Food Security Draws Big Crowd and Money

A group of river musicians entertained attendees at the food security sessions in Orleans last week. The ad-hoc Karuk rap group called themselves “Fry Breed” and included, from left, Sophie Neuner, Luis Neuner, Nick-neekich Hillman and Robert “Basketball Bob” Attebery./Photo by Lisa Hillman.


Perri McDaniel shared an Upper Basin proverb from her Klamath Tribe elders in a crowded meeting in Orleans last week. “You’re born with two ears and one mouth,” she said, “so you should listen twice as much as you speak.”

The setting was the end of Year Two in a five-year, multimillion dollar federal  grant to promote food security up and down the Klamath. The two-day session had plenty of talk in the form of reporting outcomes and feedback and way more than plenty of listening too.

Food Security is the term applied to a community’s ability to access healthy, affordable and  culturally acceptable food. The grant, which enlists three tribes, an Orleans non-profit, several agencies and some academic institutions, faces the same problems as many rural communities: hometown poverty and long distances to shop compounded by easier access to junk food than to healthy alternatives.

In the cases of the tribes, access to the traditional food base including salmon and acorns, has been disrupted by land ownership boundaries and a generation of elders who were shipped to government boarding schools where they were scoured of their language and their traditional knowledge.

The two-day meeting held at the Karuk Department of Natural Resources building was packed. Reps from the different groups shared their successes, their missteps and their plans for Year Three as well as efforts to extend their work into the years after the immediate grant runs out.

Jennifer Sowerwine, the UC Berkeley researcher/organizer developed the grant to the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. It’s called AFRI for short and Grant #2012-68004-20018 for long.

Sowerwine proposed that the communities work together to conduct a tribal-led basin-wide food system assessment to identify the barriers and opportunities for building a healthy, culturally relevant food system. Such a document could inform policy makers about the limitations of the current food system, propose critical changes, and form the foundations for  future grant funding applications.

There was agreement that such an assessment was needed because, at present, the needs of the Tribes have largely been ignored in published assessments.

McDaniel, coordinator of the program from the Klamath Tribes, said, “We’re not nearly as far along as the rest of you.”

Ron Reed, cultural biologist from the Karuk Tribe, said he had already been part of food and fiber trades with the

Klamath Tribes in the Upper Basin and with Yurok food crews down river and said he was ready for more.

A speaker from the Yurok Tribe said there was a sensitivity in surveying or soliciting food habits, such as hunting practices and Bill Tripp, Eco-cultural Restoration Specialist with the Karuk Tribe suggested that the perspective should lead to what he called “Food Sovereignty,” that is the right of people to define their own food systems.

A parallel issue was raised by Adrienne Harling, the librarian for the newly developing Karuk Sípnuuk Digital Library. (Sípnuuk is the word in Karuk language for a storage basket.) Harling asked what to do when non-tribal community members want to learn about Native foods for their own use.

Frank Lake, a US Forest Service researcher and Karuk cultural practitioner, added, “I feel uncomfortable about giving out certain information to some of my alternative friends, simply for the fact that these resources first need to be given to tribal people.”

Others agreed that there was not enough to go around now due to current management practices of federal agencies.

This led to a collaborative discussion and an acknowledgement of the need for non-Native people to understand the cultural protocols.

In a breakout session on Native foods, Jesse Goodwin and Noreen McLaughlin were introduced as the newly hired Native food crew of the Karuk Tribe. Their work will include locating and accessing collection sites and attending to the needs of elders and others with special nutritional needs.

A private landowner said the crew was welcome to assess gathering opportunities on her land.

Perri McDaniel from the Klamath Tribes said her group was trying to develop pond sites for Woca, the water lily whose seed is a food source. “It pops up like popcorn,” she explained. They were also working with youth groups to learn to dig Ipos, the wild carrot that is pronounced ay-pahz.

Frank Lake from the Forest Service said there were projects underway to restore cultural burning to better manage huckleberries, acorns and hazel, a basket making material.

In another breakout session moderated by the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council, farmers and educators talked about ways to bring local farm produce, most of which is now exported, into the schools and into local farmers markets.
Although the two days of meetings had an agenda so packed that it overflowed the allotted time, there was still time for a little relaxation the evening of the first day. A traditional salmon feed was prepared on stakes around a bed of coals by Ron Reed and Jesse Goodwin.

After the dinner there was entertainment from “Fry Breed,” an ad hoc Karuk rap group formed for the event. The ensemble included Robert “Basketball Bob” Attebery, vocals, music and lyrics; Sophie and Luis Neuner, key board and violin respectively; and Nick-neekich Hillman, vocals. Their four songs echoed a native beat and ended with “It’s All We Know” sung by Hillman. He is ten years old.

For more information about events and workshops and to get involved, visit the Mid Klamath Foodshed Facebook page or

This project was funded by the USDA-Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture Grant #2012-68004-20018.

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