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Recognizing The Great Lakes Intertribal Food Coalition

Published: Apr 2024
By: Jennifer Falck

The Great Lakes Intertribal Food Coalition (GLIFC) received the 2024 Marbleseed Changemaker of the Year award for strengthening the intertribal food system by supplying Tribal Elder Food Boxes to all 11 federally recognized Tribes in Wisconsin. The 35th Annual Marbleseed Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin recognized these efforts. Gary Besaw, Director of the Menominee Tribe’s Department of Agriculture and Food Systems accepted the award on behalf of GLIFC and remarked “Re-establishing intertribal commerce allows Tribes to support each other in regional and localized food systems that provide Native communities assurance that foods are medicine when grown in ways that protect our lands”. Gary also says, “The Great Lakes Intertribal Food Coalition is one of the steps necessary for Indigenous agriculturalists to come together not only find a ready market for their sustainably-grown and harvested foods, it also is intended to feed healthy foods to tribal populations that truly need this quality food. It is also part of our response to combating climate change and preparing our communities for food chain disruptions”.
The Tribal Elder Food Box Program began in 2021, delivering a total of 10,800 boxes to three Tribal communities; Oneida Nation, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin. There are two goals for the program; 1) Provide nutritious and culturally relevant foods to Tribal Elders, and 2) Support Indigenous, local, and small-scale farmers and food producers. In 2021, the program purchased food from seven Indigenous food producers and were able to purchase wild rice, beef, bison, lettuce, fish, and apples. In 2023 the program purchased food from 23 Indigenous food producers, as well as 32 non-indigenous food producers. Products have also been expanded to include Tuscarora White Corn mush flour, maple syrup and sugar, teas blends, elk, venison, and more vegetables.
As the program grew, the network of tribes, agencies, and food banks also grew. The result has become the basis for a larger and more robust Indigenous food network supported by many partner agencies. This network became the Great Lakes Intertribal Food Coalition (GLIFC) in 2023. GLIFC is a young organization but has accomplished many things in a short amount of time. GLIFC has been awarded several grants from state, federal, and private agencies. What has been unique in their efforts, is a coordinated strategy new to the tribal food sovereignty world on a regional scale. Many Tribes in the Great Lakes region have food sovereignty programs that include local community gardens, food processing classes, harvesting events, and much more. GLIFC member tribes are working together to strategize what Great Lakes Tribes can achieve at a regional level. GLIFC tribes discuss what funding, equipment, and infrastructure tribal communities need and how they can be shared between tribes. Capacity like warehousing, cold storage, refrigerated trucks, acres in production, and food processing capabilities are of primary focus. One outcome GLIFC is reaching toward is an Indigenous Agriculture Cooperative that would buy product wholesale from small-scale producers throughout the region.
Another goal of GLIFC’s is to support Indigenous food producers in ways that many state or federal grants do not. GLIFC has funding that Indigenous producers can apply for that will help with purchasing things like seed, fertilizer, processing machines, labelers, wash and pack systems, chicken tractors, etc.
Another goal of GLIFC is to provide culturally relevant foods that are sometimes hard to access. One example is wild rice. Hand harvesting Wild Rice, toasting it over a fire, separating the rice from the chaff, and winnowing the rice is extremely labor intensive. Many Tribal Elders do not have access to hand harvested Wild Rice. Another example is the Tuscarora White Corn mush flour. Equally as labor intensive, the corn is planted, tended, and then harvested by hand. Next, the corn is shelled, toasted, and then ground. The mush flour can be cooked as a breakfast cereal, similar to oatmeal. This is another product that is hard to come by. The Tribal Elder Food Box Program provides these foods to Elders who perhaps haven’t had them for many years, or have never had their ancestral foods. When people have access to their traditional foodways, that can lead to culture and language learning, healthier lifestyles, and a return to a sustainable food system that’s healthier for the planet. While it does all those amazing things, it also supports Indigenous and/or local food producers!
As already noted, it takes a number of agencies and organizations to make the TEFBP work. The program would not be possible without it’s dedicated partners including; Bad River Band of Lake Superior, Ho-Chunk Nation, Forest County Potawatomi Indian Community, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior, Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior, Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, Oneida Nation, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, Sokaogon Chippewa Community Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Saint Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, Sokaogon Chippewa (Mole Lake), Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, Feeding America National Organization, Intertribal Agriculture Council, Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and HealthTide. GLIFC also thanks all the hardworking and passionate food producers in the region. The work you do is making a difference and it is important. There are many more that have helped GLIFC on this journey and there will be many more to come. GLIFC is grateful for all the amazing, talented, and dedicated people who travel this journey with us.

Jen Falck (Oneida Nation) works for the Menominee Tribe’s Department of Agriculture & Food Systems as a program coordinator. Her current projects include the Wisconsin Tribal Elder Food Box Program, developing a Menominee Food Code, and helping to rebuild Menominee foodways. Jen and her husband manage Kahulahele Farmstead, an 8 acre farmstead which focuses on food sovereignty, restorative agriculture, conscious animal husbandry, building community, and resilience through bartering.