Kansas State’s 2021 Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, October 11, celebrated Indigenous agriculture and sustainability. The day was enjoyed by several hundred online and in-person participants, and through their theme –“Sovereignty: Food, Film, And Policy”– the Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance brought speakers together from multiple disciplines and many Indigenous nations.
The day began with moving remarks in Kaáⁿze Íe (Kaw language) and English from Storm Brave (Kansa/Kaw), a language teacher who both welcomed participants and told the story of the multiple Kaw relocations at the hands of the U.S. government. Provost Charles Taber then shared the welcome news that Herman Mongrain Lookout (Osage), master teacher of the Osage language, will be awarded an honorary doctorate in the 2021 graduation ceremonies. Mr. Lookout, who has studied the language for over forty years has played a pivotal role in developing an Osage orthography: he created a unique written Osage language modifying/reshaping Latin characters to fit the Osage spoken word. Watch a compelling video about Herman Mongrain Lookout’s story and the importance of Indigenous languages here.
The three 2021 keynotes each brought a unique approach to the significance of Indigenous foodways and sovereignty. Tiana Suazo (Taos/Jemez Pueblo), Executive Director of the Red Willow Center at Taos Pueblo, spoke to the importance of Indigenous youth empowerment. As director, Suazo brings Indigenous youth into all parts of the farm process, from planning, to working the land, to educating others about the center. Suazo spoke passionately about the importance of listening as a means of mentoring and a tool of connection. Further, she pointed to food and farming as a direct way to support the goals and dreams of the next generation of Native people.
The second keynote took the form of a recorded conversation and live Q & A between two associates of the Native American Agriculture Fund: Dr. Joseph Hiller (Oglala Lakota) and Dr. Joe Graham (Pueblo of Laguna). Dr. Graham interviewed Dr. Hiller and, together, the two discussed both the past and present of Indigenous agriculture policies and development. While the conversation was wide-ranging, of particular connection to Kansas State was their discussion of the development of extension programs. They pointed out that the core mission of land grant colleges when they were created by the Morrill Act of 1862 was agriculture and education. As schools like Kansas State gradually incorporated research into their curricula, they also began to undertake community outreach to meet their land grant missions of educating the community. Out of that process, Hiller and Graham explained, came the cooperative extension service program that arose from the 1914 Smith-Lever Act. Initially, of all the funds granted to support community extension programs, none were dedicated to Indian Country. Today, only three to four percent of extension funds include Indigenous communities. The systemic inequities that arise from this disparity have yet to be overcome. As Graham commented when citing the statistic, there are programs on “35 reservations today. So over 530 to go.”
Over lunch, K-Staters were treated to the beautiful and moving film, Gather, which was streamed in the ballroom. Gather follows the cultural and spiritual reclamation processes of several Indigenous peoples, including Nephi Craig, a White Mountain Apache chef who opens and Indigenous café; Elise Dubray, a young Cheyenne River Sioux student who conducts research on bison; and a group called the Ancestral Guard, a group of Indigenous activists from the Yurok Nation who work to save the Klamath River. The film highlighted the ways each of the people and groups they followed maintain and sustain traditional knowledges.
The post-lunch period brought online and in-person conference goers to a series of breakout sessions that ranged from further discussion of Gather, to a presentation on The Marrow Thieves and Indigenous Futurisms in film, to break-outs on Gender and Gardening and Business and Agriculture on the Osage Nation. The diverse array of sessions represented a range of approaches to the questions of sustainability and food sovereignty that served as the through-line for the day.
The final keynote of the day offered another change of pace as Jason Champagne (Red Lake Band of Chippewa) chef and owner of Native Chef LLC shared a mouth-watering video in which he prepared four recipes based on Indigenous foods, including squash and wild rice. Champagne works not only to highlight Indigenous ingredients, but also to emphasize healthy eating and affordability in way that set him apart from many mainstream chefs. In the Q & A that followed the video, Champagne shared recipes and also the story of his sometimes-difficult path to culinary school and his master’s degree in public health and his own journey to health and wellness.
The day ended with a meeting of the Kansas Association for Native American Education. The meeting focused on new research and programs occurring across Kansas and also spotlighted the organization’s resources for educators such as its statement on “recommended classroom practices during Halloween, Thanksgiving, Native American Heritage Month, and related events.”
Overall, the 2021 Indigenous Peoples Day program highlighted how Indigenous understandings of food production, policies, and sustainability can pave the way to a better future for all. It further left attendees with a key actionable item: that each of us, whether Native or non-Native, must continue our path to educating ourselves and others. For instance, readers can read, watch, and act upon the links shared above, can donate to the Red Willow Center, can read and share K-State’s Common Read (Georgian Bay Métis author Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves), and can make it a practice to read/follow resources like Indian Country Today to keep abreast of current issues. Together, we can build on the momentum generated by events like K-State’s Indigenous Peoples Day, replacing stereotypes with actual Indigenous knowledges created by Native intellectuals, activists, and practitioners.
Kansas State’s 2021 Indigenous Peoples Day was sponsored by K-State Indigenous Faculty & Staff Alliance, College of Education (Dean’s Office, Department of Educational Leadership, Diversity for Community Committee, and Social Justice Education Graduate Certificate), College of Arts and Sciences (Dean’s Office, Diversity Committee, Department of English), Dow Center for Multicultural and Community Studies at K-State Libraries, National Geographic Society Explorers, K-State LGBT Resource Center, Morse Department of Special Collections, K-State Multicultural Engineering Program, Diversity & Multicultural Student Affairs, Global Food Systems Initiative, College of Veterinary Medicine, K-State Alumni Association, Office of Institutional Equity, and the College of Agriculture.
— Lisa Tatonetti, Professor