A Just Transition Calls for Indigenous Food Sovereignty 

For the Black Mesa Water Coalition, food sovereignty is one part of a broader effort to transform Navajo and Hopi communities and their economies by drawing on traditional knowledge to build sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel dependence.

“The just transition for us really came from the need to transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy, which our tribe is heavily dependent on, with royalties from the exploitation of coal, gas, and other resources,” said Black Mesa Water Coalition member Robert Nutlouis during the US Food Sovereignty Alliance Assembly in Bellingham, Washington, in October 2018. “Our call for the Nation is to move away from that type of development towards a more sustainable, regenerative economy.” 

The organization, based in Arizona, formed in 2001 to confront the impacts of coal mining in Navajo and Hopi communities and tackle issues around water, natural resources exploitation, and health. Among other work, its projects have included regenerative water catchment systems, leadership development initiatives, and a “Food Sovereignty Project” using dry land agricultural techniques to produce food on a five-acre community farm. 

“Food sovereignty for our community is really looking at our own traditional knowledge and the wisdom that our ancestors had developed and left for us and is still carried by our elders,” said Robert. “Really going back and seeing what this knowledge and wisdom say to us about how to revive and rebuild our food system.”

The organization also works to build cultural awareness, including language preservation efforts and education around traditional seeds. 

“There has to be a cultural shift from how we see things to how we interact with our environment,” Robert continued. “The land is sacred, the elements are sacred, and we have to understand it in that way.”

Sheldon Natoni, a youth member of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, added: “It kind of gives me comfort that I’m going through the right path and I’m not being part of the extractive economy. It’s a healing property for me to become more grounded in who I am as a Dene.” 

Black Mesa Water Coalition received the US Food Sovereignty Alliance’s 2018 Food Sovereignty Prize in the domestic category, recognizing its work in reclaiming Indigenous food sovereignty. Food Sovereignty Stories is a video series exploring what food sovereignty can look like for diverse social movements across the United States. Share this video and follow USFSA for updates!