Indigenous Environmental Network

Date: June 7, 2019
Interviewer: Sarah Ballew Headwater People
Interviewee: Simone Senogles (Anishinaabe from Red Lake), Food Sovereignty Program Coordinator

Quick Stats about the Indigenous Environmental Network:
Food sovereignty is part of the analysis when assessing climate change, sovereignty, and the ability to exercise treaty rights.

The Indigenous Environmental Network is a national and often, international organization rooted in indigenous vision and responsibility to have individual tribal representation. They don’t use a market-based approach and stay independent from the capitalist system. The IEN began operating in the early 1990s.
IEN works with indigenous communities to respond to the suffering of environmental injustice and racism. They work to tie grassroots communities together to recognize they are not alone, and to develop solutions and strategies together.

Amplify the importance and sacredness of food sovereignty, which also includes the effects of global warming, nationally and internationally. Using indigenous ways to combat the environmental, economic, and social issues of today.

Key Considerations:
IEN crafts language and messages to emphasize what indigenous communities already know. They intend for their work to be replicable for any communities and to convey that there are many acts that are the pieces of the whole concept of food sovereignty.

The indigenous knowledge and practice base contain a long history of food sovereignty and the basis for the solutions form many of the challenges we are facing today.

There are important correlations between the work of environmental and food justice and the crisis of an epidemic of violence against women.

Strengths, Keys for Success:
One of IEN’s core strengths is developing compelling language that conveys the vison and values of indigenous people that can bring in a broader audience into the work. Some of this language has been incorporated by the United Nations and a film called Regaining Food Sovereignty.

IEN’s commitment to remind people that indigenous people have a deep understanding of the solutions to problems of food, health and the environment, and staying steadfast to that message has been very important. Acknowledging the power and insights and practices of indigenous communities fuels and sustains the movement.

And I think that's one of our more beautiful slower successes, and not just us, but IEN in partnership, recognized and unrecognized, intentional and unintentional, with other groups that are doing food sovereignty. I think collectively, we have been very successful in bringing food sovereignty to the forefront, and even the word and the concepts to just everyday people. Just tribal folks, they understand a lot more about food sovereignty, and I think that's a huge movement shift.

I don't know if it's been successful yet. Maybe I'll save that one for another answer. But no, I think just reminding people of what we already know, I think, is really important. Just reminding people that we already ... And I've been saying ... I almost hate to say this again, because I've been saying it since I started in food sovereignty, but it's really the basis of a lot of our work, is that indigenous peoples already have the solutions.

IEN started very in particular communities to engage with community members about an analysis and strategy to address the concerns facing that specific place. Before having any staff, IEN would hold four-day outdoor environmental conferences representing front-line communities all across the US and Canada.

Barriers and Challenges:
Operating according to values and a worldview that may be in conflict with the dominate culture is very challenging. Partnerships can be difficult with this dynamic in play. Terms others use may have subtle connotations can be confusing or concerning, and building bridges in this context is not easy. Organizational structures that don’t align with indigenous values of organizing people can also be challenging.
The values that drive and hold IEN are very deep representations of identity. Partners do not always understand or know how to acknowledge this.

Primary Funding:
Through private foundations and individual donors. Also, through partnerships with other organizations.

Insights for others:
Streamlining the proposal process, and honor our communication preferences by using verbal applications and reports. Non-native partnerships need to bring their strengths to the table without imposing their ideas. Be intentional about seeking out women leaders and community members and find those that are doing authentic work.