How might we draw from cross-disciplinary research on the history and culture of Native Americans to address food sovereignty and cultural preservation?

On Nov 15, 2018, the Attorney General of New Jersey gave the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation the acknowledgment and restoration of its state-recognized status since 1982, along with a $2.4 million compensation. The court battle lasted six years. “This fight to restore recognition has been lengthy, costly, and sad. But today New Jersey has reaffirmed that American Indians are not only part of its storied past, but valued partners in a shared future. We are ready to do our part to rebuild our relationship with the state government,” Tribal Principal Chief Mark Gould stated. This significant court case led to subsequent state-recognition settlements by New Jersey with two additional American Indian Tribes - the Powhatan Renape Nation and the Ramapough Lenape Nation. 

Although all three tribal nations are recognized in New Jersey, they are not in Pennsylvania, let alone by the federal government, therefore are not eligible to receive the same benefits such as land and health facilities given to federally recognized tribes. For example, the Turtle Clan of the Ramapough Lenape Nation suffers from high rates of poverty and struggles to obtain necessities such as food, heat, housing, and healthcare that are affordable for its 5,000 members. For over half a century, the clan community resides in the highly contaminated federal Ringwood Mines Superfund site. With a goal to save their people’s lives, clan mother Michaeline Picaro and the clan’s chief Vincent Mann co-founded the for-profit Munsee Three Sisters Medicine Farm in 2019 after leasing a 14-acre preserved land at a low cost through the Foodshed Alliance’s Sustainable Agriculture Enterprise program. Incidentally, the town of Newton where the farm was founded was formerly inhabited by indigenous people. The co-founders’ goal is for the farm’s profit to go toward their non-profit, the Ramapough Culture and Land Foundation, and together the two organizations strive for the Turtle Clan’s nourishment, healing, and justice.

This is but one case among the larger, global context of indigeneity and settler colonialism. Like any venture or start-up, Munsee Three Sisters Medicinal Farm is not without its own woes: the main source of manpower comes from volunteers on weekends, the hours are long and late, and commercial farming ventures are risky. The damages done to this community, and other indigenous populations by colonization, are far from healed, but as referenced by the farm’s name to the Munsee subtribe of the Lenape, “Medicinal” is the belief that food is, the ultimate medicine that heals and nourished the body, mind, and spirit. 

Working with Munsee Three Sisters Medicinal Farm as a partner, this Tiger Challenge team will apply the cross-disciplinary research done by Princeton’s Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISIP) to propose sustainable, ethical, and pragmatic solutions to help address food sovereignty and cultural preservation, and healing.

Faculty advisor:
Sarah Rivett, Professor of English and American studies; proponent of Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative

Community Partners:
Chief Vincent Mann Gentle Eagle, Turtle Clan of the Ramapough Lenape Nation and co-founder of Munsee Three Sisters Medicinal Farm, Sussex County