About 350 people are participating in the Second Annual Native Food Sovereignty Summit in Ashwaubenon. Attendees say the event is in line with younger members' interest in traditional foods and eating healthier, Press-Gazette Media reported Tuesday.
"It's a centerpiece of our culture to grow our food," said Woodrow White, a project manager with the Ho-Chunk Nation education department in Black River Falls. "We've gotten away from going back into the soil. Tribes used to have massive gardens and were very good gardeners. True organic gardeners."
Event organizers say food produced locally could help combat health problems common among Native Americans, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Greg Matson, vice chairman of the Oneida Tribe, said the event has helped to capture and stoke a cultural shift among members of his tribe.
"It's beginning to get engrained back into our way of life more," Matson said. "We're teaching that understanding at a younger level in the school system; the role and responsibility of how we should be treating our foods as medicine."
The Oneidas operate an organic farm, bison ranch and a cannery, which opened in the 1970s and has expanded into new areas in recent years. The event included tours of the operation.
The event also aims to spark interest in developing a new generation of tribal members interested in the agriculture sector.
Also in attendance this week was U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, who said the department would support anyone interested in new methods of sustainable farming.
"Our conservation agency is here as well with a number of tools for helping existing farmers expand or putting in new kinds of conservation practices on their land," Harden said.