SMSC and MAZON partner with University of Arkansas School of Law on first-of-its-kind project to develop model tribal food codes

Project part of the tribe’s national Seeds of Native Health campaign to improve Native American nutrition

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – A landmark project to enhance tribal food sovereignty was unveiled today as the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger announce their collaboration with the University of Arkansas School of Law as part of the tribe’s Seeds of Native Health initiative.

Due to a long history of limited access to nutritious food, Native Americans suffer with obesity, diabetes, and other nutritional health problems at disproportionate rates compared to other ethnic groups. In an effort to create and sustain lasting policies and programs that will overcome these challenges, the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the School of Law will lead the development of a long-needed, comprehensive set of model food and agriculture codes to be customized and adopted by tribal nations.

Food and agriculture law is comprehensive and can be complex. This project will provide the legal and policy foundation for the development of resilient and sustainable food and agriculture systems and vibrant economies in Indian Country.

“Food sovereignty is a central component to build a culture of dietary health for Native Americans,” SMSC Chairman Charlie Vig said. “We are thrilled by this opportunity to work with the University of Arkansas and MAZON to empower Native nations to reclaim their own food policies.”

The project will be led by Janie Simms Hipp, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative and former U.S. Department of Agriculture senior adviser for tribal relations. Hipp founded the USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations, was a National Program Leader at the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and served two terms on the USDA Secretary’s Advisory Committee for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers.

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative was created by Dean Stacy Leeds at the University of Arkansas School of Law – the first female and only current American Indian law school dean – and focuses on multi-disciplinary research, service, and education opportunities that directly support the Native American community. 

“Food and agriculture codes will be an invaluable guide for tribal leaders as they work to improve the health of their people,” added Dean Stacy Leeds. “The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative is proud to partner with the SMSC and MAZON.”

The SMSC’s leading gift of $250,000 through its Seeds of Native Health campaign and MAZON’s gift of $50,000 through its Rural and Remote Initiative will support the first phase of an anticipated three-year project.

“This unprecedented coalition is a meaningful and innovative approach to a systemic problem that should be a national outrage,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON. “MAZON is proud to bring its 30 years of anti-hunger advocacy experience to this remarkable project and to support the SMSC’s Seeds of Native Health campaign and the University of Arkansas to create a long overdue legal framework which will make a real difference in the response to hunger among tribal nations.”

The University of Arkansas School of Law and MAZON are the latest strategic partners in the Seeds of Native Health philanthropic campaign to improve Native American nutrition across the country. Previously announced strategic partners include the First Nations Development Institute, Notah Begay III Foundation, the University of Minnesota, and the American Heart Association.  

For more information about Seeds of Native Health, visit www.SeedsOfNativeHealth.org.

About the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is a federally recognized, sovereign Indian tribe located southwest of Minneapolis/Saint Paul. With a focus on being a good neighbor, good steward of the earth, and good employer, the SMSC is committed to charitable donations, community partnerships, a healthy environment, and a strong economy. Having donated more than $325 million since opening its Gaming Enterprise in the 1990s, as well as providing more than $500 million in economic development loans to other tribes, the SMSC is the largest philanthropic benefactor for Indian Country nationally and one of the largest charitable givers in Minnesota. Seeds of Native Health, a campaign to improve the nutrition of Native Americans, was launched in March 2015 with a $5 million contribution from the SMSC. 

About MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Founded in 1985, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is a national nonprofit organization working to end hunger in the United States and Israel. Through its three interrelated strategies – advocacy and education, partnership grant making and strategic initiatives – MAZON is acting to ensure that hungry people have access to the nutritious food they need today and working to develop and advance long-term solutions so that no one goes hungry tomorrow.

MAZON’s Rural and Remote Initiative is committed to addressing the specific and unique needs of rural, remote, and Native American communities struggling with food insecurity. Partnering with community-based organizations to maximize their impact, and developing long-term solutions with policy makers and advocates at the state and federal level, MAZON will continue to seek solutions to alleviate hunger and increase access to healthy, affordable food in rural, remote, and Native American communities.

About the University of Arkansas School of Law

Established in 1924, the University of Arkansas School of Law ranked first in the U.S. in National Jurist magazine’s Top 20 Values in legal education and among U.S. News and World Report‘s top 36 public law schools. It is home to the nation’s oldest LL.M in agricultural law program. 

About the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative

Established in 2013, the University of Arkansas School of Law Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative is the first of its kind nationally, focusing on enhancing food, agriculture, health and wellness, and business and economic development; youth and professional education in food and agriculture; strategic planning and technical assistance, research and publications in the areas of health, nutrition policy, traditional knowledge; financial markets and asset management; and tribal governance, law and policy.