Local First Arizona will highlight GRIC’s Nutrition Coalition

Christopher Lomahquahu

Gila River Indian New


The Local First Arizona Foundation, an organization that works with diverse economies and programs in the state of Arizona, will recognize the Gila River Indian Community’s Nutrition Coalition in a future publication. 


“We wanted to highlight sustainable economies across the state, while capturing what’s going on in Indigenous foods,” said Samantha Zah, with the City of Tempe Office of Sustainability. During a Webex meeting, she talked with members of the GRIC Nutrition Coalition about their participation. 


 “We are proposing to create a ‘Yearbook,’ that would highlight the work of leaders in Indigenous food ways in Arizona, that includes perspectives from those in coalitions,” said Zah. 


The Indigenous Foodways ‘yearbook’ will showcase Indigenous foods and the role they play in the Community and their benefits.


“What made [this] coalition stand out to me was, [it] actively encourages Community members to participate in activities, like gardening,” said Laverne Jackson, a retired early education teacher and gardener from District 6. She said the rise of Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), and recent stay-at-home orders has partly influenced Community members to start gardening. 


According to their website, Local First Arizona says they “support food producers to increase connectivity between Arizona’s farms and its residents.”


“The Nutrition Coalition started out to get a better picture how the Community was regarding health and wellness,” said Nicole Watson, Community Health Nutrition, Nutritionist. She said, the coalition develops healthy activities and emphasizes traditional foods that reflect the Community. 


“What was so different about the group, was the vibrancy and how we as ‘O’otham’ were able to showcase our different foods,” said James Sundust, Community member from District 6. Sundust aspires to be a culinary chef and had attended school in St. Helena, Calif., north of San Francisco. 


“When I use the word ‘O’otham,’ it’s used to signify the ‘People,’ who do amazing work in this group, including the strong Native women leaders, who work in or for our Community,” said Sundust. 


LaVerne said the coalition does a good job incorporating traditional Akimel O’otham foods into their program. “[This] coalition is important, because we keep [those] traditions going, keep [it] alive in our Community,” said LaVerne.


Watson said, while there is still room to grow, the coalition has targeted many goals including how to increase access to healthy foods, the promotion of foods and physical activities. “As a collective, [we] will have to re-visit the goals, once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.”