Published June 6, 2018
LONGMONT, Colo. — First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) – as part of its work to combat food insecurity, eliminate food inequities, and support economic and business development in Native American communities – today released the final results of a 12-month study of food prices on Lower 48 reservations and in Alaska Native villages.
The Indian Country Food Price Index: Exploring Variation in Food Pricing Across Native Communities — A Working Paper II shows that tribal communities in the contiguous United States (or Lower 48), over the 12-month study, paid on average $8.41 more for a basket of food items than the national average. Similarly, in Alaska Native villages, shoppers on average paid $35.84 more when compared to the national average for the same basket of food items. The national average for the basket of items was $23.28.
The study captured food-price trends between December 2016 and November 2017. Shoppers in 40 Native communities and Alaska Native villages collected food prices on a similar hypothetical food basket that contained milk, bread, eggs, chicken, ground beef, apples, tomatoes and coffee. Project participants entered their monthly collected prices into an online database provided by First Nations.
There are many reasons why Natives are forced to pay such excessive costs compared to the rest of the country, according to A-dae Romero-Briones, First Nations’ Director of Programs for Native Agriculture and Food Systems.
“Higher prices in Indian Country have been long recognized by the communities that have been severely impacted by them, but this reality has never been accurately documented until now. That was the purpose of this study – to document what was already well-known to residents in Indian Country – that they pay higher prices for food. This is shocking when you think about the communities affected. They have higher incidences of food-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, plus they suffer with lower incomes, high unemployment rates, and they even have fewer operational cars per capita than almost every other place in America to drive to a retail food store,” said Romero-Briones.
The county in the Lower 48 that paid the highest cost for the food items was Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota with an average price of $43.92. In Alaska, the county that paid the highest was Aleutians West at $67.38.
Romero-Briones said there are steps that Native communities are beginning to take to counter the high costs of food for their families.
“The most important thing to remember is that although food prices are so high, Indigenous communities have always fed themselves, even during the most inopportune times in our histories,” said Romero-Briones. “Although the data do show higher food prices, this is just one data set and it doesn’t fully describe the communities where these prices come from. There is and always has been a movement to develop community-based food systems such as gardens, intertribal trade, social and ceremonial food sharing and, more importantly, a new generation of food growers, forgers and knowledge carriers. It is this segment of our population who are the ones who can address high prices by practicing what Indigenous people have always done – find ways to feed our people.”
“These prices also tell us a lot about our tribal economies, since food price is an indicator of economy,” she added.
First Nations compared these prices to data against the national average prices listed in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- To review or download the full Indian Country Food Price Index: Exploring Variation in Food Pricing Across Native Communities – A Working Paper II,click here. (Please note that if you don’t already have one, you will need to create a free online account to download the report.)
- To review the First Quarter 2017 findings, click here.
- To review the Second Quarter 2017 findings, click here.
- To see a news release about the original Indian Country Food Price Index from July 2016, go here.