A study by a group of campus researchers in collaboration with the Karuk Tribe found that food insecurity and high rates of disease in Indigenous communities are linked to “forced assimilation” of diets.
The Karuk Tribe is an Indigenous group from Northern California with about 3,500 enrolled members, whose roots are mainly tied to Siskiyou County and Humboldt County.
The study, published Oct. 25, addressed several barriers that have led to food insecurity in Indigenous communities, such as lack of food availability, climate change and a legacy of disposition.
“Our research set out to better understand the food system among Tribes in the Klamath region, including the experience of and tribal solutions to food insecurity, poverty and diet-related diseases,” said Jennifer Sowerwine, the paper’s head author and campus associate specialist of the environmental science, policy and management department, in an email.
The researchers also found that, of the members of the Northern California Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa and Klamath Tribes they polled, 64% relied on a form of food assistance and 92% reported experiencing some level of food insecurity. Moreover, only 7% said they had reliable access to Indigenous foods, according to the study.
Sowerwine said the foods more aligned with Indigenous diets would include deer, elk, salmon, acorns and berries, among others. She added that the process of fishing and hunting helps build community health due to the activities’ physical aspects and their ability to strengthen tribal identity.
The paper found that in order to better meet the needs of Indigenous people and tackle food insecurity, integrated approaches directly tied to land and food are required, with an emphasis on feedback from those communities themselves.
“Through our collaborative process, we have learned the importance of centering Indigenous knowledge, and engaging Indigenous people directly in design, implementation and interpretation of the results to strengthen our research findings and identify more culturally appropriate solutions to community-identified health and ecosystem challenges,” the study said.
The study also stressed the “inextricable link” that brings food sovereignty, the ecosystem’s health and Indigenous health together, adding that action will require further exploration of the issues caused by “Western scientific colonial food” as well as issues with land management policies.
Megan Mucioki, an assistant researcher at Pennsylvania State University who assisted in the study, echoed these sentiments.
“Being able to reclaim gardening as a community initiated and led process for the health and wellbeing of their own has been an important aspect of food sovereignty,” Mucioki said in an email.
Respondents to a survey cited in the study point to “permits and rules” of the land as making it difficult to get the foods tribal members need.
“Settler colonialism and associated land management policies have reduced Tribes’ ability to access and steward their traditional lands for foods, fibers and medicines,” Sowerwine added in the email.
According to the Karuk-UC Berkeley Collaborative, or KBC, website, campus’s efforts with the Karuk Tribe date back to 2008, and has since seen an emphasis on researching and supporting the Tribe’s eco-cultural revitalization goals.
Sowerine noted the group of researchers are finalizing a study titled the “Karuk Agroecosystem Resilience Initiative.”
“We are … looking at the quality and condition of culturally significant foods and fibers in partnership with the Karuk Tribe,” Sowerine said in the email.