When there’s a price increase in your grocery bills, you may switch to a more budget-friendly market nearby, completely opt out of any luxury-deemed foods for the month, or blame it on businesses trying to rebound from the pandemic. However, recent videos exposing the food insecurity in Indigenous communities reveal the devastating reality commonly depicted in dystopian movies. Households struggle to put food on the table as common goods like water or fruits are priced as high-end commodities.
In August, Shina Novalinga posted a video showing the “insanely expensive costs” for groceries in some Indigenous communities, like $11.19 for a jar of peanut butter, $14.39 for strawberries, and $28.19 for a bag of grapes. Similarly, Jericho Anderson shared how in Kasabonika Lake First Nation in Ontario, Canada, a pack of water is $34 compared to a $22 case of soda.
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“The thing that bothers me the most is that healthy alternatives are more expensive than the unhealthy ones,” Anderson said. “I’ve had to see some families put items back because they can’t afford it. Baby milk, pampers, cereal. You name it” (TikTok).
While food poverty is not an exclusive issue to one racial or ethnic group, Indigenous people are disproportionately impacted. One in four Native Americans is experiencing food insecurity, compared to one in eight Americans (Move For Hunger). A U.S. Department of Agriculture report found that 25.6% of the tribal reservation’s population live one mile or less from a supermarket, compared to 58.8% of the U.S. population. And almost half of the tribal residents had incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level (USDA).
With some communities living in remote areas that require resources to be flown in due to diminishing ice road access, the high prices have been linked to shipping expenses to these fly-in-only regions.
“The general rule of thumb is that the cost of food for most things is about 1.5 times (or more) higher in remote communities,” James Morris, founder of Mikinakoos, told Vice. “If you buy something for $10 in the city, then it’ll be $25, $30 in the community” (VICE).
Even with government assistance programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, limited grocery stores accept these benefits and are often further away. This leaves many to resort to unhealthy alternatives that are usually cheaper, resulting in health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Due to unfavorable food options, American Indian and Alaska Native populations are twice as likely to have these ailments compared to white Americans. (USDA).
Keeping marginalized groups sick and impoverished as a means to execute power is a mainstay in U.S. policy.
The relationship between North American governments and Native communities has always been contentious. Throughout history, there have been systemic attacks made at the expense of indigenous people to restrict their access to resources and land sovereignty. Case in point, establishing the reservation system via the Indian Appropriations Act and the “kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone” sentiment during the late 1800s (Atlantic).
Today this is manifested through deforestation and the destruction of indigenous people’s ancestral diets and traditions, like hunting seals and caribou (VICE). Thanks to the current climate crisis, these communities have little means to food sovereignty, despite contributing minimal carbon emissions (United Nations).
While the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service unveiled a first-of-its-kind initiative awarding eight tribal nations $3.5 million in food purchasing power, it’s a far cry from the total tribal governance of native lands or even genuine food autonomy. The move is merely a guest offering you a cup of water in your own house.
Expansion on government-provided foods falls short, considering that many Indigenous communities have expressed the importance of stewardship as a means to restoring food and land sovereignty. A study by Berkley and four Native American tribes showed that 90% of Native American households want native foods, even though approximately 70% fail to have access to them (Food Security).
So when considering how food insecurity in Indigenous households has continued to rise, the lack of accessibility to healthy and culturally appropriate food due to climate change and high-priced groceries appears to be another calculated move to “starve them into submission.”
Increasing food costs is an additional burden to impoverished communities that have limited access to relief.
The climate crisis disproportionately impacts native people’s access to resources and cultural connection to ancestral foods and traditions.
Food insecurity is modernized government warfare to oppress Indigenous communities.