Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board: Northwest Tribal Food Sovereignty Coalition

Date: July 31, 2019
Interviewer: Sarah Ballew, Headwater People
Interviewee: Nora Frank-Buckner (Nez Perce and Klamath), Project Coordinator for the Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country and the Northwest Tribal Food Sovereignty Coalition

Quick Stats about the Northwest Tribal Food Sovereignty Coalition:
The Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country project is a cooperative agreement between the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This project addresses chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes, which are among the most widespread, costly, and preventable causes of morbidity and mortality for American Indian/Alaska Native populations throughout the United States.

The Northwest Tribal Food Sovereignty Coalition came out of the Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country funding to provide sub-awards to tribes to do work that focused on upstream public health work around preventing chronic disease. Many of these projects were around food sovereignty, food access, nutrition, whether that's in the space of community garden, traditional garden, traditional foods or curriculum development or policy development.

The coalition is an opportunity for tribes and tribal organizations to convene efforts that are driven by cultural revitalization, empowering communities, and the use of innovative strategies to improve the health of the people.

Key Considerations:
In the Northwest, there is a broad spectrum of tribal experience and capacity regarding food projects. There are tribes that are leaps and bounds ahead and developing curriculum that have had community gardens for a long time or have really established traditional food projects. There are also tribes that are just starting from square one or feel like they're recreating the wheel when they didn't want to while there are promising models out there. The request that came out of this was for a network.

The Tribal Food Sovereignty Coalition was developed to be able to have two official face to face gatherings for networking and resource sharing. The Coalition also have a listserv to share resources through E newsletters and a website (still in the early stages of design).

Strengths, Keys for Success:
NPAIHB has been able to support this with a lot of people power. There is a leadership team that has developed the Coalition’s strategy and created an effective and fluid structure, committees that are
focused on supporting the gathering and social media/campaign work. And so, a lot of work has been accomplished.

Over the past year they formed a food sovereignty subcommittee under natural resources with the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI). The ATNI network has the ability to take regional-level polices and push them up to the federal level and they do a lot of policy and advocacy work. Having a subcommittee is going to be very beneficial for our Northwest tribes that are looking to do more policy work around food systems and food sovereignty in particular.

Creating the Coalition’s bylaws has been a powerful experience. Modeled after a practice of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, they use symbols and imagery to have operations reflect creation stories and Native community values. This has been important because of the inter-tribal nature of the work and this process has allowed all the different grassroot efforts to be expressed as a collective voice.

NPAIHB additionally has the skill of taking the different perspectives and models that the health board delegates representing area tribes want to advance, and translating that into academic or western terms. This has played a strong role in the success of projects like this.

Barriers and Challenges:
The Health Board serves a very large geographic area across multiple states and serves urban and very rural communities. It can be a significant challenge to coordinate people throughout the region and funding that kind of reach can be difficult.

Primary Funding:
NPAIHB is funded through large federal grants for the most part. Very rarely they work with foundational grants. A lot of the grants are through the CDC or the National Insititute of Health or Substance Abuse, Mental Health Services Administration and the Indian Health Services.

Insights for others:
Working with public funds, especially working off federal grants, can be difficult because they have such stringent rules on what you can and cannot do. Often times, funders require an evidence-based standard. Those do not always resonate with our communities because that evidence-based curriculum or project or program was never vetted in Indian Country, it's only vetted in certain populations.

Flexible parameters and trusting that our tribes know what's best for them and tribal models and frameworks and programs really do work. That kind of perspective can allow for the actual best practice or promising practices to come through. The current funder, through the CDC, with Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country, has been very open and willing to learn and kind of stepped back and let the tribes lead the way. The CDC, as a whole, could learn from this particular funding stream. I know that's not how all of them operate.
For other funders, if you're going to work in Indian Country, it’s essential to be present in Indian Country.

Visiting, learning, and spending time in the community is an experience that can’t be replaced.