The Okmulgee sky was overcast during the second weekend of February, but the mood inside the Mound Building was considerably more upbeat. People from near and far had gathered for the Food Sovereignty Symposium, which is quickly becoming one of the more important annual events in Mvskoke country.
The program began on Friday morning with welcoming remarks by Ben Yahola and Vicky Karhu of the Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative, organizers of the symposium. They also introduced this year’s theme: Porwvn, Hompetvn, Pom Vhesaketv Tos (Our Seeds, Our Food, Our Survival).
All symposium activities were free and open to the public thanks to funding provided by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and both A. D. Ellis and Alfred Berryhill were on hand to welcome participants to the Capitol Complex.
Second Chief Berryhill offered a song and a prayer in the Mvskoke language.
Principal Chief Ellis recounted some childhood memories on the family farm, including a humorous story about unintentional mischief involving jars of produce his mother had canned for the winter.
The first formal presentation, by one of the leading climate experts in the world, reviewed the scientific evidence for global warming and explained how our climate will change in Oklahoma. This was a sobering reminder that food sovereignty is something everyone will be thinking about in the near future.
The speakers who followed presented various strategies for self-determination in an era of corporate domination.
A renowned food systems analyst detailed the relationship between agricultural production and economic recovery, demonstrating the importance of community-based food networks.
The coordinator of the Oklahoma Farm-to-School Program described how this synergistic venture in local food benefits both growers, who need to make a living, and students, who need to eat better.
The director of Urban Harvest, a program of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, explained how organic gardening and other neighborly practices can help feed those who might otherwise go hungry.
Two leaders from Dream of Wild Health, a native-owned organic farm in Minnesota, explained their effort to cultivate wellness by growing and preserving more than three hundred varieties of indigenous heirloom seeds.
An ethnobotanist from the Chickasaw Nation discussed their Ecological Resources and Sustainability program and offered an overview of traditional foods in the southeast.
All of these presentations were informative and encouraging, but the most enjoyable experience of the day was hearing about two Mvskoke community food projects. Barton Williams from the Wilson Indian Community and Bud McCombs from the Eufaula Indian Community related their efforts to establish community gardens, under the guidance of elders and for the sake of future generations. Williams and McCombs are engaging speakers, and we are fortunate to have such leaders in our midst.
If the highlight of the first day of the symposium involved Mvskoke produce, the highlight of the second day was Mvskoke food.
On Saturday, we enjoyed a noon meal of traditional dishes prepared by Mary Harjo: meat and hominy, sakkonepke (safke corn and chicken), red beans, homegrown squash and zucchini, boiled cabbage, cvtvhakv (blue corn dumpling), sour cornbread, and safke, with grape dumplings and sweet potato casserole for dessert.
(To borrow the words of a certain redneck comedian: “You might be a Mvskoke if . . . your mouth is beginning to water.”)
Chumona Deere described each dish during the meal, and in the first afternoon presentation Melissa Harjo-Moffer explained the preparation of Mvskoke foods. Harjo, Deere, and Harjo-Moffer are gracious hosts, and we are fortunate to have such leaders in our midst.
I’ll write more about the symposium in my next column. In the meantime, I have posted the agenda for the Food Sovereignty Symposium 2010—including links to the organizations that participated—at the website below.