The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Michelle Obama promotes 'Let's Move' with Indian plantings

In the latest sign of the Obama administration’s interest in Native Americans, First Lady Michelle Obama and American Indian children harvested vegetables from the White House kitchen garden Friday and planted the “three sisters” — corn, beans and squash — that Indians traditionally grow together.

“Today’s a big day for us in the garden because it’s the first time we’re going to use native seeds of corn, beans and squash in the way they’ve been planted for thousands of years,” Obama said.

The event followed the recent launch of “Let’s Move Indian Country,” a part of the first lady’s broader campaign to try to reduce childhood obesity among all American children.

The Obama administration also recently settled the longstanding Keepseagle discrimination law suit that Native Americans brought against the Agriculture Department. The Native American vote is considered key in presidential and congressional elections in some western states, and was helpful in President Obama’s 2008 election.

The American Indian children who joined the first lady came from a variety of tribes including Jemez Pueblo, Skokomish, Cherokee, Sault Ste. Marie, Navajo, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, St. Regis Mohawk, Tlingit, Oglala Sioux, Standing Rock Sioux, and the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. The children were still on the White House grounds when President Obama returned from his trip to Toledo. He greeted them and presented his wife with a new pair of gardening gloves. Native American leaders, including Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk, were also present.

The first lady noted that the traditional Native American planting technique of growing the three plants together is mutually beneficial: the corn provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles; the beans provide the soil with nitrogen that the other plants use; and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight and preventing weeds. The Cherokee White Eagle corn, Rattlesnake pole beans, and Seminole squash seeds used came from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

She also noted that she had started a special component of her Let’s Move campaign focused on Indian country because American Indian and Alaska Native children ages 2 to 4 had a higher prevalence of obesity (20.7 percent) than any other racial or ethnic group in 2009. In Indian Country, one in three children is overweight or obese before the fifth birthday, and a national survey of American Indian and Alaska Native high school students from urban and suburban areas found that 18.9 percent are obese, the White House said.

Planting a garden, the first lady noted, could be part of Let’s Move in terms of both healthy eating and getting exercise. “We’re working specifically with young kids in the Native American community all across the country,” Obama told the children.”
The first lady and the children harvested crops in the garden, including lettuces, rhubarb, chard, kohlrabi, sugar snap peas, turnips, broccoli and herbs – some of which will be used in Tuesday’s White House dinner in honor of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.