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Field to Feast Table: Pueblos Plant Traditional Gardens for Better Health

By Mary K. Bowannie
Dawn of Nations Today

Planting to Produce

Ken Lucero of Zia Pueblo and the director for the Center for Native American Health Policy at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, N.M. talks about the dual benefits of the teaching garden.

video credit: Mary K. Bowannie

Most Native Americans enjoy food and feasting. Family and community gatherings center around the table, and it gives folks a chance to visit and appreciate the abundance of the seasons. However, the diet of most Native Americans today is very different than that of their ancestors, who often lived a subsistence and more active lifestyle. Today Native Americans, like most people, drive to the grocery store to purchase foods that have been manufactured, processed or trucked in from outside the area.

The impact of not consuming traditional or indigenous foods has taken its toll on the health of many Native Americans. According to The Facts on Indian Health Disparities 2006, a Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Native Americans suffer a higher rate of health disparities, often caused by “economic adversity and poor social conditions.” Native Americans will also die at a 189 percent higher rate from diabetes than other Americans. A poor diet and challenges accessing fresh foods often lead to poor health. However, there is a movement to plant and harvest traditional foods and reintroduce these foods back into the diets of Native American communities.

The teaching garden at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is plowed and ready to receive the corn, squash, chili's and melons.
Photo credit: Mary K. Bowannie

Janice Tosa is the student project outreach coordinator with the department of education for the Pueblo of Jemez. Tosa is working with the Hemish of Walatowa Family Circle Project on introducing traditional foods to fourth and fifth graders that have been prepared by elders in the pueblo. “Our goal is to reestablish the family connections in the Jemez Pueblo and to close the intergenerational gap between the youth and the elders,” Tosa said.

Over 16 weeks, the Jemez elders cook traditional foods, such as corn and chili, which have been grown in the pueblo. Also, dried fruits harvested from fruit trees in the pueblo are boiled down into a dessert. Tosa said the students were reluctant at first to try the foods, but after a few bites, they are asking for seconds. Farming and the harvesting of corn, chili, squash, melons, beans, and fruit are important to the traditional diets of the Jemez people. “Farming in Jemez is important, and there is a link between the two as the proper farming of foods needs to take place in order to cook these traditional foods,” Tosa said.

Traditional farming and the re-introduction of these foods is not isolated to tribal lands. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center located in Albuquerque, N.M., and its Field to Feast Teaching Garden program is planting traditional corn, chili and squash at the center just off Interstate 40.

Gil Lucero of Zia Pueblo talks about traditional farming when he was a boy, Lucero is planting the teaching garden at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, N.M. on May 3, 2009.
Photo credit: Mary K. Bowannie

Gil Lucero of Zia Pueblo talks about Pueblo farming as his son, Ken Lucero, looks on at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center's teaching garden.
Photo credit: Mary K. Bowannie

The teaching garden began planting its garden on Sunday May 3, 2009. Ken Lucero of Zia Pueblo and the director for the Center for Native American Health Policy at the IPCC planted the garden. Lucero was not alone in his endeavor, but his father Gil Lucero also of Zia Pueblo was there working alongside his son. The elder Lucero, who is 69 years old, took the time to tell those who attended the planting stories he heard from his grandfather.

“What grandpa said was when the Spaniards and Apaches raided the farm areas, they took mainly from the farming areas along the river.” The elder Lucero said the pueblo people were forced to relocate their gardens to other areas, away from the river in order to provide food for the community. “We were forced to do this … this is how they survived.”

Traditional planting tools and other modern tools waiting to be used for the teaching garden at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, N.M.
Photo credit: Mary K. Bowannie

Ron Solimon is from Laguna Pueblo and is the president and CEO of the IPCC, Inc. He was at the planting of the teaching garden. Solimon said the IPCC is very privlidged to have the former Pueblo governors involved in the planting of the teaching garden and to continue the tradition of pueblo farming. The younger Lucero said the teaching garden's partners “hope to create an interest in the planting and consumption of natural foods for better nutrition and healthy lifestyles.”

Eventually, the harvest from the teaching garden will be used in the IPCC's Pueblo Harvest Café. Tazbah McCullah is Diné and the marketing director for the IPCC.
“It will give a hands-on experience to the local and visiting communities and an opportunity to learn the historical health values of our ancestors which the center is based on.” Bernita Woody contributed to the reporting of this story.

Gil Lucero and the corn.
Photo credit: Mary K. Bowannie

Def Rare

By Winoka Begay
Dawn of Nations Today

Wake (Andrew Martinez) and Def-I (Chris Bidtah) are the
two emcees of the Native hip-hop group Definition Rare.
Photo Credit: Chris Bidtah’s Myspace Page

A new generation of Native American hip-hop artists are focusing their talents and energy to promote healing, spirituality and an eco-friendly lifestyle among Native youth. One such group Definition Rare, based in Gallup, N.M., has taken their message across the country by participating in events that promote environmental justice.

Andrew Martinez, who is Apache and Aztec, whose stage name is Wake-Self; Chris Bidtah, who is Diné, also known as Def-I; and DJ OHM, who is Mechica, spread their message of peace and unity through their songs and spoken word events. Bidtah, co-founder of Definition Rare, said the band’s music is best described by a quote he heard from hip-hop artist KRS-ONE.

“Hip-hop is two hydrogen atoms, iodine, phosphorous, two hydrogen, oxygen, and another phosphorous, so you look at what hip hop is—oxygen and hydrogen form water, it’s liquidy. Phosphorous is a property of light, so it’s glowing, and iodine is somewhat poisonous but it cures people,” Bidtah said.

After Bidtah heard hip-hop pioneer KRS-ONE’s words he began to see his own music as a fluid, glowing substance that helps people, a spoken form of intelligence that raises the listener’s consciousness. His words promote a culture that disregards the color of a person’s skin and instead looks at the content of a person’s character. Definition Rare was formed in early 2000 at the Foundations of Freedom Dance Studio in Gallup. The group focused on the connection between the artist and the listener, a style Bidtah calls sonic healing.

“If you apply frequency with your own personal intention one that you feel you can share the connection with music and frequency to incorporate the intention of healing,” Bidtah said. The group also focuses on indigenous forms of spirituality that incorporates Native heritage. For Bidtah, the oral stories told by his family members brought a new way of thinking to his music.

Wake (Andrew Martinez) and Def-I (Chris Bidtah) are the two emcees of Definition Rare. Definition Rare is a group.
Photo Credit: Chris Bidtah’s Myspace Page

“My grandparents told me that there were these two twin warriors that fought the monsters from the earth and these two entities used arrowheads to protect them as a shield. I believe my music does that. These songs are like our arrowheads, but not to create violence, but to protect people,” Bidtah said.

The group also promotes environmental justice and an eco-friendly lifestyle. Their objective is to “go green” by doing performances that do not rely on electricity from the power grid but instead use solar energy for their electrical needs. Definition Rare has also been involved with activist-oriented events around the state of New Mexico and in Washington, D.C. Two of these events are the Dooda Desert Rock rally and Power Shift 09 in Washington. These events celebrated youth empowerment and social action around climate and energy policy, the prevention of coal mining within indigenous communities, and the protection of sacred sites, all causes the band supports.

Cutline: Martinez and Bidtah standing in front of the campsite at the Dooda Desert Rock site.
Photo Credit: Chris Bidtah’s Myspace Page

“You have to put the music aside and focus on the effects of the community. Music is only going to get you to a certain point, music is the inspiration for the people who are truly the ones who are going to make it happen – to make a change,” Bidtah said.

Although Definition Rare does not always incorporate indigenous life and struggles into their music, they want to incorporate more of the indigenous lifestyle into their upcoming music. Listeners can find the group’s music on their myspace page as well as a few songs produced and performed by Bidtah. Definition Rare also has videos of their performances on their youtube page.

Dawn of Nations Today Volumn 4; Issue 1; May 2009, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M.

Dawn of Nations Today is a special edition published by the Native American Studies Department, University College, University of New Mexico
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