Food Security

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 579–607 | Cite as

Reframing food security by and for Native American communities: a case study among tribes in the Klamath River basin of Oregon and California

  • Jennifer SowerwineEmail author
  • Megan Mucioki
  • Daniel Sarna-Wojcicki
  • Lisa Hillman
Original Paper


Native Americans make up less than 2% of the population of the USA, but suffer from some of the highest rates of food insecurity, poverty, diet-related diseases, and other socioeconomic challenges. This study examined unique attributes of food security in Native American communities in the Klamath River Basin of southern Oregon and northern California to generate a more comprehensive and culturally relevant understanding of Native American food insecurity. Through an in-depth case study among the Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa and Klamath Tribes, in which access to native foods was a central focus, our study examined the experience of food insecurity among tribal members, as well as barriers to and opportunities for building a more healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate food system. We found extremely high rates of food insecurity in participant households, greater than that documented in previous studies of food insecurity in tribal and non-tribal communities in the USA. Additionally, we found that the majority of study participants lacked access to desired native foods, due to reduced availability from restrictive laws and habitat degradation under settler colonialism, and that limited access to native foods is a strong predictor of food insecurity. There is a strong demand for increased access to and consumption of native foods and Native communities are actively engaged in eco-cultural restoration activities to enhance their cultural foodways. To understand contributions and solutions to food insecurity in Native communities, we examined predictors of food security and native foods security and provide new insights into the relationship between these two categories. Results from our study suggest the need to expand the way in which food security is defined and measured in Native American communities, and in indigenous communities more broadly, incorporating more culturally relevant measures, while simultaneously calling for policy change to address the historical underpinnings of contemporary food insecurity among indigenous peoples. Our findings contribute to the growing literature on the value and importance of Native food systems in revitalizing culture and restoring community health and well-being among Native American communities, as well as sovereignty over their food systems.


HFSSM Native foods Food sovereignty Native Americans Community based participatory research 



This study was part of a 5-year collaborative research, extension and education project co-led by UC Berkeley, and the Karuk, Yurok and Klamath Tribes with support from the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture-Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Food Security Grant # 2012-68004-20018. Our research was made possible by invaluable contributions of project collaborators from the Karuk Tribe, Yurok Tribe, Hoopa Tribe, and Klamath Tribes in the development of the household survey and interview scripts, successful data collection with tribal members, oversight, interpretation of the results, and contributions to the recommendations presented in this study. We are also thankful to all those who participated in the household survey, focus groups, and interviews.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All study procedures and ethical considerations for human subjects were approved by the University of California at Berkeley’s Ethics Review Board #2012–07- 4484 and each Tribe’s respective research review. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Specifically, informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study; all study participants remain anonymous with private and culturally sensitive information protected; and all tribal collaborators have had the opportunity to read and comment on this article prior to publication.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© International Society for Plant Pathology and Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Science, Policy and ManagementUniversity of California at BerkeleyCaliforniaUSA
  2. 2.Karuk Department of Natural ResourcesOrleansUSA

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