Native Nation Aquaponics Today

As we have seen in the preceding sections:

  1. Indigenous economies were deeply interwoven with local ecosystems, using principles such as hózhó and bimaadiziwin to maintain balance between all elements.
  2. This balance framework prevented environmental degradation, wealth inequality, and many other problems we see today.
  3. Another way to look at these systems is to think of them as an “engineered landscape” where human and nonhuman agencies shape each other. That supports biodiversity (lots of different plants), nutritional diversity (a key to our health), and cultural diversity (many native nations).
  4. Colonialism destroyed both balance and diversity. Restorative justice seeks the means to bring balance and diversity back.

Many native nations today are using contemporary forms of engineered ecosystems in the quest for restoration. One of these is aquaponics, a system that combines hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) with aquaculture (cultivating fish, shrimp, clams, or other water-based organisms). Because nutrients from fish poop are absorbed by the plants, and plants are filtering water to be used by the fish, concept of bimaadiziwin fits well with these approaches. The materials might be glass, metal, and electronics rather than rocks and soil, but the traditional concepts of balance and biodiversity are just as applicable.

Some examples:

  1. In 2015, Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen Jackie Tyler and her husband Richard began the Native Oklahoma Aquaponic Harvest, or NOAH, as a response to the collapse of a local food pantry. The enterprise grew into a thriving business, which now gives away 30 percent of what is grown to the food pantry, and reinvests the profits into expansions that create more job opportunities. They describe the absence of pesticides, soil toxins or other chemicals as another advantage.
  2. In 2013, high school student Carlos Valenzuela began researching aquaponics as a way to help his community on the Tohono O'odham reservation. His idea has grown into a 24 student team that started with small physical models, similar to what you will build in this exercise. Their plant choices support both Indigenous culture and biodiversity; for example Yoeme basil, Hopi red dye (both edible and useful as a textile colorant), and Tarahumara chia (said to be an important source of energy for long distance running).
  3. Health advocates in the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin were puzzling over how to keep fresh produced on youth plates in their harsh winters when they hit upon the aquaponics model. They now have 70 tilapia per tank, with multiple tanks in one large greenhouse, and lettuce going straight to the local high school.
  4. The Bishop Paiute live in the rain shadow east of the Sierras. They turned to aquaponics in part because there is not much water for irrigating regular gardens. Their first try was to raise trout, a local favorite, but they found that the pH of the water fluctuated too much, so they switched to tilapia, which is much more tolerant of heat and alkaline waters. You can see their clay balls and bell siphon, which you will be using in your construction as well.