FOUR FOOD BANKS, ONE COMMITMENT
Improving equitable food access in partnership with our region’s tribal communities
We believe that ending hunger is a shared responsibility for all in need. This is why food banks in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming have developed a regional collaborative to support food access, food security and food sovereignty in the Native Nations and tribal communities of the Mountain Plains.
Each state shares geography with many tribal communities all with unique values, traditions, lifeways, and other assets. They also experience food insecurity, poverty, health disparities, and other challenges at higher rates than many other communities in the region. Supporting equitable food access in tribal communities requires working differently, and that’s exactly what we’re committed to do.
Collaborating beyond geographic and service boundaries, we will create an organizational structure that transcends any one food bank or state, focusing on building trust, relationships, and partnerships with the Native Nations and tribal communities in our region in new ways. Instead of traditional programs and one-size-fits-all services, we will work together with tribal communities to co-create sustainable hunger solutions.
The statewide food banks of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming are collaborating to improve equitable food access in partnership with tribal communities.
In 2021, leaders of our four food banks sat down for an informal conversation about how to better serve Native Nations and tribal communities. Together, we shared ideas for addressing equity issues around food insecurity, opportunities tried, and lessons learned.
Quickly, we realized the magnitude of impact we could have if we collaborated in ways we never had before—uniting across boundaries, breaking down siloes, joining capacity and resources. But we knew we could only take this unprecedented step from a foundation of informed awareness and in consultation with tribal communities.
We spent a year gathering data, conducting focus groups and interviews, and visiting communities on five of the reservations in our Mountain Plains region. Directly from Native partners and community members, we learned about the food access infrastructure in tribal communities, including where people go for food and the barriers they face in doing so. We learned about positive and negative experiences tribal communities have had with our food banks and other charitable food access organizations. We learned about promising projects for increasing food security and sovereignty being built by and for tribal communities.
Most of all, we learned that if we want to make a meaningful difference in our work, we must do so in partnership with the Native Nations and tribal communities in our region. We know it will take time to build trust, credibility, and longevity—and that we can only do this by reimagining how we collaborate with each other. Together, we are committed to building a collective, sustainable movement, not a one-time, one-project moment.
To truly work in partnership with tribal communities, we recognize the fundamental need for our teams, our boards, and our partners to build a shared understanding, awareness, and appreciation of Native American history, cultural values, structures of governance, food systems, and more.
As we set a vision for our collaborative organizational structure, we are developing intentional and robust learning materials, including video stories, readings, and actively facilitated conversations. Created with the help of tribal community members and experts, our cultural learning series will serve as a foundation for the long-term work of establishing a new four-state regional alliance designed to work alongside tribal communities to effect meaningful change.
1. Develop and share a cultural learning series with our organizations.
2. Establish a cooperative structure to support trust and relationship building with tribal communities.