Strategizing for COVID and Beyond: Virtual Conversations, Ecological Restoration, and Community Empowerment

Planting a tree seedling on Jemez Tribal lands (August 2020)

By Julie Liebenguth, National Program Intern

At TWP, we are committed to supporting tribal communities through the pandemic and are working hard to foster collective engagement across virtual platforms so that knowledge sharing can remain a crucial part of community-led empowerment.

In partnership with the Western Forestry and Conservation Association, Intertribal Nursery Council, and the U.S. Forest Service, TWP hosted a five-part webinar series earlier this fall to engage a range of indigenous voices in conversations about native food systems, ecologies, and cultural practices. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, TWP also co-sponsored a virtual event with the Intertribal Agriculture Council about the role of community-based, regenerative practices in strengthening sustainable foodscapes. You can view all the episodes for free here. 

In the coming months, TWP will continue developing new strategies – both on-the-ground and online – to support ecological restoration and community-based resilience amid shifting local and global contexts. 

Cultivating Engagement through Virtual Platforms 

Tribal partners in South Dakota delivering emergency food/water supplies to families in Pine Ridge struggling from shortages due to COVID-19 (April, 2020)

In the time of COVID, food sovereignty has become a key focal point for tribal communities. Through our five-part webinar series, experts in indigenous food systems shared their knowledge and skills with participants tuning in from various locations across the country. The virtual content was particularly designed to support indigenous communities to combat food insecurity by building or strengthening access to traditionally harvested foods, medicines, and plants. 

Topics addressed during the five interactive conversations ranged from the diversity of indigenous recipes, native seed collection, tribal nurseries, traditional agroforestry practices, and indigenous plant restoration.  

As tribal food systems are impacted by monoculture and climate change, each speaker emphasized the need to preserve biodiversity to recover ancestral practices and strengthen community and ecological health. Nurseries can jumpstart the process of healing and succession in damaged ecosystems while bringing communities together under “traditional learning environments,” said Jeremy Pinto, Research Plant Physiologist and Tribal Nursery Specialist for the USDA Forest Service, who also covered the ins and outs of nursery planning, implementation, and management.

Since building food sovereignty involves the recovery of both ecological and cultural knowledge, sharing histories and traditions tied to food is integral for re-establishing strong, indigenous food systems. As Chef Sean Sherman, founder of The Sioux Chef company, said, understanding the cultural diversity of ecoregions is important for indigenous communities because “these plants are part of our families. . . making us happy, making us healthy, giving us nourishment, and giving us stories.” Chef Sherman supports new generations of indigenous culinary programs under his non-profit, NĀTIFS.

Control over local production is also at the core of food sovereignty, and community-led governance keeps families and youth involved in creating sustainable food systems. In a separate event highlighting sustainable foodscapes, Kelsey Ducheneaux, a fourth-generation tribal rancher, shared her business model with viewers for re-localizing food systems. To help more communities strengthen local foodways, Ducheneaux detailed her experience combining regenerative knowledge and community-based collaboration to provide quality, grass-fed beef directly to local consumers. 

Looking Ahead 

As we approach 2021, TWP strives to provide more virtual learning opportunities for tribal communities adapting to COVID. We are currently transitioning our solar suitcase workshop to an online format so tribal youth can still access hands-on, uplifting, and empowering lessons that support youth-led agency over energy futures. 

TWP is also coordinating with The Nature Conservancy New Mexico Chapter, East Jemez Landscapes Futures and local organizations to implement new restoration project(s) on the headwaters and canyon bottoms of the Rio Grande River in the East Jemez Mountains, where water quality and ecological health is critical for many culturally diverse communities. 

Finally, in upholding TWP’s long-standing commitment to restorative conservation, we are excited to develop new opportunities that incorporate seed collection as a pivotal component for future restoration projects!

View all the episodes for free here. 

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treeswaterpeople

Trees, Water & People is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to developing sustainable community-based conservation solutions.

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