‘The food is the heartbeat of our people’

Food insecurity within the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe

Sam Anglin poses for a photo in the GreenTree Co-op Market in Mount Pleasant, Michigan on Nov. 6, 2023.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was edited to clarify that food insecurity is not a universally experienced issue among the SCIT. 

When Sam Anglin was a boy, he and his mother faced food insecurity. They would drive to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe reservation once a month to pick up a “box of goodies,” he said. 

Making do with what they were given, Anglin was inspired to doctor the food by getting creative. 

Now, he works as an Indigenous chef consultant for the SCIT. 

Aside from his duties as a chef and being a member of the SCIT, Anglin is also the supportive housing coordinator for the Tribe. When he and his mother were a part of the food distribution program, he said it would be awkward when friends would come over and see the different powdered or canned foods in their cupboards. 

“That did cause a little shame and guilt in me,” he said. “So now, that’s why I strive to make sure I have a good education. I think it instilled in me to try to be creative in my cooking and make something out of nothing.”

Within the last 10 years, Anglin said the food distribution program has changed. 

“I think it’s more honorable now,” he said. “It doesn’t cause that shaming and guilt. … To tell you the truth, I would like to be part of that program now and … (help) families have that access to healthy food. … We really got to bring opportunities and hope to our community.”

Food insecurity has been a factor for some members of the Tribe for more than a century. It started when the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School was in operation. 

According to the Ziibiwing Center, the boarding school was open from June 30, 1893, to June 6, 1934. 

“The boarding school did take our food securities away from us by making us eat nontraditional diets, heavy lard, the high sugar and (highly) processed foods,” Anglin said. “And we all know how our body craves that once we get used to it, and it’s hard to break that cycle.”

Since then, some members of the Tribe have been recuperating from the loss of its food sovereignty. Anglin said he thanks his ancestors for being seed savers, since most of the fruits and vegetables offered in the SCIT farmers market is grown from heirloom plants.

“Part of our duties as the ancestors to the next generation and (the generation) before us is to keep those traditions rolling,” he said. 

As of right now, Anglin said the Tribe is really trying to make efforts to combat food insecurity for those experiencing it — hence the food distribution program. 

“Because, truly for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe to be sovereign — we have our culture, we have our language, but we need our food too, to make that a well-balanced circle,” he said.

SCIT initiatives

The SCIT is tapping back into traditional gardening practices through efforts like the seventh-generation program. Anglin said this initiative has community garden beds to service healing medicines and for Tribal members to reserve for their own gardening in the spring. 

Additionally, the Tribal College is working in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for students to engage in a community garden to grow their own food and medicines. Both initiatives are open to the communities for donations. 

Aside from the community gardens, SCIT hosts a Tribal farmers market to encourage Tribal members to sell arts, crafts and vegetables, as well as have a community to support one another, Anglin said. 

By getting into the healthy tradition of gardening to produce food while building a family connection, Anglin said it helps the Tribe establish community and re-instill culture. 

Anglin said learning the stories or teachings of the foods, along with those practices, is an empowering tool. 

“Because then you have the whole, complete story to make us a well-rounded community,” he said. “It’s not just the Saginaw Chippewa community, but it’s the surrounding community, too, that we got to focus on and discuss what it takes - all of us working together - to mitigate the food insecurities.”

To combat food insecurity experienced among some within the Tribal community, the SCIT holds a food distribution drive-through once a month for Isabella County residents. 

The Tribe also has consistent community events where feasts are provided to build togetherness and for people to have a sufficient meal, Anglin said. 

In conjunction with Central Michigan University’s Central Sustainability, the Tribe is a part of the food waste program on campus. The intiative strives to compost all of the food waste and paper towels, and encourages switching the use of plastic cups to recyclables. 

“It’s our Mother Earth and you gotta take care of it,” Anglin said. “If you don’t have that, you have nothing.”

Personal mission

There is a mentality among Native Americans when out foraging to preserve food for yourself and for the earth, Anglin said.

“You see three strawberries,” he said. “You pick one for yourself, you leave one for the animals and you leave one for the ancestors. That replaces everything for us. So, that’s the mentality I have too. I don’t want to take everything, but I want to promote as much as I can.”

From the perspective of being a chef, Anglin said he enjoys showing people what they can do with food, especially when they start growing their own. 

“That could be a problem, too, is create insecurities if they don’t know how to use the food,” Anglin said. “They can grow it all day long, but if they don’t know how to cook it — I feel that’s my responsibility and my commitment to my ancestors.”

Knowledge is useless unless it is shared, Anglin said. He feels he gets the most reward out of sharing the free knowledge he has accumulated over time from his professional experiences attending culinary school, summits and conferences. 

“It doesn’t take money, it doesn’t take anything, it just takes someone taking the time to listen,” Anglin said. “That’s the true magic of life, right?” 

Anglin said it is a great honor to be a part of the movement to give back to his Tribe. Although it is not possible to change what happened with the boarding school, he said it is the community’s responsibility to never let it happen again. 

Food insecurity is a worldwide issue. However, Native Americans were the first farm-to-table people, Anglin said. 

“We just got to get back into that,” he said. “It truly is a blood memory for us. We just got to really awaken that. And it just takes ... getting out there learning stuff and spreading that knowledge that we have, because we don’t know it all, I don’t know it all. Let’s not re-create that circle.”

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, Green Tree Co-op invited Anglin to provide an Indigenous dish for the hot bar every Friday of the month. He will be there to spread knowledge about the culture and practices of creating the dish and its history. 

Additionally, Green Tree has put up signs in the Anishinaabe language throughout the market to educate the community and preserve the language. 

Anglin is available for catering, consulting and cooking classes and can be reached at minozekwe@gmail.com.