by Bailey Ashbaker, Senior Policy Analyst and Engagement Specialist
Even though Native communities experience high rates of hunger and poverty, Native Americans are severely underrepresented in data and discussions about food security (1). Thirty-nine formally recognized Tribes exist in Oklahoma today, and they play important roles in the state’s economic, political, cultural, and structural development. Statewide solutions to hunger cannot exist without cooperation with Tribal representatives and leadership, therefore, Hunger Free Oklahoma is working to both deepen and broaden our Tribal hunger outreach. By building connections with Tribal governments and organizations, HFO hopes to continue developing Oklahoma’s network of food advocates and pursue policy and programmatic solutions that address the specific health and nutrition challenges Native communities face.
In preparation for this plan, representatives from HFO attended the 2022 Native American Nutrition Conference hosted by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Prior Lake, Minnesota. There, leaders and advocates representing Tribes from across the country spoke about the importance of nutrition and food security within Native communities. Food security for Native Americans goes beyond access, it also involves restoring Tribes’ food sovereignty and connection with traditional foods. Many Tribes have lost their connections to traditional foodways due to forced relocation and oppression from colonial systems. Speakers at the conference talked about the different ways Tribal members and advocates are working to restore access to these traditional foodways through education, food conservation and rematriation, and policy change.
The 2023 Farm Bill is the next opportunity to significantly impact Native food security and sovereignty through policy. The Farm Bill is a package of legislation that impacts food production and access. Title IV of the Farm Bill covers food programs for low-income households like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) (2). Two changes to the current title’s provisions that will facilitate food access and sovereignty in Native communities include:
1. Allowing simultaneous participation in SNAP and FDPIR.
Under current Title IV provisions, Native Americans cannot simultaneously participate in both SNAP and FDPIR. This unnecessarily restricts Native access and choice in where and what kinds of food they can purchase, especially because many SNAP vendors may not offer traditional foods. Those using FDPIR also do not have access to other programs like SNAP-Ed and SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T). Simultaneous participation in SNAP and FDPIR improve accessibility and choice for Native Americans who live in both rural and urban settings and will reduce unnecessary competition between the two programs.
2. Expand 638 Authority to SNAP and Nutrition Programs
638 Authority is a legal tool for Tribal self-determination that gives Tribes the ability to take over control of eligible federal government programs. The 2018 Farm Bill authorized 638 Authority demonstration projects to administer FDPIR. Eight Tribes are currently participating in the pilot, one of which is the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma. This pilot allows individual Tribes, rather than the U.S. government, to moderate contracts that help feed their communities. 638 Authority has helped the FDPIR program include more regionally appropriate foods in its packages and could do the same if expanded to include other nutrition programs.
HFO is currently working to reach out to Oklahoma-based Tribes, Native advocates, and organizations to better inform what food security and access looks like for all residents of our state. If you would like to connect your organization or Tribe with us to discuss this plan, please send an email to email@example.com.
 FDPIR is also referred to as FDP and commodity foods or “commods.”