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This week, the Native American Nutrition Conference convenes in Prior Lake, Minnesota. Last week, Native News Online spoke with conference planning committee organizer Denisa Livingston, M.P.H (Diné). 

Livingston is a community health advocate and a food justice organizer. For nearly 10 years, she has worked organizing with Diné Community Advocacy Alliance (DCAA), and she is an International Indigenous Councilor of the Global North at Slow Food International.

This interview has been edited for clarity and content.

Native News Online: Can you talk a little bit about your work on the planning committee?

Denisa Livingston: My passion has been bringing the light into some of these areas of public health, research, and data, especially in the context of what Indian Country has been going through during the pandemic. I'm highlighting, but also advocating for voices from the people to be heard: Grassroots organizers, the youth, and the elders that need to be a part of all of these processes, to be able to work towards future healthy generations. 

When you think about food, and data, and all of the work you do across the public health and food spectrum, what is the core that holds it all together, that you continue to weave from?

The task is to create our systems where we are the creators of the food system, incorporating our Indigenous knowledge, what we have learned from our grandmas and our grandpas, and the knowledge that they bring that are not found in textbooks, that are not found in research, that are not found in the data that we see. They are found in the stories and in the exchange of conversations, in songs and ceremony, and interactions. It's important for us to know that these are essential things that hold our prayers together in our work, as well as knowing that these are answered prayers, and this is what is binding us to be able to be strong and healthy and resilient.

How do you see this conference fitting into or building upon what has been learned during the pandemic?

Every single planning meeting, we were changing the topics and the themes and navigating to the current realities or situations, thinking maybe we're going to be out of this pandemic in a year, but then it went to two years and now we are where we are at. And so, for us, this conference now has been finalized, and what will be presented and shared together is looking at the realities. Looking at the pain, the grief, the loss, the trauma, especially the nutritional trauma, as well as looking at the strategies and the opportunities, hearing the testimonies of what, whether as a community member or a professor or an organizer for an elder or youth, they have experienced, or what they have been working towards to bring healing mechanisms into the work of their communities. This is essential in this conference. 

Also, making this a place that will be a place of acknowledging what has happened, and acknowledging the loss, whether that was a family member or a co-worker, or an elder or even the loss of knowledge and wisdom from the people that have passed. 

And, acknowledging what has been gained, and acknowledging how we have been able to resist and thrive in this pandemic. 

I believe this conference, in the few days that we will be convening, will be a few days of healing to our spirits and medicine to our hearts and beats to our drums. With all of these different exchanges, we are praying for the outcome that this will be a gathering of healing, and of an exchange of spiritual acknowledgement of what it has taken for us to come through what we've been through, especially with our food systems.

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Is there something you want to say or that you want to share with the folks who will not be at the conference this year?

My message to those that are not attending is to continue to practice their sovereignty in their homes, bringing sovereignty to the kitchen table by what they're cooking, by what they're eating, by what they are drinking, that they have the power, no matter where anybody is, to make their kitchen a very holy place, to make their gardens and fields better than before. Create the relationships that they need to be able to thrive, and create the relationships with their plant and animal relatives, and those that may not understand the complexities and the opportunities of food traditionalism and food sovereignty, that they need to continue to do. Establish these conversations and exchanges and activities in their home space. 

My encouragement is that if everyone has a seat at the table, this is part of the healing strategy for us to be able to come out even stronger, but also to build towards those healthy future generations where all of our tribes and for all of our tribal citizens and for all of our tribal nations not just on Turtle Island, but for the rest of the world.

Is there anything else you want to add or that you want people to be sure to to know?

We are creative human beings. And the pandemic has allowed us to come to a point to be able to exhibit those creative strategies. We need to be able to bridge the creativity with the support and with collaboration and partnerships across Indian Country. Iit is an opportunity for us to connect intertribal work, intergenerational work, and see the impacts and effects of what we have been praying about. This is something that is very critical as we can support those that are working, whether they're first responders or essential workers, all the way to the children, that every one have creative abilities, to be able to create solutions and strategies for us, Indigenous people, for our survival, and also for our adaptability and sustainability.

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