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Decolonizing Education: Native Americans

This guide was originally created for the use of instructors and students in the reACT Decolonizing Education Experiential Learning Program funded by the 2022-2023 TLTC Curriculum Grants. Specifically: ARCH460; ARCH478; ARCH601; ARCH678; CHBE473; ENCH648

Treaties & Fishing Rights

Council of the District of Columbia confirms fishing rights given by 1666 Treaty of Amity


“Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.” -- Declaration of Nyéléni, the first global forum on food sovereignty, Mali, 2007

Agroecology is a science, practice and social movement that fosters an uncommonly promising synthesis of knowledge across many domains. In agroecology, traditional and experiential knowledge comes together with scientific knowledge, both social and natural, to animate a transdisciplinary, action-oriented approach to agriculture. This synergy fosters the sustainable production of healthy, diverse foods and provides a stable livelihood to farmers, while decreasing the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity, soils, waterways and climate. Applying principles of ecology to the design and management of such systems, it considers the food system as a socioecological system – encompassing economic, cultural and political dimensions while facilitating both sustainability and justice. -- Scientists’ Open Letter to FAO Director General Graziano da Silva, in Support of the February 2015 Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology

Grey, S. (2015) Food sovereignty as decolonization: some contributions from Indigenous movements to food system and development politics. Agric Hum Values 32, 431–444.  Food Sovereignty covers a range of positions, interventions, and struggles within the food system is testament, above all, to the term’s adaptability. Food sovereignty is a way of talking about a theoretically-informed food systems practice. Since people are different, we should expect decisions about food sovereignty to be different in different contexts, albeit consonant with a core set of principles. This paper looks at the analytical points of friction in applying ideas of food sovereignty within the context of Indigenous struggles in North America. This, we argue, helps to clarify one of the central themes in food sovereignty: that it is a continuation of anti-colonial struggles, even in post-colonial contexts. Such an examination has dividends both for scholars of food sovereignty and for those of Indigenous politics: by helping to problematize notions of food sovereignty and postcoloniality, but also by posing pointed questions around gender for Indigenous struggles.

Nelson, M. (2020) From Soil to Sky: Mending the Circle of Our Native Food Systems. Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, 44-3.  At an autumn Learning Lodge in Coast Miwok, Southern Pomo Territory, Elder Leroy Little Bear (Blackfeet) shared with us a powerful teaching: as Native Peoples, “we find our cultural resilience in the medicine of the land.” As a place-based, Indigenous-led intertribal organization, The Cultural Conservancy takes this teaching to heart. It is a reminder that when things are difficult, we can look to the medicines of the land to strengthen us, and in times of disease or hunger, they are our blessings. Food is medicine. So how do we, as Native communities, best cultivate the medicines of the land and honor the resilience of our cultures?

Morrison, D. (2020) Back to the Roots: Restoring Indigenous Food Landscapes. Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, 44-3.  Interview with Dawn Morrison (Secwepemc), the founder and curator of the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty. Since 1983, she has worked in and studied horticulture, ethnobotany, adult education, and restoration of natural systems in formal institutions, as well as through her own personal and community healing and learning journey. Morrison has been dedicating her time and energy to land-based healing and learning, which led her to her life’s work of realizing herself more fully as a developing spirit-aligned leader in the Indigenous food sovereignty movement. She has consistently organized and held the space over the last 15 years for mobilizing knowledge and networks towards a just transition from the basis of decolonizing food systems in community, regional, and international networks, where she has become internationally recognized as a published author. Her work on Decolonizing Research and Relationships is focused on creating a critical pathway of consciousness where Indigenous Food Sovereignty meets social justice, climate change, and regenerative food systems research, action and policy, and planning and governance. Cultural Survival recently spoke with Morrison.

The Indigenous Foods Knowledges Network (IFKN) was initiated under a four-year National Science Foundation “research coordination network” grant (“Networking Indigenous Arctic and U.S. Southwest Communities on Knowledge Co-Production in Data Sciences"). The four-year award is under the direction of a research team at the University of Colorado and the University of Arizona. The goal of IFKN is to develop a network comprised of Indigenous leaders, community practitioners, and scholars (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) who are focused on research and community capacity related to food sovereignty and Indigenous Knowledge. The network seeks to build connections among Indigenous communities in the Arctic and the US Southwest. Indigenous Peoples in these two regions share common challenges around sustaining, revitalizing, and adapting food and knowledge practices in the context of environmental and social change. Network members collectively work to improve understanding of these topics by promoting and carrying out research and hands-on activities that embrace and respect Indigenous Knowledge systems and support Indigenous communities.

U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station,(2018) Traditional Ecological Knowledge Helps Researchers Understand the Effects of Plant Harvesting. It is becoming increasingly important for Native American tribes to communicate the sustainability of their wild plant harvesting methods. While conventional wisdom suggests that harvesting wild plants can often be detrimental to populations, researchers are working with Wabanaki sweetgrass gatherers to explore how traditional harvesting techniques can enhance, rather than diminish, plant populations.

Abbe Museum, (2019) Wabanaki Sweetgrass Harvesting in Acadia National Park. For most of the last century, the federal government has prohibited Wabanaki people from harvesting sweetgrass within the boundaries of Acadia National Park. In 2015, the National Park Service issued regulations for the gathering of certain plants or plant parts by federally recognized Indian tribes.

Mihesuah, D. (2005). Recovering our ancestors’ gardens: Indigenous recipes and guide to diet and fitness. Lincoln, NE: University Press. Written by the acclaimed Choctaw author and scholar Devon Abbott Mihesuah, this book draws on the rich indigenous heritages of this continent to offer a helpful guide to a healthier life. The first half of the book consists of clear and often pointed discussions about the generally poor state of indigenous health today and how and why many Natives have become separated from their traditional diets, sports, and other activities. Poor health, Mihesuah contends, is a pervasive consequence of colonialism. Indigenous foods and activities can be reclaimed, however, and made relevant for a healthier lifestyle today. By planting gardens, engaging in more exercise and sport, and eating traditional foods, Native peoples can emulate the health and fitness of their ancestors.


Ethnobotany is the study of how people of a particular culture and region make use of indigenous (native) plants. Plants provide food, medicine, shelter, dyes, fibers, oils, resins, gums, soaps, waxes, latex, tannins, and even contribute to the air we breathe. Many native peoples also use plants in ceremonial or spiritual rituals.  Since our earliest origins, humans have depended on plants for their primary needs and existence. Over time, people and cultures have tested and continued to use the plants that were beneficial. Our cultures evolved by passing ever more sophisticated knowledge of plants and their usefulness from generation to generation. Examining human life on earth requires understanding the role of plants in historical and current day cultures. Even today, we depend upon plants and their important pollinators for our existence and survival. 

Native American Ethnobotany: A database of plants used as drugs, foods, dyes, fibers, and more, by native Peoples of North America. The database now contains 44,691 items. This version added foods, drugs, dyes, fibers and other uses of plants (a total of over 44,000 items). This represents uses by 291 Native American groups of 4,029 species from 243 different plant families. About half of them are medicinal. This expansion of the database was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Great Lakes Anishinaabe Ethnobotany - The Great Lakes Anishinaabe Ethnobotany site website is a collaboration between the Cedar Tree Institute and the Northern Michigan University Center for Native American Studies both located in Marquette, Michigan, and the USDA Forest Service. The website features video interviews, a collection of personal stories and cultural teachings related to various plants and trees of the upper Great Lakes region.

Medicine Ways: Traditional Healers and Healing - U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Health & Human Services.  In this exhibition you will hear the voices of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians as they tell their stories and express their ideas about health and illness. Their beliefs and practices vary—Native peoples are far from a single, homogeneous group—but they also share certain values and historical experiences.

Turner, N. (2014) Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge: Ethnobotany and Ecological Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples of Northwestern North America.  Volume 1 presents a historical overview of ethnobotonical knowledge in the region before and after European contact. The ways in which Indigenous peoples used and interacted with plants - for nutrition, technologies, and medicine - are examined. Drawing connections between similarities across languages, Turner compares the names of over 250 plant species in more than fifty Indigenous languages and dialects to demonstrate the prominence of certain plants in various cultures and the sharing of goods and ideas between peoples. She also examines the effects that introduced species and colonialism had on the region's Indigenous peoples and their ecologies. Volume 2 provides a sweeping account of how Indigenous organizational systems developed to facilitate the harvesting, use, and cultivation of plants, to establish economic connections across linguistic and cultural borders, and to preserve and manage resources and habitats. Turner describes the worldviews and philosophies that emerged from the interactions between peoples and plants, and how these understandings are expressed through cultures' stories and narratives. Finally, she explores the ways in which botanical and ecological knowledge can be and are being maintained as living, adaptive systems that promote healthy cultures, environments, and indigenous plant populations.

Wings and Seeds: The Zaagkii Project, A Native Plants and Pollinator Protection Initiative - The Zaagkii Project (Anishinaabe for “The love that comes from the Earth”) is a collaborative effort between the Cedar Tree Institute, the United States Forest Service, and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

Culturally and Economically Important Nontimber Forest Products of Northern Maine - A USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station Sustaining Forests web page introducing the cultural and ecological landscape of northern Maine and its Canadian neighbors through the non-timber forest products that grow there and the people who gather and depend on them.