Native Food Sovereignty in the Wanblee Community

Native American communities have long struggled with access to fresh, healthy foods. Now more than ever, access to these foods is critical – particularly during the global pandemic impacting us all. Monica Terkildsen, a member of the Wanblee Community Action Team (CAT), shared her experience as a Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) collaborator while underscoring the importance of food sovereignty and preparedness for emergencies such as this unprecedented time. Her full written comments may be found on Great Nonprofits.

Wanblee is located on the northeast corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. “There are approximately 2,500 residents and about 92 jobs… about 50 of them are held by non-community members. We have a high unemployment rate, high rate of poverty, food insecurity – and land loss is well known amongst our residents.” 

The Wanblee CAT members help increase family self-resilience and improve their community through capability building. The partnership between PWNA and Wanblee CAT began several years ago. “Ms. Phyllis Swift Hawk, GED Educator with Oglala Lakota College hosted [a meeting] and was addressing safety and preparedness for the community.” CAT submitted a subsequent grant application for food preservation and preparation that was funded by PWNA. These collaborative efforts brought forth a training on making traditional plant balm with adults and youth. “The partnership began to have ripple effects as more partners were brought forward. We began providing communities with seeds and hosting presentations on natural plants and medicines.”

Wanblee CAT and PWNA were then able to expand their trainings through the support of Newman’s Own Foundation. “We hosted a cooking class and learned from a local [Native] chef [brought in by PWNA] how to cook… cut meats and prepare healthy foods.” Methods of food preservation such as dehydration and canning were presented. “Ultimately, we were approved to purchase a freeze dryer…one of only two freeze dryers on the reservation – answering many of our local needs. We also planted a garden at the college center… and prepared fresh green beans for the youth.” Some of these students commented on how “they had never tasted anything so fresh.”

This year, community members attended the 2nd Annual Native Youth Food Sovereignty Summit in the Black Hills. Native youth were provided many opportunities to interact with one another while learning traditional ecological knowledge. “We [Phyllis and Monica] were able to present on a lot of the local plants/medicines that are available to us.” The youth were very fortunate that PWNA recognized the value in community history and indigenous knowledge.”

Monica shares her positive support of PWNA as her community journeys toward food security. Their future hopes: “to grow thousands of pounds of vegetables” and create a community cellar to serve three seasonal purposes – an underground greenhouse…a storm shelter…and a food storage area.”

“We look forward to a continued partnership that allows us to dream, to be food secure and to recognize our own indigenous knowledge and ensure our community has this knowledge in the future. Thank you, Partnership With Native Americans!”

For more information on PWNA’s food and emergency relief programs, please visit our website, or help Native American communities who are in need of food supplies during this pandemic by making a donation to our COVID-19 response fund.

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