Q&A with Eastern Woodlands Rematriation: Rematriation as a Blueprint for Food Sovereignty and a Balanced, Earth-centered Lifestyle

by Kristen Wyman and Jusleen Basra

As we continue through this period of growth and transformation in the world, healing from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice and the climate crisis, WhyHunger remains steadfast in lifting up the voices of communities and social movements working towards everlasting change. Eastern Woodlands Rematriation, a collective that is boldly reclaiming the right to food and relationship to the earth for Indigenous peoples, offers valuable insight rooted in old practices that promise us a new reality. This blog features an interview with Alivia Moore, a Penobscot two-spirit person and Co-Founder of Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective.

One of EWR’s goals is to build community wellness through food cultivation practices – can you tell us more about this?

ALIVIA: Eastern Woodlands Rematriation is really looking at our relationship to the food system as this deep way of connecting to the earth and as a bridge between the earth and our communities — so really seeing our food systems as a pathway to transforming all aspects of community, and to rooting us in the work of what it means to ‘rematriate.’

Food systems, medicine, and healing systems are all interconnected. They are pathways to a deeper and more balanced relationship with the earth and as a way of transforming all aspects of our reality. The process of colonization intentionally targeted the leadership roles of Indigenous women and made attempts to completely eradicate, ‘invisibilize’ and disappear our two-spirit, queer relatives and their social roles.

So here we are in a patriarchal reality struggling with all of these inequities, all of these systems of harm, all of these disproportionalities, and certain communities bearing the brunt of the harm and extraction. The antidote to that is matriarchy, and matriarchy is not just flipping patriarchy and putting power exclusively or even predominantly in the hands of women. It’s shifting so that the framework is one of balance; it is absolutely centering the leadership of Indigenous women, of Indigenous grandmothers. A matriarchal worldview acknowledges the gifts and contributions that we all bring and it is a framework that nurtures the individual gifts of absolutely every being. 

So in this work of rematriating our food systems, we are also restoring the power and the leadership of indigenous women and two-spirit people as a way to balance social relationships and bring political equity.  Yes, it’s rematriating seeds, it’s rematriating and returning access to land, it’s acknowledging how ingrained Indigenous communities have been and continue to be with the earth. It’s really a blueprint for all forms of social, political, and economic transformation.

Can you tell us more about Indigenous food sovereignty and what this looks like? 

ALIVIA: Food sovereignty means being able to be our full selves, to be fully engaged with our relationships with the earth, and to fully embody our responsibilities to our families and our communities. Our ability to do that has been damaged because we continue to exist in a settler-colonial context. So our “sovereignty” is not as individual sovereigns – our sovereignty as tribal entities is really embedded in collectivism and interdependence and, again, in those responsibilities that we hold to the earth, to our human relations and to our more-than-human relations. Being able to fully enact those relationships and responsibilities would allow us to have what could be referred to as “food sovereignty.” To reiterate, our political and economic sovereignty are completely intertwined with food sovereignty.

How does COVID-19 fit into this perspective and how has it affected your community?

ALIVIA: Right now, in the Wabanaki communities, we are having some of our first COVID cases in clusters on our reservations, so we’re coordinating getting traditional and herbal medicines out to the people. We are also coordinating this push for traditional medicine access because we need to restore our wellness, period. In thinking about this in a broader context of Indigenous people continuing to experience colonization and cultural genocide, our ability to act as sovereigns and to engage in our traditional food and healing systems as ways of healing ourselves are continually impacted, diminished, and attacked by the colonial empire around us. We are absolutely more vulnerable to COVID. We have these very real and disproportionate experiences of harm from these pandemics when they occur, even spaced out over hundreds of years, the reason for that is because of the ways that our systems of healing have been attacked. The reason why so many of our ancestors died from diseases was because our food forests were clearcut, our villages were burned, our people were under constant attack, and that made us especially vulnerable to these viruses.

How does agroecology and Indigenous ‘wild’ food systems fit into the frame of decolonizing our food and political systems?

ALIVIA: Agroecology is based on this idea that the earth is central to our food and healing systems, not a distinct sphere. It ‘gets’ the kind of interconnectedness with the earth that Indigenous people ‘get’ in a really deep, physically embodied way. Agroecology understands how our social, economic, and political structures are deeply intertwined in relation to the earth. 

But, I also think agroecology is heavily centering agriculture and not fully or appropriately weighing other forms of nurturing ourselves and the earth, and other ways that food systems can work. In thinking of food systems as more complete systems and acknowledging the fact that agriculture is just one piece of a healthy food system, we need to transform agriculture to be part of a healthy food system. 

And this is just my perspective, but I want to hold back on saying “wild” food systems because it feels as though it’s erasing all of the ways that Indigenous communities have very much shaped and supported the development of our relationships with foods that nurture us. “Wild,” I feel, is implying that the system just existed, that it happened all on its own, and that humans, wandering around, just happened to have abundance. It erases the thousands of years of development of all of the seeds, squash, corn, the thousands of years of developing food forests, the thousands of years of establishing deer yards, and tending seaweed beds that we would harvest from and that we were doing with balance.

We are supportive of Indigenous farmers, but our goal is not to have a greater proportion of Indigenous people who are farming – we need to transform our relationship with the land and how we’re cultivating food altogether. Family farms are economic units that serve capitalism and maintain individualism, whereas we are striving to restore collective forms of cultivation and food preparation, food harvest, and medicine-making. Farming has been a tool of colonization of the land and the people, especially Indigenous people in the northeast where agriculture was a small part of our food systems and yet the United States tried to force us to be farmers. It was an intentional strategy of disallowing collective land holding and parceling out fragments so individual native families would begin to farm. As settlement moved westward, it was farmers that were at the forefront of colonization– and they weren’t just clearing land to cultivate – it was the murder of our people to “open the land”.  They were building farms from scalp money. Farming in the U.S. has been a primary tool of genocide of our people, and continues to be a form of dispossession from our territory. 

I’m proud of how we engage in work of collectivity – through intentionally building between tribal communities across the region and building relationships that support one another’s capacity to do heavy lifting in community. EWR is doing the really necessary work of restoring our social relationships, our trade routes across the northeast. Having intact relationships across communities is the only way to achieve food sovereignty. That’s beautiful and important.

If you would like to learn more about Eastern Woodlands Rematriation please visit  us on Facebook and Instagram  or send an email to [email protected].

Donations can be made online here.