Ellise David advocates for tribal ag at Farm Bill fly-in
As a youth intern of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, Madras High School senior Ellise David will be in Washington, D.C., May 7-10, advocating for tribal producers as part of a Farm Bill fly-in.
"There are 10 native youth from across the U.S. going, and tribal representatives from selected tribes," Ellise said, noting the fly-in was organized by the Native Farm Bill Coalition, a subcommittee of the Intertribal Ag Council.
To prepare, the students are watching webinars, including "Seeds of Native Health," about the food-related problems of diabetes and obesity on reservations.
On Capitol Hill, she said, "We will be talking to the U.S. Department of Agriculture caucus, congressmen and senators about the impact the Farm Bill has on Native Americans." Their goal is to include a Native voice in the Farm Bill, now under discussion.
Ellise will focus on sharing information on nutrition, farming and health of reservations, on which the Farm Bill has a lot of influence.
"The Farm Bill is like a Swiss Army knife of programs. Programs for farm assistance, fire assistance, nutrition programs like WIC and SNAP, all go under the Farm Bill," she explained, adding, "(President) Trump says he is going to get rid of a lot of nutrition programs."
The 18-year-old Ellise, who is the daughter of Butch and Angie David, of Simnasho, got involved with the Intertribal Ag Council her freshman year. It is a nationwide organization, but is also divided into regions, and Ellise is a youth intern for the Northwest region.
"The council helps Native American farmers and producers. It's a huge network and has resources," she said.
She has attended annual meetings in Las Vegas, for three years, and serves as a student leader. "At the meetings there are tribal youth from all over, and we've had students from Canada and Puerto Rico," she said.
The council also sponsors an annual weeklong Agricultural Summit Camp at the University of Arkansas. "They tell us youth have the power to change things. They talk to us about their career fields, and we go on field trips to ag sites," she said.
Ellise's area of expertise is in nutrition, because of a "food sovereignty assessment" survey she conducted in Warm Springs.
"It was a questionnaire on food systems on the reservation, with questions on who controls the food source (grocery), the number of miles people drive to get to a store, if they think of price or health quality of food when shopping," she said.
She did personal interviews, online surveys, and held community meetings to get input from Warm Springs residents.
"Some of it was shocking to me," Ellise admitted. Tribal people indicated they prioritized cost and easy accessibility over healthy food selections. "We live in a food desert, but I didn't know how bad it was," she said.
The federal definition of a rural food desert is an area that is 15 miles from a food source, and many parts of the reservation fit that description.
Another part of the survey was on use of traditional foods and how many people were picking, gathering and hunting.
"I found we were not eating enough of our first foods, and had to tell people fry bread is not traditional," she laughed.
"We were eating fish, deer, game, roots and berries and sustained ourselves for generations, but there's not enough in our diet now. Those foods are just eaten at festivals, funerals and name givings," Ellise said, adding there is a correlation to the diet change and high diabetes rates in tribal people.
She presented a summary of her findings at the Ag Summit Camp, and encouraged youths not to wait until they are adults to take action.
"During the survey, I ran into a lot of potholes because a lot of people didn't take me seriously because I was only 16. But I still found a way to assess my tribe," she said adding, "I wanted kids to know they're not restricted – the only restrictions they have are on themselves."
Asked if she thought the Farm Bill fly-in would make a difference, Ellise said changes will probably occur over time.
"I do see a lot happening with reservations. Some have their own cattle companies, some Navajo tribes own corn flour companies, a Michigan tribe has a maple syrup company, a tribe in Minnesota has a wild rice company, and there is new territory with cannabis and hemp," she said.
After graduation, Ellise will be attending Washington State University, where she plans to study either agriculture policy and political science, or agricultural education. "I'm hoping this trip will help me figure that out," she said.
This year, she has been helping at Warm Springs K-8 Academy's farm school program. The school has a greenhouse and a garden club, where they team up on projects with Oregon State University agents on late start Mondays.
"My favorite thing is the kindergarten and third-grade classes, which are hatching quail and chukkar eggs in incubators, and the kids are learning that eggs don't come from a cartons," Ellise said.