Indigenous Food Sovereignty

Indigenous Food Sovereignty

Time: Friday, 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm


Moderator: Noah Schlager

Key Words: Indigenous livelihoods, Caribbean, Monocropping, China, Cassava, Food Sovereignty


Mark Chatarpal, Indiana University, Bloomington. Department of Anthropology & Geography, IU Food Institute. Associate Instructor, Graduate Fellow and PhD Student

Liz Charlebois, Chair of the New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs


In agrarian literature we are constantly told that the growth of certain plants by the rural peasantry should be readily categorized as ‘escape crops’. In the noted works of food scholars such as James Scott and Sidney Mintz, we see a strong argument that the planting of Cassava (Maniot eshculenta) functioned not only as an escape crop but also as the most reliable backup crop in the Caribbean. Mintz has argued that cassava was also the most resilient and reliable source of starch in the Caribbean. This narrative however has shifted quite dramatically due to a series of foreign investment deals. One of these deals occurred in October 2015 where members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) welcomed a multimillion-dollar (USD) investment opportunity from the People’s Republic of China to increase the growth of cassava within the region.

Mark’s paper examines how these investment deals from China has signaled a
reconfiguration of the food policies among several CARICOM members-states. The government of Guyana for example has offered CARICOM members and also private investors large tracts of Guyana’s hinterland, although occupied by indigenous groups, to grow more ‘traditional’ foods on a large scale. With cassava on the verge of becoming a new monocrop, my paper also examines the potential long-term impact on indigenous livelihoods within the region, especially with the introduction of mechanized cassava harvesting.

Liz Charlebois is an Abenaki educator, nurse, artist, and leader. She served as Chair of the New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs from 2013-2016, and is an accomplished basket maker, bead worker, dancer, and farmer. Liz’s focus is growing and preserving northeastern indigenous crops. She has established a seed library dedicated to those seeds. Liz uses the food she grows in many indigenous dishes, both traditional and contemporary. She is a member of the younger generation of Abenaki people who are working to preserve and revitalize the culture, history, and identity of our original inhabitants.