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Oneida’s Ohelaku present for Farm Aid 2019

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stevens

Dr. Toni House (left on big screen, seated left on stage) and Laura Manthe (right on big screen, second from left on stage) listen as singer-songwriter Dave Matthews (right) speaks during Farm Aid 2019 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy September 21. Also on stage were Farm Aid founding members Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young.

Panelists from various communities around Wisconsin were asked to speak at the 35th annual installment of Farm Aid, the music and food festival founded by music legend Willie Nelson, September 21 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wis. Nelson started Farm Aid in 1985 with the help of several of his musical contemporaries to assist struggling farmers across the United States. Oneida Nation citizens Laura Manthe and Dr. Toni House were asked to represent Oneida and talk about land restoration and the impact of traditional foods.

“The point that I got across to the crowd was that if you can’t feed yourself then you aren’t truly a sovereign nation,” Manthe, who serves as the Oneida Nation Environmental Resources Manager, said. “I also talked about our seed bank Ohelaku (among the corn stalks), our white corn growers’ group, and how we only had a small handful of white corn seeds just four years ago. Last year we braided 10,000 pounds of corn and we now have more than 1,000 pounds of seed set aside just in case we need to help feed another Nation, so we take seed saving very seriously.”

Corn breeding has also fast become a specialty for Ohelaku. “We’re finding the best traits in the corn that we have and keep them going,” Manthe said. “We share seeds with other people so that the diversity of our seeds is strong.”

House and Manthe were part of a Native American panel facilitated by Oneida Nation Councilman Ernie Stevens III. Other Nations present for the panel included Red Cliff, Potawatomi, Ho Chunk, and Lac Courte Oreilles. “One of the questions presented to us was how to develop an alliance with the non-Native farmers,” Manthe said. “They’re starting to suffer from the land loss that we suffered from through government policies, so we have a lot in common. When someone loses their farm their kids can’t farm. So, I asked the audience to think about the Green New Deal being proposed by the Democrats. That resolution says to honor Indian treaties. When Native Americans are stronger, everyone is stronger.”

While the chance to speak and educate thousands of people at Farm Aid was a wonderful opportunity, Ohelaku is especially proud of the support they receive at home. “Our group couldn’t do the work they do without the support of the community,” Manthe said. “The tribe has been very helpful by giving us land to grow the corn on and the community comes out and helps us when it’s time to harvest. Our group, among other things, gives out two bags of dehydrated corn to families for funerals when they need it the most. Anybody needing any can contact me at”

Since its inception in 1985, the Farm Aid nonprofit has raised more than $57 million to assist America’s struggling farming industry. They answer the call to provide immediate and effective support to farm families in crisis as well as inform farmers and eaters about issues surrounding genetically modified food and growth hormones. Farm Aid’s Board of Directors includes Nelson and fellow singer-songwriters John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Dave Matthews. Each act performing at the Farm Aid benefit concert donates their time. Several farming organizations in Wisconsin are expected to receive grants from the money raised at Farm Aid 2019.