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Climate Conversations: Food for thought

By Cody Motlow and Rollie Gilliam III

Editor’s note: This unedited conversation was supported by the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Climate Resilience Program. Rollie Gilliam is a Tribal member and serves as Tribe-wide Quality Assurance Analyst through the Center for Student Success and Services. Cody Motlow is a Tribal member and serves as Tribe-wide Sustainability Coordinator through the Heritage and Environmental Resources Office. Both Cody and Rollie volunteer on the Tribe’s Food Sovereignty Committee, a multi-departmental Climate Action Planning Committee. This Climate Conversation was held virtually on August 17, 2021. An edited version of this conversation was published in the August 31, 2021 print edition of the Seminole Tribune.

Rollie Gilliam III (Photo Damon Scott)

Rollie:

All right. So hello. This is Rollie, and with me is Ms. Cody Motlow. We’re doing this interview about our perspective on food sovereignty and why is it important to the both of us. So Ms. Cody, can you give some insight of what food sovereignty means to you?

Cody:

Yeah. You know, it’s all about reclaiming. I feel like it’s about reclaiming our land, our culture, our ancestral ways of diets. That all ties back into climate change and taking care of the land and putting time and money back into our own people instead of relying on big corporations. To me, it’s all about just taking it back and being in control, the way it was supposed to be. Because I feel when commodities were given to us, it was like another form of colonialism. It was designed to ruin our diets, and in a way, was another form of genocide, to you know, get rid of us. And so by taking this back, we’re building ourselves stronger, and that’s what it means to me.

Rollie:

That’s beautiful. Thank you for that.

Another question I have for you is: What made you as a young adult to want to get into food sovereignty?

If you could go back to a time, maybe Grandma and Grandpa had a garden. And what senses did that pick up? You know, where did it take you back to? Because you know, we often relive things in the present, because of what comes back to us from the past.

Cody Motlow (Courtesy photo)

Cody:

Yeah. I feel like, my grandparents might have been the last generation to really know what it was like to be sustainable and take care of yourself. I feel like my dad’s generation knew traditional ways, but also was being introduced to modern ways. And it was no fault of his own or to his generation. He couldn’t help that. That was something that was just forced upon them.

I feel like my generation didn’t grow up with a garden or anything like that. The only traditional things I remember about getting or hunting for your own food, taking things from your own yard, was from my grandparents and that generation. From those elders.

So in a way, I’m trying to reclaim it for myself, which is a big word I always use when it comes to food sovereignty. It’s like, I want to bring that back. I don’t want to lose it. Like, it’s my job to bring that back. I don’t have personal experience, but it’s something I want to give it to my kids so they can give it to their kids.

Rollie:

That’s beautiful. Most definitely. Like you said, “reclaim it”. You know, I don’t think you were able to make it, but we went to the Miramar Food Garden and it was a phenomenal experience. It was very inspiring, to see different types of Tribal members come together. You know, those who look like me, those who look like you, and those who are few and far between, those who are staff members, those who are from the Miramar community were out there. And it was powerful. That’s a memory I know that I will have, future wise. Just being re-acclimated to the science of food, you know, how serious a lot of people take it. They take it seriously out there in that food garden. I was very inspired by some of the things that the people said, and including some of our very own from, across the Seminole Tribe in Florida.

My last question for you is: Why do you think this is an issue that is important for the Tribe?

Cody:

The number one thing would definitely be health, because I do feel like we had a generation that had commodities forced on them. And then we kind of lost our way of healthy eating.

I mean, we’ve lost so many tribal members recently due to sickness and COVID, and it’s because we have such poor health. Even though we’re one of the most blessed Tribes ever and we have all these resources at our hands. The more people we lose, the more of our culture and our tradition that we’re going to lose. If we don’t try to fix that and hold onto it, what are we going to be? We’re not going to be here.

Rollie:

Couldn’t have said it any better. Definitely, this comes into livelihood and the overall function of the Tribe. Because without proper health and foods in our diets, how are we going to be able to make decisions? Food is a healer, you know, not just as a tribe but generally speaking. We heard testimonies of people, you know, who have high blood pressure, diabetes, things of that nature, and how food counters that and gets rid of it.

If you have any questions for me, I’ll be more than happy to answer.

Cody:

I remember things you’ve said before in past meetings, like not relying on big corporations and putting that time and money back into our own Tribe. How you said, “Oh, there’s these food markets over here.” and “Why don’t we have that?”

Rollie:

Yes, ma’am. So literally, right across the res in Hollywood, 441, there’s a spot called Brothers Food Mart, and I go there. I’m a strict vegetarian, I don’t eat any meat, any dairy, and I limit the oils in my body. So I go there a lot, they have some great organic stuff. Then even, with the Publix up the road too, I had an “aha” moment. I was like, “These places are literally about a mile from the res, and we don’t even have our own.” I don’t want to leave the res if I don’t have to. I want to put my dividends back into circulation. It would be better for the Tribe.

Not to mention, we have great interest from non-tribal members who work with us who are interested in our history. You know what I mean? They ask me about pumpkin. I grew up on pumpkin bread, fry bread, softkee, all the good stuff. And I know that if we had food trucks out here, like when dividend day comes and people set up shop and make this and that. There’s a demand and we can do this.

On the other side, a lot of the food that we’re eating, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s not providing any type of healing, you know. If anything, it’s hurting more. I definitely want to be a part of that because I’m a walking testimony. I started eating this way in 2017 and I see the benefits of it.

So I come to work, last Friday and the receptionist, said, “Hey, Rollie, You’re industrial vegan. You don’t eat anything that has been packaged or engineered.” I like that. I haven’t touched dairy or meat since 2017.

Cody:

My next question is: We’re all tribal members, but we don’t all have the same stories growing up. We don’t all have the same background. I want to know what did you grow up with and what inspired you?

Rollie:

I’m Afro indigenous. My other side is African American. So I grew up eating pig feet, ham hocks, collard greens, mac & cheese, and all those things. When I got a little bit older, maybe 19 or 20, I came to the clinic here and got a checkup. They were like, “Do you eat a lot of bread?” and I was like, “Yeah.” And they was like, “Be careful, because you’re at risk for celiac disease.”  Celiac disease comes from eating too much wheat with gluten in it. I was eating a lot of hamburgers and sandwiches type stuff, and not knowing I’m gluten sensitive.

Then I started noticing other things. I said, “Hold on. Right.”. Let me tap into this dairy, too, because at that time, you know, the skin is on point now, but the dairy, right? You know what I mean?

Cody:

Mm-hmm.

Rollie:

I was like, so we lactose, too. And I said, “What else am I?” You know? I started going a little bit further, and I was like, “Oh. I see what’s happening. Like, I’m not even in my original body.” Because I’m not eating the original foods.

I come from that household, my Pops is a Tribe member, so I don’t have a clan, but I’m Bird [Clan] affiliated.

But my mom, she’s black. I come from government cheese. I come from food stamps and WICs and things of that nature. So I’m used to unhealthy eating. I’m used to the system, telling you what to eat because your appearance, your mom, or your situation is low income. And then they give you the food stamps or whatever with a list of what you can buy in the store, but none of that stuff is health conscious.

No apples and no oranges, nah. No, no, no, no. Get this cheese. Get this heavy dairy. Get these meats. Get these hotdogs. Get all these things that are just going to lock up your system, and everything can’t flow correctly. So I come from that, and a lot of my people forget that, because of the transformation that I went on.

But I had to understand my why, too, Cody. I was like, “Why do I love bananas?” When I heard the story of Billy Bowlegs, I was like, “Duh.” You know what I mean? And then everything started connecting. Because I want to be closer to Earth. I don’t want to be only so far away from Earth when it comes to this food thing.

Cody:

You know how we’ve been talking about having community gardens? One of my goals for the future is if we could have traditional foods as an option, because, I don’t want to force this on people. I want people to have the option. So when events come at least we’ll have wild rice and squash. But at the same time, if people still want their fry bread and their pumpkin bread, we can have those options there. Like, you can’t take that away. You can’t force it on people. But I want them to be like, “Oh, hey. Let me try that.” Maybe they’ll like it. That’s my goal for the future.

So my question is: What’s your goal for the future?

Rollie:

Honestly, my goal is to get us away from the bad eating, period. I understand that we all start at some spot. Everyone starts somewhere. Before I got to this point, I was still dibbling dabbling with seafood and poultry. But eventually, your body ends up winning those battles.

My goal is in no way to force anyone of anything. Everyone, first off, we’re sovereign as a whole, and then secondly, everyone’s individuals. Everyone’s grown. Whatever you select is what you select. My goal is to bring over, full force, without the extra bad foods. People like to talk about things being done in moderation. Well, if I gave you a drop of cyanide every month – over time – that cyanide starts building up. (laughter)

Let me just split my goal from my heart. My heart is to get our people off of anything that’s not grown from the ground. That’s my overall goal, with what meat and dairy does to the body. I’ve known people, they were having issues with their body. I said, ” Dude, just give me two weeks with you.” I put them on a plant based situation. Went back to the appointment at the end of the month. All levels down. Great testimony.

So, yeah. My heart wants our people to get off of this stuff immediately, but I know that’s not a reality. So it goes back to “hey, consider this”. My way isn’t the right way, but it’s the right way for me. But eventually, I would like to see progression.

I just found out that fry bread not even traditional, that’s from the Man too. So if we gonna be tribal, let’s be tribal all the way, Cody. If if we’re going to do this thing the right way, with the origins of it, let’s do it.

My views do not reflect those of the Food Sovereignty Committee. I’m giving my story and my testimony, not trying to recruit and make people feel bad or judge. I don’t do that, because I don’t want people doing it to me. But they do it to me, too. They say I eat rabbit food. But I say, “I’ll be a rabbit. I’ll be a rabbit. I’ll be that, because it’s working for me.”

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