The smells of pan-fried bacon, fresh-cut scallions, and sautéing carrots and onions fill the air in a warehouse behind a car dealership in Petoskey, Michigan. Inside, Joe Van Alstine demonstrates how to cook walleye chowder.

The warehouse is also where citizens of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians who participate in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) can pick up or shop for customized food packages (or they can have packages delivered) once a month. Through the Healthy Native Foods Project, Van Alstine—a regional FDPIR director and citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians—and his staff are finding innovative ways to increase demand for and take-up of healthy Native foods in FDPIR. They’ve created videos, cook books, and recipe cards showing ways to cook traditional Native foods, like walleye, included in program participants’ food packages.

The videos and recipes are meant to help restore Native people’s food systems and cultures that were devastated by land theft, the forced removal of entire Indigenous nationsresidential schools and cultural erasure, and other destructive federal policies. Those same policies entrenched food insecurity in tribal communities across the US; about one in five American Indians and Alaska Natives faced consistent food insecurity from 2010 to 2021, and they were more than twice as likely to be food insecure as white people.

FDPIR, a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) food assistance program that serves income-eligible tribal citizens and their families who live on or near reservations, is intended to help address food insecurity in tribal communities. But because of long-standing policies and practices that have undermined tribal sovereignty, FDIPR has traditionally distributed nutrient-poor foods. Those foods have contributed to poor health outcomes among Native populations, such as lower life expectancies and higher rates of chronic illnesses like diabetes.

Read the full article about food insecurity in Tribal nations by Poonam Gupta, Sofia Hinojosa, Kassandra Martinchek, Julio Salas, Rachel Kenney, and Rhiannon Newman at Urban Institute.