Cornell University: Student’s research focuses on Indigenous agriculture system

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Like many students who had an amazing summer, Milo Vella ’23 is starting the semester thinking about how he will incorporate that experience into his senior thesis.

Vella, a Robert S. Harrison College Scholar in the College of Arts and Sciences, spent his summer gardening for the Big Pine Paiute Tribal Environmental Department and the Indian Water Commission in Owens Valley, Calif. His experience this summer built on a spring break trip from last year, funded by the student-run Community Partnership Funding Board, advised by the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement.

Vella is interested in “food sovereignty” within Indigenous communities – a growing field of work and study focused on the connections between food, food systems, place, nutrition and Native peoples’ right to plan for their own future.

“Against all odds, Nüümü , the Paiute people of the Owens Valley in California, have endeavored to maintain their place-specific food systems since the intrusion of European settlers onto their territories,” Vella said. “Many of these communities and their governments are working to re-establish certain elements of their rich heritage foodways which hold continuing relevance in the face of contemporary crises.”

The movement involves not only re-establishing heritage foods, but also bolstering the systems that sustain them: irrigation and land access, for instance.

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