Photos: Return to tradition on White Earth Reservation in fight against poverty, hunger

People & Places Caroline Yang · ·

1 Billie Jo McDonald, 33, of Waubun, Minn. and her son, Camarin Hanks, 11, take a walk to look for berries on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011. McDonald is a single mother of three boys, ages 11 to 17, and struggles to provide them with enough food and nutrition. One obstacle she faces is the limited number of grocery stores on the White Earth Reservation. More common are convenience stores, but they mostly carry processed foods. Transportation to a grocery store is an expense she cannot always afford. McDonald receives about $500 a month in food stamps for her family, but says they don't last the entire month. Near the end of the month she and the kids sometimes eat macaroni and butter, or oatmeal and bacon grease. She sometimes skips meals so the kids can eat. McDonald is learning about traditional Ojibwe foods and would like to return to traditional ways of harvesting, but says she needs more time and resources to do so. 
2 Billie Jo McDonald, 33, of Waubun, Minn., found plants and berries while walking with her son on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011. McDonald struggles to provide for her three sons, but has been attending camps to learn how to harvest and preserve wild food in an effort to return to traditional ways of acquiring food. Her family eats several traditional Ojibwe foods, including wild rice, deer and berries. 
3 Billie Jo McDonald, 33, laughs with her son Camarin Hanks, 11, in Waubun, Minn., on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011. 
4 Billie Jo McDonald, 33, walked with her son in Waubun, Minn. on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011. McDonald is trying to start her own non-profit organization, Mississippi Ojibwe Government, in an effort to help the community on the reservation. She hopes to build a school and provide better housing for families. 
5 Bill Paulson demonstrates how wild rice is harvested in Waubun, Minn. on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011. Paulson returned to the White Earth Reservation about a decade ago and actively promotes going back to traditional ways of growing and harvesting food. He and his wife currently live on a limited fixed income -- she receives about $600 a month in disability, and he earns $800 a month as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. For their own food Paulson hunts, fishes, harvests wild rice and berries, and grows his own produce in their garden. The couple also receives food stamps, and uses the money only for staple foods they don't grow themselves. Paulson says growing and producing their own food enables them to eat very well on a limited budget, and he hopes more people will return to bartering, trading, growing and harvesting. This year Paulson joined two other families and harvested more than 1,100 pounds of wild rice, which will become 600 pounds of finished rice. Paulson and his wife will eat some, and will share some with family and friends. 
6 Bill Paulson demonstrates how he harvests wild rice in Waubun, Minn., on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011. Paulson advocates returning to traditional Ojibwe food. For his own family, he hunts, fishes, harvests wild rice, and grows produce in his garden at home. Paulson says it is a struggle for some families to access healthy food on the reservation. There are very few grocery stores, and getting to a grocery store requires gas money and a vehicle -- things that not everyone can afford. People on the reservation often rely on convenience stores and processed food. Paulson leads a camp for harvesting wild rice in an effort to teach others how to use traditional methods to gather food. He says growing and harvesting their own food allows him and his wife to eat very well on a limited budget. 
7 Russell Warren, 75, owner of a rice mill in White Earth, Minn. holds out a handful of recently harvested rice on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011. 
8 Rex Robbins of Ponsford, Minn., sits with his daughter Ciara, 3, in their kitchen on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. Robbins is father to seven children, four of whom are still young and live with him and his wife. For most of his life, Robbins worked as a truck driver. He also plowed snow and repaired cars. However, he has had to stay home to care for the family since his wife had a stroke nine months ago. The family receives about $700 a month in food stamps, which Robbins says provide enough to feed the family if he budgets carefully. However, the last week of the month is often a struggle. Getting nutritious food is a concern, especially since both Robbins and his wife have diabetes. Despite their limited budget, Robbins regularly opens his doors to other family members who need food. 
9 Waasamoan Neeland, 5, of Round Lake, Minn., waited in line for her lunch at Pine Point School in Pine Point, Minn., on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. The school participates in a Farm to School program, which provides local produce. The meal of the day included fresh corn and zucchini from local farmers. During the school year, children at Pine Point School are fed two meals a day -- breakfast and lunch. All of the kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the most common indicator of poverty levels in schools. 
10 Waasamoan Neeland, 5, of Round Lake, Minn., showed off her corn husk doll in Pine Point, Minn., on Friday, Sept 23, 2011. Neeland was attending Family Fun Day at Pine Point School, where her mother Ashley Martin, 23, was teaching a class on corn braiding to students and parents. The class is part of an effort to teach young people traditional ways of growing, harvesting, and preserving food. Corn braiding involves braiding together the husks of several ears of corn in order to dry and preserve them through the winter. The class was sponsored by the White Earth Land Recovery Project. 
11 Linda Emerson, 65, of Waubun, Minnesota, rests on the steps of her sister's home on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011. Emerson grew up on the White Earth Indian Reservation, but moved to the Twin Cities for 20 years, where she worked and raised her son. After being diagnosed with emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she returned to White Earth where she has family. Emerson is still recovering from a car accident last January. Emerson spent three months in the hospital and now carries the burden of $150,000 in hospital bills. She receives about $1,000 a month in disability, and relies on food from the federal government's Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), known as commodities. Without the commodities she says it would be very difficult to eat well. Emerson has always strived to make nutritious food from scratch, and continues to do so with her commodity food. 
12 Leslie Fain of White Earth, Minn., picked tomatoes in her greenhouse on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. Fain lives on a farm and makes only a small income, but says she eats well because she grows and harvests local food. She grows and cans her own tomatoes, harvests wild rice and maple syrup, collects eggs from her own free-range chickens, makes her own butter, and often barters with local farmers for other goods. She receives food stamps, but only uses them for staples she can't get locally. She says eating this way is not only more nutritious, it saves her money. Fain is an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer and works encourage others to garden and harvest wild foods. 
13 Leslie Fain takes care of her cow, Sweetheart, in White Earth, Minn., on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. Fain advocates gardening and returning to traditional methods of growing and harvesting food. She strives to obtain all of her food locally. 
14 Kelly Larsen, 49, of Bagley, Minn., led a group into the forest to harvest mushrooms as part of a Wild Food Summit on the White Earth Reservation on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. The Fall Mushroom Foray was sponsored by the White Earth Tribal and Community College Extension Service, which runs wild food summits regularly. The summits are aimed at teaching people to identify, harvest, and prepare wild foods. They are organized by Steve Dahlberg, director of the extension program, who says returning to traditional foods can help create self-reliance.