Introduction and Literature Review

3 Sustainable Self-Determination

Stevie D. Jonathan

According to Taiaiake Alfred, colonialism is “best conceptualized as an irresistible outcome of a multigenerational and multifaceted process of forced dispossession and attempted acculturation—a disconnection from land, culture, and community—that has resulted in political chaos and social discord within First Nations communities and the collective dependency of First Nations upon the state (2009, p. 52)”.  Indigenous peoples’ health inequities are embedded in histories of dispossession from their homelands and the destruction of their social systems, including the ways in which traditional knowledge and cultural practices are passed down (Delormier & Marquis, 2019; Lemke & Delormier, 2017; Richmond & Ross, 2009; Stephens et al., 2006). Indigenous self-determination is best characterized as a set of sustainable, community-based processes rather than solely as narrowly constructed political or legal entitlements. The everyday practices of resurgence and decolonization are necessary and not to be overlooked (Corntassel & Bryce, 2011; Grey & Patel, 2015). Self-determination is one of the key tenets of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which states that Indigenous peoples have the right “to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations” (2007, p. 2). Resilient Indigenous peoples today are reclaiming their food security, nutritional status, and overall health by revitalizing their food systems in ways that privilege Indigenous worldviews, livelihoods, and governance (Delormier et al., 2017). Food security exists when all people at all times have access to culturally appropriate and adequate food for an active and healthy life (Delormier & Marquis, 2019; Gordon et al, 2018). Food sovereignty, as a later extension of the food security concept, is the ability to sustain oneself independent of external entities. It is not just a goal but a means to achieve other aspects of cultural resurgence, connected to health and language (Hoover, 2017).

The majority of research draws on the sustainable self‐determination framework, which focuses on restoring Indigenous cultural responsibilities and relationships to land, each other, and the natural world, including food systems. Additionally, it centralizes local efforts and knowledge transmission within these responsibilities and relationships (Corntassel, 2008; Corntassel & Bryce, 2011; Delormier et al., 2017; Gordon et al., 2018; Neufeld et al., 2017; Richmond & Ross, 2009). Through the transmission of our traditional knowledges, such as the Great Law of Peace, we learn the principles of a reciprocal relationships with the natural world, which enables us to live sustainably and in peace together. This is referred to as the principle of ‘the dish with one spoon’. We learn to live by giving back more than we take, as stewards of the lands we share. Everyday acts of cultural resurgence generate the cycles that make up sustainable self-determination.

Corntassel (2011) and other scholars place emphasis on the transmission of knowledge as a key factor in creating food sovereignty. In addition to building off of the sustainable self-determination framework, Indigenous scholars in this field also draw on their own cultural teachings. For example, Delormier & Marquis (2019) use the Haudenosaunee Creation Story, the Great Law, and Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen (the Words that Come Before All Else) as a basis of their framework. According to Williams & Brant (2019), who also draw on the Great Law and other Haudenosaunee knowledge systems, a “food system pedagogy, based on traditional teachings and principles from specific Indigenous nations, is the only authentic route to a decolonized and equitable food system” (p. 132).

To summarize: Indigenous research on sustainable self-determination requires local traditional knowledge to be transmitted in order to best contribute to food sovereignty. Our research builds on this work by examining what our local practitioners are doing, what knowledge they can share, and what our community wants to know to participate further in food sovereignty. Ultimately, this research gives voice to our local food sovereignty practitioners and contributes to knowledge transmission. Additionally, our project offers practical ways in which these cycles can be initiated in everyday lives.


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Exploring Indigenous Foods & Food Sovereignty Copyright © by Stevie D. Jonathan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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