Rou Dalagurr: Food Sovereignty Lab & Cultural Workspace Breaks Ground

By Karley Rojas & Carrie Tully

Dr. Kaitlin Reed cuts the ribbon at the Rou Dalagurr Groundbreaking event on October 8, 2021.

In 2019, HSU Students in NAS 331 had a vision for a project that would re-indigenize the campus while bringing lasting benefits to the community, building partnerships across campus, and reconnecting students with place. The project envisioned was the first ever Food Sovereignty Lab and Cultural Workspace (FSL). As of October 8th, this lab will be a physical manifestation of those dreams. We are now building Rou Dalagurr. 

This lab is dedicated to the research, practice and preservation of food sovereignty and traditional ecological knowledge. The purpose of the FSL is to provide an opportunity to work directly with the surrounding communities, tribal nations, and national and international scholars and community leaders to center, learn, and engage with Indigenous science, environmental management, and preservation practices. Our lab will build national and international connections that foreground Indigenous voices in rigorous academic research, publications and community-centered programming, connecting youth to higher education, policy development, economic development, and climate resiliency. 

As stated in the Declaration of Nyéléni, there are six proposed principles of food sovereignty: focusing on food for people, valuing food providers, localizing food systems, making decisions locally, building knowledge and skill, and working with nature. According to Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy and Dr. Kaitlin Reed, food sovereignty is also about centralizing Indigenous voices in how we collectively move forward in building sustainable food systems. Therefore, the revitalization of traditional food sources through Indigenous food sovereignty is critical to how we build food sovereignty in our region and beyond. 

“Everyone working together on this, and making it happen. We need this, we need to bring back our foods, and traditional foods so we can be happy again.” ~ Ted Hernandez

Over the past year the FSL’s Steering Committee has worked to raise over $250,000, securing funding from private donors, Humboldt Area Foundation, the Humboldt Energy Independence Fund and the Humboldt Health Foundation to assist with the initial remodeling phase of the lab. We have established a speakers series, film series, annual fundraising events, and will soon be starting an on-campus Indigenous plants garden. The remodeling of the space began on October 8, 2021 with an expected opening date in Fall 2022. The groundbreaking included a ceremony with Chairman Ted Hernandez of the Wiyot Tribe, and remarks from HSU admin, Lab co-directors, HSU students & co-founders, and Steering Committee Members. The recorded event can be found on HSU’s Native American Studies’ Facebook page 

This permanent collaborative space will nurture proactive conversations regarding food sovereignty and security, and inspire active participation in writing policy to reform our food systems. In addition, our goals for the lab align perfectly with HSU’s polytechnic designation. According to the Polytechnic Prospectus, the university seeks to be a “model and leader for others across the country and globe”, and “believe[s] in working directly with tribal communities”. Rou Dalagurr will incorporate hands-on experience for students by training them to engage with tribal communities, while also appealing to students which will help with recruitment, enrollment, and retention through programs which will serve as a model to others throughout the world.

Projects which are bringing us forward in our trajectory include building an operating endowment, funding an Endowed Chair of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Indigenous Environmental Studies, funding youth camps and youth outreach programs, building an internship and community outreach program, establishing an interactive Indigenous food guide for California, and establishing an Indigenous foods festival. The interior of the lab will include a commercial kitchen and food processing space for basketry, art, regalia, and cultural practices. The exterior of the lab will include a salmon smoking pit, a Native plant and food garden including interpretive signage of Native plants, and basketry designs throughout the pathways and gardens. Such a space for community, Indigenous nations, and student collaboration will ethically center and amplify Indigenous leadership, knowledge, and land stewardship, transforming our communities and learning spaces and giving Humboldt an opportunity to experience the vibrancy and modern existence of Indigenous Peoples and cultures in our local area.