Food Reservations at the Reservation?

  • Rebecca Webster


The growing problem of Americans facing chronic health conditions—Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity—is exacerbated within the Native American population who live on reservations. Their rate of these chronic conditions exceeds those for all other races bringing forth a greater need for methods to improve health through the development of local food security. Fortunately, the indigenous food sovereignty movement has brought attention to their struggle for access to healthy and culturally appropriate foods that are grown and harvested in accordance with tribal agricultural practices. The Oneida Indian Reservation in Wisconsin provides a case study demonstrating how tribal government farm operations, backyard gardening, and agricultural cooperatives combine to reintegrate Iroquois white corn into diets to improve health outcomes. Collaboration between the Oneida Nation’s Tsyunhehkwa (life sustenance), Cannery, and Oneida Market and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program financially support the commitment to farming and food preservation that contribute to the development of informal agricultural cooperatives. Oneida families developed their own backyard gardens and formed Ohe∙láku (among the cornstalks). This chapter provides a historical overview of the external forces contributing to the current Native American health crisis, illustrates the growing strength of tribal governance and how the people have reconnected with the land to produce healthy crops and restore lost culture. Their resilience and spiritual revival demonstrates several methods that can be translated to other Indian reservations and communities to aid in the resolution of national health and food security problems throughout the United States.


Native American health Food security Food sovereignty Native American agriculture Iroquois white corn 



Boarding school

A school where the students live away from family adult members for all or part of the year.


The act of settling among and establishing control over indigenous people in an area.

Food security

People have access to food that is nutritionally adequate, culturally acceptable, and safe and that people have access to locally grown produce.

Food sovereignty

A collective right based on rights to our lands, territories, and natural resources, the practice of our cultures, languages, and traditions, and is essential to our identity as Peoples.

Food system

Activities involved in growing, harvesting, processing, and distributing food.


A group of Native American Tribes consisting of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora tribes. Haudenosaunee means “people of the longhouse” referring to the type of dwellings they built. Another term commonly used to refer to the Haudenosaunee is Iroquois.

Heart disease

A general term used to describe a disease of the heart or blood vessels.

Husking bee

A gathering of community members to husk corn.

Indian Reservation

The legal designation for an area of land occupied by an Indian tribe.


The original inhabitants of an area.

Native American

People indigenous to the United States.

Native American tribe

A separate and distinct community of Native American people.


The condition of having an excess of body fat.

Three sisters

Native American practice of planting corn, beans, and squash together in their fields.

Type 2 diabetes

Chronic health condition that impacts the way a person’s body metabolizes sugar.

White corn

A variety of corn historically grown by the Haudenosaunee and served as the primary staple for their diets. It is also referred to as flint corn or Tuscarora corn.


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Further Reading

  1. Braiding the Sacred. A gathering of corn and people. 2017. https://wwwyoutubecom/watch?v=EScfVBAxAow&feature=youtube. Accessed 23 Feb 2017.
  2. Decolonizing Diet. Center for Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University Blog. 2017. Accessed 23 Feb 2017.
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MinnesotaDuluthUSA

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