The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


Indigenous Peoples’ Day Lecture

Abigail Shimniok graphic

UW-Platteville held its Indigenous Peoples’ Day lecture on Oct. 9 presented by Gary Besaw, showed how tribes within the Wisconsin area have overcome in the face of adversity and starvation.
Besaw advocates for the importance of indigenous sovereignty programs and is Director of the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.
The lecture began with an introduction from Dr. Eugene Tesdahl as he thanked Campus Climate, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Department of History and the Department of Environmental Sciences and Society for their help in funding the lecture.
“This series was founded nine years ago to amplify indigenous voices on this campus,” Tesdahl said, “something that it continues to do.”
While introducing Besaw’s lecture, Tesdahl mentioned some important members within the Menominee Nation. This included Ada Deer, who had recently passed away after being the first woman to lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Angela Miller, UW-Platteville’s former Assistant Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the person who started the series.
Besaw began by introducing himself before moving on to discuss his experience as the Tribal Chairman and explained that, as Chairman, he had the opportunity to travel the country to visit other tribes. Besaw noticed that tribes or non-tribal communities that had their food systems together were able to be more fully sovereign.
He explained how the Menominee called themselves “The Ancient Movers” because they would often travel all around their ancestorial territory in search of food that was in season along the Great Lakes. He went on to explain how the tribes must “take into consideration everything that’ is alive, because if you do, you can keep the land clean.”
Besaw explained that the Department of Agriculture for the Menomonee Tribes began looking into the food that tribes were getting from distribution centers and noticed that they were receiving overly processed food that tribal members did not even have a name for. These unhealthy foods caused a problem among the tribal members as they began seeing diabetes and heart disease among their members.
He began looking into ways that the tribal nations could “go into a healthier, more sustainable, sovereign food system where we decide what we eat.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was a factor that contributed to the amount of food that was wasted after the shutdown of companies. To combat the waste of food, the tribes were given food by the government that was going to spoil or was unhealthy.
Besaw mentioned how the lack of food sustainability, along with these unhealthy foods that were making people sick, began killing their elders, the people who held lots of knowledge and power within the Menomonee Tribes. He looked at how to obtain food sovereignty for individuals, the reservation and the tribe as a whole.
One of the main focuses he wanted to establish when making the plans for the tribal nations’ food systems was the cultural importance of the food being made.
“Everything needed to be treated with respect,” Besaw explained. “Everything has its own purpose.” He and the Menominee Nation firmly believe in respecting the resources given to them by the Earth and not tampering with the way things are.
They also wanted to look at the legal framework to see what they can do to obtain land for agricultural purposes. They investigated zoning areas of their land into places for food to grow so they can have sustainable, clean and healthy food for the tribal members.
Besaw explained that the Menominee Nation wanted to grow healthy food while also growing their economy by setting up food banks for their tribe to sell their own food to other tribal members.
According to Besaw, he wanted to work on making the Menominee Tribes as advanced as “the other Wisconsin tribes, some of them that are better advanced in their food systems.” The tribe also wanted to continue purchasing organic, healthy food from non-native peoples while also growing their own food.
The Department of Agriculture and Food Systems for the Menominee Tribe began giving out starter plants and seeds to families within the tribes, growing community gardens and even began a gardening supply check out system where people could get tools to grow their own food. The families would be taught how to grow their own gardens and how agriculture works.
The Menominee tribe rezoned 800 acres of land into agricultural land while developing the tribal Agriculture and Food Systems Department. They then began making a basic food code that they made for the Menominee Nation that was adapted from the Food and Drug Association. They then developed an Elders Agriculture’s Advisory Council to make sure the food they supply is culturally appropriate.
Besaw explained how they developed and enhanced their Food Distribution Program by exercising the 638-Self-Determination act and replacing some of the items that were not quality food for the tribe. They also re-established food trade routes to keep traditional food in their diets.
The tribes also created a Tribal Elder Food Box Program where the tribal elders within the Menominee Nation would decide on what kinds of foods were needed within these boxes.
In 2023, about 1,835 boxes every other week were distributed just to the two suburban drop sites in Green Bay and Milwaukee.
Besaw mentioned that because of support from groups like Feeding America, the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems for the Menominee Tribe was able to help tribal members grow their own food and get a better sense of agriculture and what it means to their tribe. Now, they are looking to increase production capacity as well as educate America to have healthier, more sustainable food.
In an interview conducted after the lecture, Besaw said that for people to support the tribal nations with their expanse of food systems, people must continue to support Indigenous peoples while also educating themselves on clean agriculture practices. “Slowly we’re getting better, getting easier; we’re understanding more where we need to go” Besaw continued. “We are starting to believe in healthy food again.”

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