Lummi Food Sovereignty gets a big boost

The Northwest Indian College project was awarded a $65,000 grant by The ConAgra Foods Foundation

– Northwest Indian College

Food sovereignty is a topic that is discussed more and more in Indian Country these days. Tribal leaders and members are realizing that they can’t be completely sovereign if they rely on outside sources for their food. That idea has prompted Northwest Indian College’s (NWIC) Cooperative Extension Department to implement food sovereignty programs at two of its reservation sites: Muckleshoot and Lummi.

The Muckleshoot project was the first of the two to launch about four years ago. From the get go, the program was popular in the Muckleshoot community and received national attention from other tribes, donor organizations and the media.

Last year, motivated by the success of the Muckleshoot project and requests from the Lummi community, NWIC launched the Lummi Food Sovereignty Project. Now this younger project is beginning to see its share of support.

Most recently, that support came in the form of a generous $65,000 grant from The ConAgra Foods Foundation.

NWIC is one of 12 nonprofit organizations in eight states across the nation selected to receive a 2013 Community Impact Grant from The ConAgra Foods Foundation. Grantees are selected from areas with the greatest number of children at risk of experiencing hunger as determined by Feeding America’s study “Map the Meal Gap: Child Food Insecurity Estimates,” and/or where 100 or more ConAgra Foods employees reside.


“A grant of this size allows us to move forward with this project,” said Susan Given-Seymour, director of NWIC’s Cooperative Extension Department. “With The ConAgra Foods Foundation’s support, we will expand the project to meet the Lummi community demand for a project that serves the entire community, including youth, elders, schools, healthcare programs, and more.”

The ConAgra Foods Foundation funds allow NWIC to pool resources of people, facilities, and curricula with the resources of the Lummi Commodity Foods Program and the Lummi Nation Service Organization to form a Lummi Food Sovereignty working team.

“We can use all of these resources to support the desire of the Lummi people to get back the health and healthy lifestyle they enjoyed before European contact,” Given-Seymour said.

The Lummi Food Sovereignty Project evolved out of a four-year research project, the Lummi Traditional Food Project, which tested a culturally-based approach to wellness that emphasized lifestyle changes based on increased consumption of traditional and healthy foods and related educational programming. Vanessa Cooper, Traditional Plants program coordinator at NWIC, has headed the project since it kicked off. She said the program’s success, just like its roots, is community driven.

“I love to watch the ripple effect of the work that we do,” Cooper said. “When one person is impacted, they tell others, their friends and family members. Word of mouth is powerful and our program has grown based on the experiences that families are sharing with others. It paints a very clear picture of the need for this kind of programming and the hunger that people have for it.”

The ConAgra Foods Foundation grant will support activities that promote healthy, traditionally-based food behaviors that produce the following outcomes and activities:

  • Teaching and supporting cooks in commercial kitchens (schools, elder centers, etc.) to prepare healthier meals
  • More community educators will work in a variety of venues
  • Giving the entire community increased information about the availability and use of traditional foods in healthy meal preparation
  • Commercial kitchens will implement policies promoting healthier foods
  • The community will ultimately experience improved health and wellness

“We are very grateful to The ConAgra Foods Foundation for giving us this support and we look forward to getting to know some of the ConAgra Foods employees through their on-site volunteerism,” Given-Seymour said.

Now in its fourth year, The ConAgra Foods Foundation has invested more than $2 million in Community Impact Grants programming – including enrollment in government-assistance programs, nutrition education, advocacy and direct access to food. The program aims to provide more than seven million meals to children across the country.

“Without access to healthy food – even temporarily – children can face life-long wellness consequences,” said Kori Reed, vice president, ConAgra Foods Foundation and Cause. “That’s why programs like Northwest Indian College’s are so important. Being on the frontlines every day, Northwest Indian College is nourishing these children so they can unlock their highest potential, and we want to empower that success.”


Northwest Indian College is an accredited, tribally chartered institution headquartered on the Lummi Reservation at 2522 Kwina Road in Bellingham Wash., 98226, and can be reached by phone at (866) 676-2772 or by email at