Sustainable Missoula: Food sovereignty is on the menu this Thanksgiving – Missoula Current


Salish ethnobotanist Rose Bear Don’t Walk writes, “In my own home, we’re planning a small feast of bison roast with local potatoes, wild salmon, and huckleberry pie. Our “thanksgiving” isn’t to celebrate, but it is to give thanks.”

With Thanksgiving around the corner, many folks are preparing for a holiday feast next week, but some of us are taking a step back.

With the incredible surge of COVID-19 numbers in Montana, public health experts are urging for smaller gatherings this year to cut the risk of infection across the state. This is disappointing to many, but also provides an opportunity to ask ourselves: What are we actually celebrating?

Historically speaking, the Thanksgiving story is dark – it marks the brutish victory over the Wampanoag peoples by the Pilgrims in 1637. You can learn more about it by checking out the work of various historians and indigenous writers who offer perspective on the historical impact of the so-called holiday.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about, because this is something we should already know.

As an indigenous ethnobotanist, Salish scientist and overall foodie, Thanksgiving is a holiday I use for reclamation. Now, I don’t speak for all native peoples – some celebrate the holiday and some don’t. For me, the day is not cause for celebration, but it does offer an opportunity for my family and me to reinstate a dynamic of coming together, giving thanks, and infusing love through food.

This is something many Indigenous folks are doing, especially with the blossoming Food Sovereignty movement in North America. This movement aims to bring back traditional foods and reclaim tribal food systems so that they are serving the population healthy, local, nutritious, and culturally-relevant foods.

Food Sovereignty in itself aims to be community-led, health- and culture-driven, and focused on sustainability and respect for the planet. Though the Food Sovereignty movement is tribally-led, it offers lessons for all of us – indigenous or not – in how we approach our food and giving thanks.

Montana’s landscape is an important habitat for many edible flora and fauna. In addition, there is an incredible yield for agriculture and ranching. The state contains an enormous amount of local farms, farmers markets and ranches, alongside processors and distributors of local foodstuffs.

A great resource for tapping into these local establishments is the Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO). AERO seeks to “mitigate negative impacts of the industrial food system through education and aid in areas of sustainable food production, processing, consumption and waste management to enhance the environmental, economic, and social health of the community.” Their Abundant Montana Directory, in particular, is a handy tool to learn about and begin utilizing the wealth of local food resources in Montana.

Especially given that Thanksgiving is one of the most wasteful times of year in America, it is time to start thinking about how we can minimize impact. When we think, buy, and grow local, we’re minimizing the impact of processing, packaging, and transporting our food. As pressure builds on our local businesses as the COVID pandemic rages on, we can become food sovereign in our own homes this holiday season by participating in our local food economies.

By giving our dollars to our neighbors, we are not only boosting the local economy, we’re also helping the planet in the process. Not to mention locally-grown food, in my experience, is affordable and somewhat easy to access if you know where to look (like AERO’s directory!).

I grew up understanding that I have a responsibility to the land and ensuring the establishment of a relationship of reciprocity. In my work studying Salish food plants and indigenous food systems in general, I cultivated a deeper connection to this land; the beautiful land many of us call home. When we have a connection to the land, when we see its value in nurturing us physically, mentally and spiritually, we have stake in its protection and stewardship. What better way of building a connection than through the food that nurtures our bodies?

We have the privilege of living in a rich, delicious foodscape – all we need is to bring it to our tables. I urge you to look beyond the Thanksgiving staples of turkey, corn, and pumpkin (many of which were originally cultivated by indigenous peoples) and create menus that promote visibility of the local landscape, and perhaps your own culture and traditions.

In my own home, we’re planning a small feast of bison roast with local potatoes, wild salmon, and huckleberry pie. Our “thanksgiving” isn’t to celebrate, but it is to give thanks. Traditional values of togetherness, gratitude, and respect for all beings isn’t something that only indigenous people can experience. With holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, there are many ways where we can take initiative in getting to know our food and the places it comes from and how we can positively sustain it for celebrations to come.

Rose Bear Don’t Walk is a Salish Ethnobotanist, 500 Women Scientist Fellow for the Future, and rotating host of SciShow. She is a descendant of the Bitterroot Salish and Crow tribes of Montana. She has an M.S. in Environmental Studies from UM and B.A. in Political Science from Yale University. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

November 21 & 28, 6-8pm. Art for the Earth video series premieres on MCAT Channel 189 in Missoula. This two-part series features local organizations & individuals and uses a variety of art forms to explore environmental problems and solutions in support of a healthy, regenerative, just, biologically diverse and vibrant earth. Full program HERE and videos will be available on the Art for the Earth Project Facebook Page after airing on MCAT.

November 22 – December 13. Gather – The Fight to Revitalize Our Native Foodways free screening. In honor of Native American Heritage Month and the closing of 21-Week Racial Equity in the Food System Challenge, AERO is providing a FREE screening of the documentary film Gather. “Gather is an intimate portrait of the growing movement amongst Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty, while battling the trauma of centuries of genocide.” See Facebook event HERE for regular updates and resources.

Dec. 8, 1pm. Plastics: A Complex Topic – The Global Perspective webinar. Plastic and plastic recycling are among the hottest topics being discussed. It’s not just an issue in the US, it’s global. On this webinar we will hear about the challenges associated with plastic use, recycling and disposal around the world.

December 10, 5-6pm. Climate Smart Missoula’s Year 5 (Virtual) Celebration. Tune in from the comfort of your home for our annual Smarty Pants awards, updates from the Climate Smart team, raffle items, and even a special collaboration beer with Imagine Nation Brewing! More information and link to join will be posted HERE.

Find more activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental

Information Center’s Conservation Calendar.