CIAS has been participating in Tribal food sovereignty efforts since 2012, including the Tribal Elder Food Box Program initiated in 2021. Now in its third year, this intertribal program is building a market for Tribally-produced culturally appropriate and healthy foods while improving rural food security.
Each box contains perishable food items sourced from Indigenous and local producers. Boxes include a combination of protein (beef, bison, venison, fish, chicken, and pork) and produce (greens, apples, berries, corn, beans, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, and other seasonal produce). Proteins sourced for the boxes include fish from Red Cliff Fish Company and distributions alternate buffalo and beef raised by Oneida.
Tribal food distribution experiences point to the challenges of moving and aggregating local food from production regions to packing house and then out to several distant stops, especially for perishable products. Shifting resources from charitable food provisioning to building capacity for self-provisioning is a strategy that could be applied more widely.
To improve access to perishable healthful foods, several organizations formed a planning committee to link food purchases of Tribal and local foods to provide for Tribal elders, thus transforming Tribal food systems. The committee involved made up of Tribal officials and farmers, food bank leaders, the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative as the logistical and distribution partner.
The 2021 pilot program of the Tribal Elder Food Box Program served seven Tribal Nations in Wisconsin and Michigan, delivering nearly eleven thousand boxes of food produced by Native American farmers and local farmers. In 2022, the program expanded to serve eleven Tribal Nations in Wisconsin, including distribution to at least nine locations within the study area. 24,400 boxes and nearly 59% of the product by value was produced by Native Americans, with the remainder produced by local farmers. In 2023, the program projects thirty thousand boxes and products from more than twenty Indigenous producers.
For more on the program, to support the work, and view a seven minute video on the program, go to the website for the Great Lakes Intertribal Food Coalition.
The Tribal Elder Food Box Program was inspired by food as medicine and implemented through a partnership between Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Forest County Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk Nation, Lac Courte Oreilles, Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Oneida Nation, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, Feeding Wisconsin & it’s network of food banks, Intertribal Agriculture Council, Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection, UW-Madison, and healthTIDE.
University of Wisconsin participants include Amy Meinen, from the School of Human Ecology who leads the planning committee and Dan Cornelius from the Great Lakes Indigenous Law Center and a CIAS CAC member who organized the effort. Michelle Miller at CIAS contributes information on rural food distribution, including documenting the program.