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Nutrition Crisis Finds Hope at Fertile Ground Funders Roundtable


Last week, more than 40 philanthropic organizations invested time learning how they can invest more resources across tribal communities to address a clear nutrition crisis in Indian Country. The Fertile Ground Indian Country Funders Roundtable event held in Minneapolis, Minnesota was the first time such a prominent group of funders, native leaders and national leaders have gathered on this issue. Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association working to engage, organize and mobilize people to improve the health of their communities and to help all children grow up at a healthy weight, embarked on this event as a co-convener with Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) on the heels of the release of Feeding Ourselves, a comprehensive report on the crisis and potential solutions;and SMSC’s launch of their Seeds of Native Health campaign that included an initial $5 million investment to improve Native American nutrition. 

What can you do to improve nutrition in tribal communities?

  • Share this video: A particular highlight that we premiered at the event is a powerful video that demonstrates the issues at hand.
  • Share your work: If you are already working with a local tribe, let us know! Voices for Healthy Kids is looking to convene advocates focused on increasing physical activity and improving nutrition in tribal communities. Email me: [email protected].
  • Share a Tweet: Check out #FertileGround15 on Twitter and share meaningful moments with your followers. Also check out highlights at @Voices4HK.

Some event highlights included a deeply moving blessing by Dakota leader Dave Larsen and the Ojibwe Red Bone Singers. This was followed by a cooking demonstration by Ben Jacobs, an Osage tribal member and co-owner of Tocabe, an American Indian Eatery that has made headlines in recent years for its innovative, and healthy approach to Native American foods. Wilson Pipestem, prominent Native American attorney and advocate, opened the day with remarks on how policy has transformed Native nutrition over the years. The American Heart Association and SMSC leadership addressed the need to understand the full context and history of tribal nations and concluded with a presentation of gifts of friendship. Particularly touching was when Chairman Charlie Vig (Shakopee) presented Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, Chief Medical Officer for Prevention of the American Heart Association, with the gift of a hand-painted buffalo hide hand drum and stick and noted that the beat of the drum invokes the heartbeat of Mother Earth to help heal the sick. 

We’ve already received exciting feedback and commitment to addressing the crisis of food access and health disparities in Native American communities from funders and partners in attendance. Both SMSC and the American Heart Association celebrate the historic nature of this collaboration and the transformational potential of authentic relationships with tribal partners to advance policy change. We look forward to sharing a written report with key learnings from the event to participants and other interested organizations, and will be talking, together with SMSC, with each funder to discuss potential collaborations and future investments. We welcome others joining us, particularly advocates who are working on similar goals.