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Biological Sciences Professor to Collaborate on Regional Symposium Focused on Indigenous Agriculture and Food Sovereignty


The National Science Foundation has offered grant support through its Build and Broaden program. This collaborative effort considers and promotes the state of Michigan’s indigenous agriculture and food sovereignty.

Ferris State University Biological Sciences Professor Scott Herron is a co-principal investigator in this effort, which culminates in a three-day and multi-site symposium in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula of Michigan later in 2021.

“We received almost $100,000 for this project, with the funding being specific to our activities in 2021,” Herron said. “The leadership team for this project has a somewhat novel structure, as our fiduciary, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, is a nonprofit that places greater emphasis on food production rather than education. I am so excited to be a contributor to this collaborative process as we continue our discussions and program development.”

Daniel Cornelius, a technical assistance specialist with the Intertribal Agriculture Council, is the principal investigator for the team that is organizing the symposium. Valoree Gagnon, the director of the University/Indigenous Community Partnership at Michigan Technological University, and Martin Rhinehart, the director of Northern Michigan University’s Center for Native American Studies, join Herron as co-principal investigators.

“We bring different experiences and influences to this project, which we believe represents the first time that indigenous agriculture has been addressed at this level,” Herron said. “Each of the investigators is a Native Intertribal Agriculture CouncilAmerican indigenous scholar, deeply committed to promoting a positive influence for this narrative. We hope that with the indirect support of Michigan State University, as an ‘R1’-level research facility, and Michigan Tech’s direct involvement, we can draw interest and exposure to these dietary products, and their importance in good nutrition and socially-conscious meal planning.”

The Intertribal Agriculture Council has its headquarters in Billings, Montana, and represents hundreds of tribal organizations, business groups and allied governmental units. Herron said the Council’s expressed intent is to pursue and promote conservation, development and use of agricultural resources to serve Native American and Alaskan tribes better.

“We will have the support and involvement of the Bay Mills Community College, along with the Keweenaw Bay Tribal College as part of this symposium,” Herron said. “They are both well recognized in the Upper Peninsula, and as such, will bring in members of near a half dozen tribal nations in the region. When the symposium is held, perhaps in August or September of 2021, events and gatherings will be hosted by NMU’s Center for Native American Studies and also at the Keweenaw Bay Tribal College, some 90 miles west of Marquette.”

Herron said the Marquette area already boasts an active presence and trade in what is being marketed as a “de-colonized diet,” so the central U.P. portion of the symposium will include gatherings at Northern Michigan University’s recently refurbished Northern Center.

“Indigenous chefs will be among our presenters, with an emphasis on the locally-sourced ingredients they have incorporated in their recipes,” Herron said. “Since the effort began to identify and promote indigenous food items in this region, more stores have added the products and supported the grass-roots efforts to market de-colonized diet foodstuffs. There will also be informal discussion sessions on what these products mean to those who purchase and consume them, as a regular element of their dining.”

Finally, the collaborators hope to see the farmers and other producers of these goods actively involved in promoting the notion of food sovereignty, as it applies to their indigenous crops.

“We are glad to work with these entrepreneurs, so they can pursue their desires and businesses, which are sought after by these tribal partners and other consumers,” Herron said. “Our collaborative team wants to make 2021 a year to promote indigenous food and provide valuable information, as it pertains to these products. I am grateful to have this chance to expand on Ferris’ Diversity Plan, which specifically addresses making greater efforts to collaborate on issues important to Native Americans. I also want to thank the university’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs for its support in the pursuit of this NSF grant.”