Participating in the UN’s Global Conversation About Poverty

PWNA was recently invited to participate in the United Nations Association’s (UNA) ‘Coffee Chat’ series to discuss the relationship between poverty, food sovereignty and education. The discussion is an extension of the UN’s sustainable development goal (SDG) number 1 to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.

We joined a virtual panel of experts from across the globe, including representatives from Bread for the City, International Fund for Agricultural Development and the UN Development Programme. We had the honor of bringing a Native American voice to the issue, offering perspective on the historical impact of colonization and the resulting cycle of poverty within Indian Country today.


Each panelist spoke to how COVID-19 has impacted their respective work. I shared that Native American communities are disproportionately affected by national disasters, and this global health pandemic is no exception. Many tribal communities have shut down their businesses and restricted their borders even as they continue facing unique challenges in fighting the spread of the virus, including high rates of poverty and food insecurity, and limited access to education and healthcare.

Food Insecurity

Nearly 1 in 4 Native American households experience low food security, compared to 1 in 9 Americans overall. Native peoples were stripped of their resources, natural food systems and lifestyles centuries ago and continue to struggle with food access today. In discussing how to address food insecurity, we shared how PWNA is focused on supporting both immediate relief and long-term solutions.

Our partnerships with major food organizations, such as Feeding America, Feed The Children and in-kind and retail suppliers, help us ensure we have an adequate supply of food and clean water to support tribes in need. Nutrition education is also vital, and while our in-person training sessions are currently on hold, I shared how we’ve transitioned our curriculum online, launching a Train-the-Trainer (T3) video series that features recipes from Native American chefs and healthy eating habits with traditional foods that are locally available. I also shared some of our partners’ upcoming initiatives around sustainable food sourcing, such as community gardens, canning and dehydration.

Access to Education

Access to education (or lack thereof) is directly linked to poverty in America, and the systems that create barriers to prosperity need to change so that everyone can succeed, not just specific racial groups. We discussed some of the severe challenges for Native Americans, rooted in a history defined by active colonization and control, and how PWNA has worked to combat this with programs that increase access to quality education for all ages.

I also shared a personal story of when I first entered grade school. I remember thinking school was meant for upsetting the viewpoints of students like me… because the history we were taught was inaccurate at best and directly contradicted the reality I was living. The educational system should be built on equality and trust among tribal nations, states and the federal government, not from a position of oppression. And while increased access to education at all levels will not solely address the conditions that perpetuate poverty, it is a critical factor.

The response from my fellow panelists and the audience was overwhelmingly positive and they appreciated the perspective we were able to bring. Many were unaware of how U.S. history has impacted poverty, food insecurity and education for Native Americans today. We hope to continue participating in these important conversations and serving as a voice for Native communities to help create change for a brighter future.

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