Native Nation Aquaponics Today
As we have seen in the preceding sections:
- Indigenous economies were deeply interwoven with local ecosystems, using principles such as hózhó and
bimaadiziwin to maintain balance between all elements.
- This balance framework prevented environmental degradation, wealth inequality, and many other problems we see
- 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).
- Colonialism destroyed both balance and diversity. Restorative justice seeks the means to bring balance and
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.
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
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).
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.
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.