My spirit name is Biidabanaakwe. My English name is Tanya RedRoad. I am a descendant of the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. I’m very excited to announce that I have stepped into the role of Coordinator for the Toxic Taters Coalition. I want to take some time to introduce myself and share a little bit about my experiences and what brought me to this work. I’ll start with those who are very near and dear to my heart; I have four children: Alexis, Mykal, Brande, and Vandin, and three grandchildren: Ethan, Ezra, and Hunter. They have taught me so much, and remind me every day to put myself in spaces that have their future or best interests at the center.
I spent ten years working in the nursing and personal home care space, then worked in Indian education on the JOM and Title VII programs, and then moved into the nonprofit realm. I have experience with domestic and sexual violence work, HIV and Hepatitis C awareness, harm reduction and recovery-based services. My most current work has been peer-based with an emphasis on education support for families who have a child with mental, emotional, or behavioral health challenges — all of which we know can be the result of pesticide drift exposure. In all of these capacities, I have had the honor of learning how to take care of oneself while maintaining a relationship with the land and water.
I currently collaborate with the Indigenous Community Circle and the Gladys Ray Shelter to help promote Indigenous gardening and plants. We know our rural areas struggle with colonized food processes, but our urban Indigenous communities are also removed from Indigenous farming experiences. I am thankful for those who have the great knowledge and compassion, and take the time to do this work, and am grateful to be part of their efforts. I have also worked with Daughters of the Earth at Three Sisters Garden in Moorhead, another project that provides opportunities for urban families to participate in gardening. This program allows community members to understand the whole process of growing food, including tasting their hard work.
I have had the honor of being out at Standing Rock to stand in solidarity to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). I support any effort that promotes preserving Indigenous lands — colonizers and corporations have taken enough, and it’s time they honor treaties instead of dumping their waste on ancestral lands to line their pockets with no consequences. Corporate privilege needs to be shut down and these companies need to be held accountable — speaking of which, no more toxic taters!
The Toxic Taters Coalition works in the potato-growing areas of central and north central Minnesota, and is fighting against and advocating for the victims of health impacts from pesticide drift and contaminated water in the area. The pesticides that are harming us and our environment are drifting from potato fields owned by Ronald D. Offutt, or RDO, the largest potato grower in the world and one of McDonald’s leading potato suppliers.
As I enter the role of Toxic Taters Coordinator, I hope to stand with those before me who have been working so diligently on these issues, and help them challenge our local and state policies around pesticides and corporate agriculture to ensure safer food and water for our communities.
We plan to keep community education at the forefront of our work, conduct research on local agricultural contamination including water testing, share stories to understand the serious impacts of pesticide drift, and continue to take action and stand up for our health, whether that takes the form of giving public comment, working with legislators, or more.
These last few months I have been busy working to pull together and orientate our new Advisory Committee to gear up for the work ahead. We are also preparing a water testing project and collecting stories about folks’ experience with pesticides for a podcast — stay tuned!
Our main ask? We’re calling for safer potatoes and we have outlined specific actions that RDO and other potato farmers must commit to. These include asking growers to:
- Cut their use of hazardous pesticides significantly;
- Release information about what chemicals they are applying, and when;
- Fund human and ecological health studies to understand the effects of pesticides on impacted communities near potato production; and
- Use sustainable farming practices, including a third party certifier.
The work ahead of us is vast, but I have hope and faith in the power of our communities working together. If you would like to join our efforts or learn more about our work, you can contact me via email or telephone.