Locally Caught Salmon Provide Step Toward Food Independence for WA Tribe

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Under a new project, locally sourced food is part of a food assistance program for members of the Lummi Tribe in northwest Washington.

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations is a federal program providing meals in the form of commodity boxes for low income residents. But food boxes have neglected to include culturally relevant food for the diversity of reservations across the country, instead providing options like catfish and buffalo.

Lummi Nation is part of a pilot providing a locally caught option: sockeye salmon.

Billy Metteba, food sovereignty project manager for the Lummi Nation, said salmon is food his ancestors ate and members of the tribe know how to prepare, unlike buffalo.

“Shifting the mind frame, the mindset to food sovereignty, we should be in charge of saying what is appropriate for our people,” Metteba asserted.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded eight tribes, including the Lummi Nation, $3.5 million for a demonstration project to provide local food options to the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. This fall, sockeye salmon became available for the northwest Washington tribe.

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations is meant to supplement meals for participating households. However, a 2016 study found the program was the sole or primary source of food for 40% of those households.

Jake Garcia, public policy manager for Northwest Harvest, said many folks from the Lummi Nation have spoken to his organization about the program’s inadequacies.

“The economic insecurity that they experience, the food insecurity certainly; all these different pieces are indicators for economic success,” Garcia explained. “They’re directly tied to your food and so when that program is insufficient and not meeting the needs of the folks on the reservation, that’s a real problem.”

But Metteba acknowledged the allowance for more locally sourced foods in the program is a good sign.

“When they funded this program it’s like giving us access to go out and harvest our own food that we’ve always harvested for as long as I can remember, for as long as my grandparents can remember,” Metteba emphasized. “It’s important that we pass this down to our kids because without this, without fighting for something, it eventually will be lost.”

The original demonstration project was funded through the 2018 Farm Bill. Tribal leaders across the country hope lawmakers in Congress will broaden the project in the 2023 Farm Bill.

Featured photo: A three-pound sockeye salmon filet is now one of the options in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations for the Lummi Nation. (O’Kelly Photography/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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