In an effort to stave off a predicted food shortage in the next 25 years, the University is making initial connections with those who are expected to be among the worst-hit: American Indians.
The College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences is collaborating with members of Minnesota’s White Earth reservation to share its resources and improve the tribe’s quality of life.
The University’s partnership is part of a larger effort called Visions for Change, a project involving the universities of North and South Dakota.
The program is committed to transferring control of food distribution systems to local hands. It encourages universities to share their wealth of resources — research, technology and institutional authority — while benefitting from the insight of outside perspectives.
The program was organized and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in response to studies that found food shortages could reach alarming levels in the next century. An article in the August 1998 issue of BioScience stated that while grain yields have decreased for years, global demand will double by 2025 due to population increases.
The agriculture college chose to collaborate with White Earth after members expressed an interest in working with the University. Because the reservation is mostly farmed, issues in agriculture, forestry and nutrition are significant concerns.
“Communities that have been poorly served or not served at all now get to have a say over the agenda,” said Margaret Adamek, associate project director.
In order to initiate connections between University faculty and representatives from the reservation, the college sent 50 faculty members to White Earth in early September.
Established in 1867, White Earth is one of seven Chippewa reservations in northern Minnesota. The 1,300-acre reservation encompasses 36 townships, including all of Mahnomen County.
Madge Hanson, director of the coordinated program in dietetics, participated in the trip to White Earth to examine the nutritional health problems among American Indians. Hanson said her interest lies in helping the members find their own answers, instead of relying on University officials’ conceptions of what needs to be done.
“We’re trying to respond to their wishes, rather than initiating things ourselves,” Hanson said.
One of the largest projects tribal officials hope to work on with the University is their concern over the genetic manipulation of wild rice. More than a food or profit resource, the White Earth community deems wild rice a commodity that needs to be protected.
“We’re concerned about anything that starts to manipulate the natural gift that rice is to the people,” said Paul Schultz, White Earth member and tribal health liaison.
The tribe hopes to make use of the University’s technological innovations and its authoritative voice to address the negative implications of genetic alteration, Schultz said.
Assuring that the relationship between the University and the reservation is reciprocal is a pressing concern for the college.
“Another role that we play is making sure that the institution is treating the reservation like a partner, not a poor cousin,” Adamek said.
Previous attempts to collaborate with institutions have led to exploitative relationships in the past, Schultz said. Sensitivity to this inequality on the part of University officials is the only way to ensure a successful partnership, he said.
“As long as they are intentional and stay focused on it, it can create an entirely new relationship that assures the White Earth Indian reservation to maintain its integrity,” Schultz said.
Despite the fact that the project is still in its early stages, optimism among White Earth officials like Joe Lagarde is strong.
“I see a lot of good things coming of this,” Lagarde said. “There’s a lot of hopes up here.”