In this Partner Profile we speak with Neely Snyder, the Executive Director of Dream of Wild Health to learn more about the organization. We’re honored to have partnered with Dream of Wild Health to share stories of resilience and innovation from the Twin Cities area that emerged during the pandemic. Explore those stories here. Happy reading!
About Neely: Neely Snyder is an enrolled member of the St. Croix Chippewa and a direct descendent of Red Lake Nation and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Neely’s passion is building stronger and healthier Native communities. She enjoys watching her kids play sports and spending time with family and friends.
Let’s get started!
First up, Dream of Wild Health’s mission:
To restore health and wellbeing in the Native community by recovering knowledge of and access to healthy Indigenous foods, medicines, and lifeways.
Okay, now for the details – tell us more about what Dream of Wild Health is all about:
Dream of Wild Health began as a program of a nonprofit organization named Peta Wakan Tipi founded in 1986 to provide transitional housing and supportive services for Native Americans. In response to client requests for re-connection with their cultural heritage, the Dream of Wild Health program was created in 1998 to reclaim the traditional Native American relationship between people and the earth. As this became the primary focus of the organization, the name was changed to Dream of Wild Health in 2012.
Dream of Wild Health is a Native American led nonprofit serving the Native community primarily in the Twin Cities area (Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN), which has a large urban Native population. However, much of our work has been expanding to many other tribes and urban areas regionally and nationally. With an office located on the American Indian Cultural Corridor in Minneapolis and a 30-acre farm in Hugo, we target the urban Native community through multiple programs, such as our Native youth education and leadership, farm and food access, seed stewardship and social enterprise, community outreach and education, and network leadership.
Although situated in one of the top agricultural states in the country with several of the largest multinational food and agricultural corporations, little economic benefit or philanthropic support is derived by, or directed to, the Native community from agriculture. In fact, the products of these companies lead to many of the health disparities experienced in our communities, and the pollution that is contaminating our air, water, and food. Dream of Wild Health programs are geared toward addressing these issues by working with youth and community through education, economic development, community-building, partnerships, regenerative farming efforts and increased food access.
What is one thing that makes your organization unique?
Dream of Wild Health is one of the few Native-led organizations doing agricultural programming in the Twin Cities. Through programs many youth, interns, and seasonal farmers have been exposed to growing and harvesting food, saving seeds, and preparing fresh produce. Many have expressed interest in farming as a career. However, there have been no formal programs to take the next step for education, land access, and business development. With the addition of 20 acres last year, DWH is currently planning a space for community gathering, education, and a program to recruit, train, and support the next generation of Native farmers.
Systems Leadership Approach
How does Dream of Wild Health partner with others to catalyze systems change?
Working with partners is vital to program success as we rely on their skills and expertise to complement our work in community. Network building and coalition leadership helps us influence long-term, systems change needed to improve the overall health of our community. DWH is the lead organizer for the Upper Midwest Indigenous Seed Keepers Network. We work with tribes and organizations to develop training on growing, protection, preserving and sharing our indigenous seeds. DWH is also a lead organizer of the Indigenous Food Network, whose mission is to rebuild sovereign food systems within the intertribal Native community through collaboration.
How has COVID-19 impacted your community and how has DWH responded?
The pandemic revealed both the vulnerabilities and the strength and resilience of our community. As an organization, we have leaned into our approach rooted in our values of reciprocity and partnership. Therefore, we’ve responded to the urgent food insecurity needs perpetuated and worsened by the pandemic and civil uprising. We increased farm production, while working with partners to develop a meal and produce delivery system that provided critical support to community members. The pandemic revealed the importance of these networks; it also highlighted the urgency needed to scale up our work toward creating a local and inter-connected sovereign food system.
The pandemic has caused many regulations to be loosened and new partnerships to be formed. Of the changes you have seen and made, which would you like to maintain moving forward? Are you seeing steps that food systems leaders can take to ensure lasting change?
Our community education efforts have switched to a virtual format, reaching a national audience. We have secured an online platform for our wholesale efforts, which has streamlined sales and increased revenue. Some of our partners have switched their programming efforts to address food access needs by stopping regular programming efforts and began cooking meals to feed the elderly and families. Our farm has implemented a no-waste policy in which any surplus produce is delivered directly to community organizations. These efforts will continue going forward as long as there is a need and we are able to.
The country has saw ongoing protests around systemic anti-Black racism in 2020, and a violent fascist coup attempt at the start of 2021. The Twin Cities have been, in many ways, the epicenter of these protest movements, in reaction to the police murder of George Floyd. Systemic racism is not new, but there are more conversations happening around dismantling racism at the local, regional and national levels. How does Dream of Wild Health work to create a more equitable and explicitly anti-racist food system?
At Dream of Wild Health, we honor our Good Relative Policy in which we respect our elders, youth, water, plants, pollinators, animals, and mother earth. We believe that we are all related. Furthermore, we stand in solidarity with our fellow BIPOC communities. Through community partnerships, we are strengthening our resilience in the face of future crises and developing a system that is not reliant on a global food chain vulnerable to disruption. Through programming and community education efforts we will increase the supply of food for the Indigenous Food Network and other markets serving Native community members.
Dream of Wild Health Learnings
Given what you know now, what is one thing you wish you’d done differently as the organization developed?
Dream of Wild Health has grown tremendously in the past two years. I wish we had more time as a team to sit back, relax, and enjoy our successes. We are constantly moving at an incredibly rapid pace, but it would be nice to take a breath and enjoy these moments. It is important that we celebrate our success and focus on sustainability by increasing our capacity.
What is one of DWH’s proudest achievements?
One of our proudest moments was welcoming our youth alumni back to the farm as staff members. We often say, “We grow seeds and we grow leaders.” It’s been the vision of our founder, Sally Auger, that our youth would one day come back and continue the work that they have learned from us at Dream of Wild Health. Since 2019, we’ve welcomed back 4 youth alumni to our team. Sally was proud to see these efforts come full circle for us and we hope to see more of our youth come back in the future.
What is one challenge you’re facing right now? Anything your fellow FSLN members might be able to help with?
Much like other organizations, it has been a challenging year with most of our program and administrative staff working remotely. This has caused a slight disconnect between our team members. We are currently exploring ways to bring our staff together through team-building or wellness activities (virtually or in person). Any resources would be appreciated. One of the advantages of this is that our audience has expanded nationally and internationally.
Have you created any useful processes/resources that you’re particularly excited about? If so, please share!
Dream of Wild Health has developed Food is Medicine recipe and nutrition cards for our community members, and Indigenous Food Network curriculum that we hope to share with our school partners in the near future.
Any quotes or words of wisdom that you’d like to share with fellow FSLN members?
“Our youth and communities need us now more than ever. We must all remain committed to planning for the health and wellbeing of our future generations.”
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