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Learning Native foods, farming techniques

Agriculture experts from all over the nation will be at the Great Lakes Indigenous Farming Conference March 5-8, talking about a variety of subjects related to traditional Native American farming and food production. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The Ganawenjigedidaa Gi gete-Miijiminaanig is right around the corner.

Lucky for locals, the event is much less about the pronunciation of its name and more about the health and goodness within it.

With the idea of “Let’s protect our old-time foods,” the 12th Annual Great Lakes Indigenous Farming Conference is being assembled March 5-8 at Maplelag Resort.

The conference, which is sponsored by the White Earth Land Recovery Project, will feature 27 workshops on a variety of topics, including winter greenhouse construction, traditional Native agriculture techniques, how to make elderberry cough syrup and more.

“We’re trying to reintroduce our own community and our own people to thinking about the land and land utilization and planning, and looking into the future,” said Bob Shimek, who is helping coordinate the event. “What kind of a legacy are we going to leave to those coming after us? Will we leave land full of pesticides, GNO and dead soil, or are we going to leave a rich diversity of food and plant life that sustains not only tribal people, but the lands?”

Shimek says Native foods and farming techniques have been in danger or marginalized for a long time, and there is a lot everybody can learn from those traditional practices.

To teach those endangered practices are Native farmers, herbalists, professors and gardeners from around the country who not only still utilize these practices, but who find themselves thriving in it.

“There are a couple folks coming down from Yellow Knife just about to the Arctic Circle, who have been growing potatoes and vegetables up there, in a place where very little can grow,” said Shimek. “So this is indigenous farming at its best.”

Program organizer, Zachary Paige, says beyond the obvious goal of sharing the wealth of knowledge of these traditional farming techniques, the conference is also an incredible networking opportunity.

“I’ve been working with a seed saving network in our upper northwest region, which is funded through the administration of Native Americans, called The Upper Midwest Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, and it was started by gatherings of this conference the last three years,” said Paige. “So there’s a big networking opportunity for people from this region and the entire country and Northwest Territories; it’s a chance for people to meet other people….being able to share those resources.”

But this conference isn’t just about the past; it’s also about the future.

“There are some programs and communities looking at those techniques and see these different varieties as climate change litigation,” said Shimek. “So as times change, there’s that component as well.”

Attendees can expect to experience three different tracks of the conference.

The first is protecting old time foods.

“There’s a really great workshop in this one with a corn breeder who has been working with organic corn and breeding one that will not accept the GNO pollen, so that’ll be useful for individuals who want to grow old, Native corn varieties that won’t get crossed with genetically modified products,” said Paige.

The second track is about community resilience.

“This is where everybody sits in a circle, visiting and talking through problems they experience,” said Paige.

The third track is practical information on gardening and deep winter greenhouses.

“This is where you dig four feet down, and are able to grow greens in the middle of winter,” said Paige. “You heat rock in the ground to sustain heat in the greenhouse.”

Herbal medicines will also be discussed here.

Although the event is being hosted by a White Earth entity, the conference is open to anybody interested in learning about the practices.

Cost is $155 for all three days or $75 per day. That includes all meals. Pre-registration is required; log on to, call 218-375-2600 or email

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes and Perham, both in Minnesota.

(218) 844-1466