful relationship with their tribal government without being adversarial has been a key part of DCAA’s success. They’ve engaged with the government as a indigenous people leading in a peaceful way and leading in a way that benefits everyone.
Barriers and Challenges:
DCAA didn’t receive any funding early on and many funders didn’t want to support taxation legislation. Unhealthy foods represent multi-billion-dollar industries Establishing the connection between the revenue and community members doing community work was also challenging. Engaging with corporations coming onto indigenous land bringing arguments and activities, while practicing sovereignty required training and support.
DCAA has been funded community members who fundraised, by private donors and small organizations, as well as larger organizations.
Insights for others:
Visit and be present to learn more about those challenges and what people or organizations go through, and learn first-hand instead of reading it in reports that may not convey the full story. Specifically, the values that are driving communities are often missed by funders who don’t get proximate with community work to see their work in context. There is such a diversity in values across regions and communities, it’s really important to become familiar with the story of partners’ work.
It’s also important to the language that’s being used to do work in indigenous communities. Academic terms are not always used to describe work on the ground, and the significance of what is being done may be lost on funders who aren’t familiar with lay-terms describing key efforts.
Acknowledge the diversity between indigenous communities, because sometimes we get put it in box as one people. You need to acknowledge the diversity of the types of work happening and in different indigenous communities. There are many innovations happening around Indian Country, and when only 3% of funding is going to indigenous projects, a tremendous array of diverse people may be competing for the same limited funds, when they offer a wide spectrum of solutions.