We Are the Ancestors of Our Descendants

Denisa Livingston closed the Slow Food Leader Summit with a reflection that brought the entire crowd to its feet. She has kindly given us the text to publish here.

Ya’at’eeh, Greetings relatives and friends. (Diné introduction)

My name is Denisa Livingston, I am Diné (Navajo Nation), I am currently serving as the Slow Food International Indigenous Councilor of the Global North.

I would like to extend my gratitude to Slow Food USA, Slow Food California, Richard McCarthy, Charity Kenyon, Ian McFaul, Max Caruso, and staff, for supporting the presence and participation of our Slow Food Turtle Island Association, and making it possible to bring us to be here.

Thank you Mr. McCarthy for asking me take this time to reflect and share with you all.

Is your heart full? What a day! …and it just started!

First I love this #MeatlessMonday button but I challenge you to have a #TBT Throwback Thursday – to eat the foods your ancestors ate.

Eat the Foods Your Ancestors Ate

In doing this, we need to acknowledge one another, we need the presence of one another, we need to acknowledge kindness, love, peace, joy and good wholesome healthy food. In our Diné language, we call this food Ch’iyaan Ya’at’eehégii, the healthful, wholesome food. Food is not only a material pleasure; healthy food is our tradition – it is our identity as Indigenous people, food is holy to us. We are taught to live in beauty – to live in harmony, to be protectors of life.

So, just as it is important to promote slow food, we also need to address “junk food.” We need to remember there’s no such thing as “junk food,” there’s food and there’s junk. It is the first time in history people are dying from #diabesity, diabetes and obesity, and not starvation.

Our tribe have been hi-jacked by the process food industry creating a 99% food desert. We are hungry for change. We are addressing unhealthy food or “junk food,” and the words “junk food” never existed in our Diné language, and we had to consult with our elders and community members to create the words to describe this in our language to reach our people. We started using the description Ch’iyáán Bizhool, ch’iyáán meaning food but bizhool meaning the leftovers, the scraps, prison food, fast casual food, and the non-nutritious pieces, unhealthy highly processed food, cheap food, and oppressive food. We cannot afford the heavy price that comes after eating from the value menu. We cannot afford the health care costs, dialysis centers, stomach stapling, and the consequences of eating unhealthily.

I have been the organizer for the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance; we are known for the first in the U.S. and still the only entity to pass an Unhealthy Foods Tax known as the Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014, referenced as the “Junk Food Tax.” We have been called: #SodaTaxWarriors, #FoodRangers, the #FBI or frybread investigators.

From this Unheathly Foods tax, we have raised over $4 million dollars that funds Community Wellness Projects. We also passed a sister law to eliminate our Navajo Nation sales tax on healthy food with an emphasis on healthy traditional, cultural, and ethnic foods.

In Diné we say Shánah Daniidlįįgo As’ah Neildeehdoo which means “Let’s Live a Long Life.” As difficult as it may sound, it is just as difficult to implement.

Jonas Astrup Pedersen from Nordic Food Lab shared at the last Indigenous Terra Madre shared, “If we get food right, we get sustainability right.”

Elders Are our Wi-Fi Hotspots

I also bring a message from our elder sister from a Slow Food Garden we visited a couple of weeks ago in Kandara, Kenya. She shared that “The garden is a restoration experience. Our work is a restoration experience. We will overcome fast food, we will overcome GMOs, we will overcome the pharmaceutical industry, we will overcome the banks, the WILD will heal, we will heal – this is a restoration experience.”

As Indigenous people, we are reclaiming and regaining our identity through our traditional healthy food. We are creating healing spaces and opportunities through our relationship with food and our culture. Our traditional food culture is a foundation of our health resilience. So we need to connect to our elders and tap into their healthy food knowledge. Wanjiku Mwangi from Kenya once said, “Elders are our knowledge keepers, they are our Wi-Fi hotspots.”

So, here is our chance to impact the world. Don’t wait for someone to inspire you, inspire yourself. Be a leader without a title – a dealer of hope. Don’t exist to make a living, exist to make a difference.

So remember to “be present” wherever you are. I know we hear this many times. Be present, the “now moment” might never come again. Look around, you have all come from diverse areas, bringing unique experiences, stories, strategies, creativity, and visions. Get to know someone you have not met before or you have not talked with. Appreciate one another, and exhort one another with cheers and encouragement. Learn something new before you leave this convergence. Be present. Sometimes you have to put down your phone, put a smile on your face, get out of your comfort zone, and extend your light and love to others.

Remember you are youth, elders, farmers, gardeners, growers, ethnobotanists, seed savers, and all those wonderful roles and more, but remember most importantly you are all cultivating improvements, skills, and solutions. You are more than visionaries – you are solutionists. Yes hashtag solutionists. Be present together knowing that you are creating new environments of change, growth, stability, and sustainability not only on your farms, but also in your community, in your generation, in your chapter, in this country, and most of all on this earth.

We need to be present to be caretakers of this earth, so this beautiful earth can take care of us. So please be present.

Be Present in the Future

It is also important to “be present in the future.” Yes, be present in the future. A tribal member of mine, Shashyazhi Charley, reminds us all the time, “We are the ancestors of our descendants. Yes say it again, “We…are…the…ancestors…of our… descendants…” We use to say we are the descendants of our ancestors, reflecting back, but as we look forward to need to also embrace that we are the ancestors of our descendants. This should give us chills; we have a big responsibility to prepare for our descendants.

Your work is critical to the health of this planet. What you are doing now is not only to provide for your family, for your community, or even to qualify for student loan forgiveness. It is more than this; you are leading the way and setting a relevant foundation for future generations. Their future is in your hands. You are the visionaries, the solutionists – the present to the future. BE A GOOD ANCESTOR. You are all carrying gifts that will create a healthier future in thought, in education, in practice, in habits, in lifestyle, in character, in business, in economy, in government, in culture, and in identity.

We need to sustain our traditional foodways and food knowledge. For each one of you, you have come from a heritage of food traditions – what are they? Who are your knowledge keepers? Who are you mentoring to pass the knowledge forward? Who is your mentor? How and what are you contributing to the next seven generations?

You ARE the guardians of life. Take the time to appreciate you. YOU MATTER. There’s not another you. Take care of you. Be present and ask yourself what you need and address those needs. Take care of you because your team needs you, your community needs you, and you need each other. We need YOU – because you are the present to the future.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge our Slow Food Turtle Island Association presence here, our Indigenous presence here, and acknowledge our leader Winona LaDuke who has set the path for us to continue to be a part this movement within the movements.

I would like to honor my Indigenous family here. I honor their presence and participation in this event. It is a blessing to see our past, present, and future here. It is an honor to see our ancestors here. To see our descendants here. We have been endowed to be the protectors of life.

My relatives will introduce themselves now – their names, their tribe(s), and organization and/or work.

We have come from a legacy of injustices but…
we are empowered
we are protectors (NOT protestors)
let me say that again, we are protectors (NOT protestors)
we are resilient

Thank you, Ahé’hee’.

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