Unsettling sustainability: Black and Indigenous Food Sovereignty

Authors: Deniss Martinez*, , Ashley Gripper*,
Topics: Food Systems
Keywords: food sovereignty, decolonization, sustainability
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 1:45 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Plaza Ballroom D, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Sustainability has recently been at the forefront of conversations about climate change adaptation and mitigation. Environmental justice scholars have pointed, however, to a lack of specificity in that word and asked, “Sustainability for who and where?” (Sze 2018). As climate change becomes an increasingly daunting threat, we must center anti-racist decolonizing theories in designs of a more sustainable future. One way that Black and Indigenous communities in the US have articulated this future is in the concept of food sovereignty. Because of their long-established relationships with the land, food sovereignty among Indigenous and Black communities emphasizes the symbiotic relationship between people and the planet. In many ways, it is a form of climate mitigation, seeking to “heal the planet so that the planet may heal us” (Nyéléni 2007). For communities that were dispossessed of land and agency under colonization, the food sovereignty movement is inherently decolonial: both in its direct opposition to settler colonialism and in its centering of Black and Indigenous communities (Tuck and Yang 2012).

This commentary seeks to demonstrate how food sovereignty as a practice and movement can be used to improve community health and redefine our understanding of sustainable food systems. We will map out case studies from Indigenous and Black communities, highlighting the synergy and solidarity between them. Drawing on sociopolitical and historical understandings, we will look at California Native communities who have sought food sovereignty via landscape stewardship and tie this movement to agricultural resistance in both rural and urban Black farming communities

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