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Seattle Urban Native & Indigenous Peoples share their values and priorities for the local food system in new report 

The cover art was designed by Denise Emerson, Diné and Skokomish, and inspired by Northwest coast baskets.

A new report from the Indigenous planning group, sləp̓iləbəxʷ (Rising Tides), and Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment, shares key themes and priorities from a 2022 listening session on Native and Indigenous food systems. The report will inform/informed the City of Seattle’s updated Food Action Plan, which will be released later this summer and will explicitly address topics related to Native food sovereignty. 

For generations, Native food systems sustained communities in and around Seattle on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish. Before contact with European settlers in the 1790s, traditional Coast Salish foods included almost 300 different species of plants, animals, fish, and shellfish. Starting in the 1880s, federal land policies forced the removal and displacement of Native nations across the United States, cutting off access to ancestral lands and waters, disrupting Native food systems, and contributing to food insecurity. More recently, the Indian Termination Act and Indian Relocation Act pushed Native people to relocate in the 1950s to 1980s from their home nations to cities without resources or cultural support.  

Today more than 71% of Native people live in urban areas. Reestablishing those connections to Native Foods is challenging due to the longstanding impacts and trauma associated with harmful policies, settler colonialism, land seizures, oppression, and more. sləpiləbəxʷ created a listening session where Native community members could share openly and honestly in listening circles guided by Native values.  

Nineteen urban Native community members participated and a central theme from their small group discussions was the need to restore Native peoples’ relationships to land, waterways, and traditional foods through activities including:  

  • Cultivating plant medicines, First Foods (staples eaten before contact with colonizers),  and food forests, eventually re- integrating these into Native-led health and wellness programs.  
  • Gathering, hunting, fishing, and teaching how to process traditional foods.  
  • Community building and educational projects aimed at revitalizing cultural knowledge and practices by restoring relationships with the land and waters.  
  • Conserving and rehabilitating natural resources, land, and waterways, including reintroducing native flora and fauna throughout the city and region.  
  • Using culturally-attuned approaches that respond to and heal from intergenerational trauma.  

The 2022 Native Foods listening session was guided by Indigenous Research Methods and Native sustainability values under lead authors Pah-tu Pitt, Confederated Tribes of Warm Spring, and Demarus Tevuk, Inupiaq with support from the City of Seattle. The report comes out nearly two years later due to the deliberate and collaborative process used by sləp̓iləbəxʷ to analyze and discuss key themes and takeaways—both for the report and for the upcoming Food Action Plan. 

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