I remember the first day of FoodCorps Orientation, I was asked by everyone I spoke with how I felt about where I’d be serving. This question was very simple for me because my service site is located in my home community of Dishchii’bikoh (Cibecue). Dishchii’bikoh translated in English means the Valley of the Red Mountains, otherwise known as Cibecue, Arizona. Dishchii’bikoh and my service site, the Dishchii’bikoh Community School are located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation home of the White Mountain Apache Tribe in eastern Arizona. Serving my home community is a great honor and privilege especially among people whom I’ve seen first hand go through various hardships. I value what I’ve learned as a service member deep in the heart of Apache land.
Today in many Native American communities you will not find healthy foods accessible, as the Fort Apache Indian Reservation is the size of Delaware and has one grocery store. History shows—and elders tell—native american tribes are self sustaining and stewards of the land as hunters, gatherers, farmers and backyard gardeners. Stories from my grandmother tell me that there were many farmers in Dishchii’bikoh in the 1940’s 1950’s even in the early 1960’s. During this time there were very few cars, and horses were the main source of transportation. As changes came into the community such as cars, televisions, modern homes with indoor plumbing, and infrastructure like community water systems, road improvements and electricity, the lifestyle of my people changed. Community elders who were the expert farmers are no longer around, and my community now depends upon outside programs such as FoodCorps to reintroduce traditional gardening and farming skills.
Throughout the 1940’s-1960’s, farming on the Reservation declined and people’s’ diets changed as they became exposed to and reliant on fast food and government commodity foods. These foods are far from our ancestral and traditional diets as they are mainly composed of fats, carbohydrates and sugars. Another contributing factor to the destruction of our traditional farming practices is that children during the 1920’s-1960’s were sent to government boarding schools and were never fully taught by elders about planting, farming or gardening. As a result they never acquired the appreciation or skills for growing our traditional foods. This was my mother’s generation, and now as the 4th generation and a FoodCorps service member, I have a large responsibility to our younger generation to instill this way of life that not only is in our blood but is embedded in our heartland. Many of my students come from a long line of farming and gardening, and I myself am one of them. This is why I care deeply about my service.
My greatest goal as a service member is to revive my students’ interest in and passion for gardening and farming I hope that they will learn and be inspired to carry on the values of our ancestors’ healthy food traditions. They will be our mothers, fathers and leaders of tomorrow. This is our hope as White Mountain Apache people.