Last month, we concluded the final installment of the 2019-2020 HEAL School of Political Leadership (SoPL) program! We’re thrilled to announce that all 11 SoPL leaders have completed the program and we’re so grateful for the wisdom and joy they brought to HEAL during these past months.
During the closing session of the HEAL School of Political Leadership the cohort shared final reflections on the program, the current moment, and renewed their commitments to the work ahead!
We asked them what COVID-19 revealed about their communities’ relationship with food, how they were responding to emerging challenges and how their connection to culture, community and land guide their work in this challenging moment.
Their responses not only capture the deep impact of COVID-19 in their communities, but also lifts up opportunities for reflection on the state of our food and farming system, and how we can collectively build alternatives that nourish all our communities.
For some the moment brought opportunities to envision new ways to dismantle extractive food and farming systems and create new ones.
This pandemic has revealed inherent inequities in our current food systems that require a reworking and reimagining of the cultural assumptions that undergird capitalism, democracy, our relationship with land/mother nature, and the way we build community. The crisis can be a blessing because in saving ourselves, is the opportunity to start anew. If we can recreate Indigenous ways of knowing and being, we can bring ourselves into balance with the universe – Gail V Wells
There was bound to be a reckoning when our country chose to hand over our intricate and delicately balanced food systems to Industrial Agriculture in exchange for convenience at the lowest price possible. They stripped the natural world for profit, and when it could no longer regenerate, they tried to replicate it with synthetic inputs, killing off healthy ecosystems that would have strengthened our bodies through nutrient-dense foods. This pandemic, unfortunately, is highlighting how communities like mine here on the Navajo Nation are bearing the brunt of that reckoning. But, what is hopeful to me is the emergence of an entire generation of Indigenous warriors and allies all across the world who have stepped into their power to fight the oppressive fists of these western systems that made us so vulnerable in the first place – Stephanie Hall
For many, this has been a revelation, for others a reinforcement. Unfortunately, many are now learning about the everyday struggle and juggling of necessary priorities. Mutual aid has always been a part of this survival but we must move beyond this immediate reaction to a long-term strategy enacted with purposeful intent. We need to arrive at a strategy that relies on community and on a collaboration of ideas that can implement a cohesive strategy, and give relevance to the issues we face. The ability to pivot, reimagine, recreate, and envision is what is needed – Renee S. Keitt
Others felt the need for urgent action that responds to immediate needs and forges a path towards robust, long-term transformation of our food systems
How can anyone possibly eat to live in a neighborhood where small, stuffy bodegas, with little to no fresh food, and liquor stores are the most active businesses? Since COVID-19 plagued our reality (both virtual and actual) food apartheid has become amplified as a reality for too many in my community. Once we’ve seen it, there is no unseeing. War is being waged and no one can liberate us but ourselves. I see opportunities in experiencing this collective energy shift. What we decide to do now as a community will shift our whole paradigm and we have the power to define what that looks like – Bryana Hassan
As we live through this pandemic, the fault lines of inequity and power within capitalism, and how it has informed our food system and policy has become more evident. It has shown me how disconnected many of our people are from our food system, and revealed the difference between resilient, local food pathways versus large scale corporate supply chains. We have been conditioned to put aside food sovereignty and disconnect from regenerative and resilient practices of growing and feeding the community. Now more than ever, we need to challenge in our policies and efforts that emergency responses do not become tools of deeper disenfranchisement – Qiana Mickie
I live in the South Bronx of NYC, in a community that has always suffered from a high degree of food insecurity. This pandemic has made this issue even sharper; as we see the food pantry lines get longer, and more community members seeking emergency food relief than ever before. With community members already living on the edge, the rise of COVID-19 is bound to push many over the cliff, or even closer to the precipice. Working with community volunteers, we coordinate the operations of an urban farm and a community garden; and during this crisis have committed to growing more food (including more culturally relevant food) for folks who come to our free farm stand each week. We already know this will not be enough, but only a stop-gap for a larger systemic issue — generations of inequity that are the bedrock of our capitalist economy- Sheryll Durrant
They also reminded us that this could be a turning point from where we can work towards restoring the natural balance that many of our ancestors maintained
We knew the flaws of current US systems, and this pandemic has further revealed them to the masses and our communities. The pandemic has also shown that we are the medicine that can heal us and that what we eat enhances our immune systems and overcomes illness. We are providing the community with seeds and using these challenging times to encourage our communities to grow the foods the Holy People and ancestors give us. This allows our people to re-engage in our ancestral farming practices and re-learn the teachings and values embedded in our agricultural lifeways – Roberto Nutlouis
Inequality is severe and very real on Navajo Nation; we lack access to food and water security in ways that are extremely detrimental to our health. We live in an extractive economy; water and energy are extracted and exported from the Navajo Nation. Meanwhile, our people must drive hours to “border towns” off of the reservation to purchase food, water and basic necessities, so it’s impossible for our people to stay home during the pandemic and have basic needs met. These border towns are making major profits off of our people at this time through scarcity imposed on our people, meanwhile, racism towards our people in these border towns is being vocalized. What is hopeful is to see people coming together and reconnecting community webs of support and mutual aid and calling on our ancestral knowledge and wisdom to find solutions; people are inspired to plant and to remember our traditional foodways which have always taken care of us. Through Indigenous ingenuity and collaboration with those who are oppressed, we will overcome this crisis and emerge with REZilience – dana eldridge
When I started Urban Fruits & Veggies, an urban agriculture business with a focus on wellness, I knew the work of food access and education was important, but honestly, I did not know how important! Food is so basic… or is it? This pandemic has made me see that ‘NO, food is not basic’, and how horrific it is that we do not provide food for our fellow community members. I am hopeful that this pandemic will underscore just how important good healthy food is for all of mankind. We must begin to live with each other with the understanding that we are all connected, this pandemic should underscore this way of thinking, acting, and living. There is no place where “I end, and you begin”! – Allison DeHonney
We thank our SoPL leaders for their insights! A special shoutout to incredible community of supporters whose generosity and belief in the HEAL School of Political Leadership enabled us to go on this journey.