Cheyenne River Sioux Nation
At the time Elsie Dubray appeared in GATHER, she was a high school senior. Her analysis of lipid structure in buffalo meat, which her family raises and harvests, took her to the Intel World Science Fair, where she placed fourth in the biology division in 2018. Elsie is committed to using the resources of Stanford’s biological sciences program to further her research of traditional Indigenous diets as a way to combat the diabetes epidemic in Indian Country.
Now in her junior year at Stanford and studying biology, Elsie shares with us some insight into COVID-19, her studies and GATHER.
What are the biggest food issues in your industry and do you solve them?
If my “industry” is considered my relationship with Buffalo and what I’d like that to be on a larger scale, I think the biggest issue we face is upholding the integrity of the Buffalo, and not sacrificing them to capitalism and colonial constructs of culturally irresponsible agriculture and the idea of animals as property undeserving of respect. I think this is a really, really hard thing to combat and something I’m going to dedicate the rest of my life to. But, in the meantime, I try to connect with the traditional value and significance of buffalo and remind myself that everything I do must be value-based and done in a good way. Then I take that as I continue to learn so I can fulfill my responsibilities to the buffalo and to my people.
How has COVID-19 impacted those issues?
I think the pandemic really has illuminated how important it is for Indigenous communities to have food sovereignty. In our community, as has been the case across the nation, prices for food went way up. I remember reading in the paper that ground beef was selling for over $15.00/lbs. at the grocery store in Eagle Butte in a time when our tribe established reservation border COVID checkpoints to protect our people, and you needed a permit to leave the reservation. While there’s been a need in our community for a long time, I think the sudden and direct effects people felt because of COVID-19 made it much more apparent. Importantly, I also think that the way the pandemic has forced everyone to slow down made this idea a lot more realistic to people because we’ve all really had to ground ourselves in gratitude and appreciation for what we have and what’s around us. And we’ve seen some of the good things that have come out of that – be it cleaner air in cities because of less traffic pollution, a reconnection with the land in your backyard, or deeper gratitude for the water some of us are lucky enough to drink.
What were the biggest surprises, if any, after watching the film?
I knew from (GATHER Director) Sanjay’s Instagram posts that the other people featured in this film were doing amazing things and I was already so inspired, but watching the film made me feel really star struck. I am so inspired by the initiatives of Twila, Nephi, Clayton, and Sammy (others featured in the film) and the Ancestral Guard and really look up to them. Additionally, I was surprised by how much I’ve personally learned and grown in the years since filming began. I was also surprised by how even as someone featured in the film who knew its premise and was directly involved, I was deeply motivated and excited to amp up my own involvement in food sovereignty and connecting others.
What do you hope people will take away from GATHER?
I hope people will watch GATHER and 1) think about how deeply rich and beautiful our Indigenous lands, cultures and traditions are, 2) realize that food sovereignty looks different for everyone, but it also unites us, and 3) that this movement for food sovereignty is of significant important to the health and well-being of our peoples and this land.