Aubrey Skye is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. After spending time living in Phoenix, AZ, he decided to return to Standing Rock Reservation, which spans the South Dakota and North Dakota border. On his return, he found food desert conditions and a high rate of diabetes on the Reservation (the CDC ranked Standing Rock Reservation as having the highest diagnosed rate of diabetes for adults 20 and older in 2005). International Relief and Development compared malnutrition levels on Standing Rock and other reservations to levels found in developing countries. In response, Aubrey joined the Tribe’s Diabetes Program as their Native Gardens Project coordinator.
On Standing Rock Reservation, residents have had to drive an hour to border towns to get groceries. Fresh food hasn’t been readily available on the reservation; instead, locals have had to rely on fast food and gas stations. With the onset of the Native Gardens Project and funding from National Relief Charities and the CDC, 150 families have been provided with tilling and seeds to get their gardens started. While gardening was common on the Reservation in the past, forced relocation to grassland areas after the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Missouri River in the 1950s has made working with the soil more difficult.
Aubrey is hoping that increased gardening will not only increase health on the Reservation but will also lend a greater sense of self-sufficiency to the Standing Rock community. Along with personal gardens, the Native Gardens Project is helping set up farmers markets where traditional, wild, edible foods are sold, since they too offer important nutrients. The Project is also helping to establish a community garden where kids can find meaningful, productive activity and steer clear of drugs and alcohol, which are common temptations when there is not much to do.
Robert White Mountain, also a resident of Standing Rock Reservation, has already established a community orchard for kids, where the boys and girls club works to plant and maintain apple, plum, cherry trees and more. White Mountain sees the garden as a way to give local kids purpose and “a [new] reason to get up in the morning.” White Mountain and Skye hope that the gardening efforts overall will increase the Reservation’s quality of life and reconnect people to the land. As Skye says, “we’re all connected if you really think about it.”