7Gen Food System

04 September 2020

Source: OpenIDEO

Led by the Sicangu Lakota people, this Vision for the Rosebud Reservation of South Dakota, USA unfolds via a 175 year strategic plan for Sicangu health and prosperity. The team outlines a regenerative agricultural system that creates economic opportunities for tribal members; increases the accessibility of locally produced, nutrient-dense foods; and reestablishes the Lakota as primary stewards of the lands.

The Rosebud Indian Reservation, located primarily in Todd County, is the home of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate, also known as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (RST). The original boundaries of Rosebud include approximately 915,000 acres spanning five counties in south central South Dakota, representing 15% of the Great Plains Region.

According to the Tribal Enrollment Department, 85% of all enrolled RST tribal members live within the reservation boundaries. 44% of those living on the reservation are 19 years of age and younger. Over the last 49 years, the population of Todd County has increased 66%, from 6,058 to 10,065, a growth trend expected to continue into the future.

Todd county has 223 farms operating 880,043 acres. Only one of these farms is cited as producing any vegetables, with top farm products in 2017 being cattle, corn, other grains, soybeans, and wheat. Only 15 of these farms were cited as making any direct sales; most farm commodities are sold to distant buyers. Rosebud is a food desert; with only three grocery stores serving an area nearly twice the size of Rhode Island, most tribal members are living in a state of food insecurity. Due to insufficient access to healthy foods, tribal members suffer from extremely high rates of diet-related diseases. This is a national trend, with American Indians statistically significantly more likely to be obese, experience heart disease, or develop Type II diabetes than non-native counterparts. This stems from when the Lakota were forced at gunpoint to adopt a Western diet full of white flour and sugar and access to traditional foods was restricted to foster a sense of dependence. To this day, diets high in fat, sugar, and processed foods, are still typical of a majority of the population; a legacy of the early reservation period.

The Sicangu Lakota are traditionally hunters and gatherers; a traditional diet would consist of lean meats such as bison, deer, elk, and pronghorn; wild berries such as chokecherries, juneberries, buffaloberries, and wild plums; foraged roots like prairie turnip and wild onions; and wild teas like field mint and bergamot. A traditional Lakota diet was packed with modern day “superfoods.”

In discussions with community members regarding the food system on Rosebud, a return to traditional practices was brought up not only as a desired change but as necessary to strengthen Sicangu identity and culture. While traditional practices surrounding food have changed in many ways over the last fifty years, let alone the past hundred and fifty years, there are a number of community members and entrepreneurs that are committed to reimagining and revitalizing a local foods system. Despite a variety of challenges, these individuals are courageously working towards building sovereignty through food for the Sicangu Lakota.

The vision of this program is to addresses the challenges to current and future food system of the area by exercising their rights to land, water, and regulatory control, and re-allocating their resources from conventional agricultural practices to a regenerative system that creates economic opportunities for tribal members, increases the accessibility of locally produced, nutrient-dense foods, and re-establishes the Lakota as primary stewards of the land.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe (RST) owns and controls nearly 1 million acres of land spread across 5 counties. Over 50,000 acres is farmland and over 500,000 is rangeland. Most acreage is leased to non-Indian farmers and ranchers who utilize extractive agricultural practices and reap the bulk of the economic benefit. RST has direct access to the Ogallala Aquifer and have rights to the Missouri River. Furthermore, the RST has environmental regulatory authority over their lands. Additional surrounding acreage is available for purchase to put under RST ownership and control. The Sicangu Oyate possesses the necessary land, water, and regulatory control to create a regenerative agricultural system able to provide for their complete food needs while simultaneously making significant contributions to regional food systems. The development and transition to a comprehensive regenerative food system will happen within 1 generation (25 years), but can happen within 10 years provided strategic accelerators of money, people, and technical assistance.