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Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

By Lexi Conners

November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate Native American culture and acknowledge its rich history and traditions. For centuries, Native Americans have practiced agricultural sustainability using traditional methods and generational knowledge of Earth’s ecosystems. Let’s explore a few ways that Indigenous communities have used food systems to promote and maintain environmental sustainability.

Three Sisters Crop

  • One agriculture practice developed as a central food system in both the North and the Southeast United states was the Three Sisters Crop. This combination of corn, squash, and beans reflects indigenous knowledge of how foods holistically relate to one another. The Iroquois and the Cherokee called them the three sisters because they nurture each other like family when planted together. Beans naturally absorb nitrogen from the air, fertilizing the soil for the corn and squash. In return, the beans are structurally supported by winding around the corn stalks. The squash leaves provide ground cover between the corn and beans, preventing weeds from taking over the field. Not only does this understanding of plant companionships promote biodiversity, but also utilizes less growing space and energy.

Shifting with the Seasons

  • While the agro-industrial practices of the modern US attempt to provide as many foods as possible all the time, traditional indigenous diets change according to what is in season. One way to emulate this tradition is by exclusively purchasing produce that is in season. Foods that are in season are fresher and often tastier than food consumed out of season -- importantly eating seasonal produce reduces transportation related emissions associated with importing from other locations, and may save you some money because travel and storage costs are lower.

Maximizing Diversity

  • Modern agriculture has caused a loss of nearly 86% of biodiversity, plants and animals alike. Traditional indigenous practices have typically involved planting a variety of crops in one field, then only harvesting as needed. By contrast, modern agriculture plants one crop in the same area and then harvests as much as possible. The practice of diversification not only protects plants from illness and extinction, but promotes environmental health through maintaining ecosystem relationships.

While these indigenous agricultural practices are largely beneficial to people and our environment, the rise of settler colonialism in North America and the violence that has followed thereafter means that many communities no longer have the capacity to maintain these environmental traditions. Today, many Native Americans are continuing to fight for their freedom and the freedom of their lands. One group that is currently working to protect the Earth from contamination & exploitation by strengthening, maintaining and respecting Indigenous teachings and natural laws is IEN, Indigenous Environmental Network.

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