As momentum behind adopting regenerative approaches to farming in the United States gains traction in mainstream agriculture, Forum for the Future speaks with Jerry Jondreau and Katy Bresette of Dynamite Hill Farms. Jerry and Katy reflect on mainstream interpretations of the concept of “regeneration” through a historical, decolonized lens rooted in their culture and heritage. They explain the importance of place-based strategies and prioritizing Indigenous voices in devising solutions for the long-term health of ecosystems and those who rely on them – and share examples of how they are helping stakeholders re-orient power towards tribal decision-making. By dissecting the intersection of regenerative agriculture and Indigenous agriculture, the duo begins to uncover how a true “regenerative” transition must shift extractive paradigms and be embedded in an Indigenous world view.

Here, Jerry and Katy meet Forum’s Sustainability Strategist, Michelle Stearn in one of three case studies making up the Frontline of Indigenous Agriculture series. As part of Forum’s Growing our Future program, the series aims to put the spotlight on the insights and perspectives of those working at the forefront of regenerative principles. 

Editor’s note: Each of the issues discussed represent a microcosm of the complex challenges faced by Indigenous communities; the principles explored offer a mere glimpse into the traditions Jerry and Katy’s community embodies. We hope this will be a starting point for future conversations. 

About Jerry and Katy

Jerry Jondreau, of the Crane clan from Wiikwedong, or the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and Katy Bresette, of the Loon clan from the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe in Northern Wisconsin, run Dynamite Hill Farms. Established in 2019, the farm is located just outside of L’Anse, Michigan on the Keweenaw Bay of Lake Superior on the 1842 Ojibwe Ceded Territory.

Established in 2019, Dynamite Hill Farms is a space where Jerry and Katy grow, cultivate, and harvest traditional foods not only to feed their family and community, but also to resuscitate traditional Ojibwe practices: the farm is a hub where the duo practices and teaches their participation in interpretations of izhitwaawin (the Ojibwe people’s way of life). This way of life includes a deep relationship with the land, and the food and medicine it provides—and is intertwined with their cultural identity developed over thousands of years and in practice today.

Both Jerry and Katy come from a long line of Ojibwe activists fighting for their rights to continue these fundamental practices, ceremonies, and food cultivation threatened by colonization and its aftermath. Their parents and grandparents helped drive paths to instigate a resistance movements to revitalize treaty rights retained by tribes in 1842 and 1854, which maintains tribal members’ rights to hunt, fish, and gather on ceded territory—integral practices to sustain maintain their relationship and responsibility to the land. 

Jerry tells Forum that one of the principal reasons they established the farm is to “help show other people how to do this [work], to rebuild our connections to this place,” their ancestral home, “and realize our responsibilities again.” From harvesting manoomin (wild rice) to ziinzibaakwadwaaboo (maple sap), their approach carries the torch forward that generations of Indigenous leaders have ignited to restore a connection to Ojibwe foodways— the “holistic and interrelated nature of cultural food systems.” 

Jerry and Katy’s story is one of adaptation, resilience, and community collaboration. In a dominant system that perpetuates the legacies of colonialism and genocide, it is a daily act of resistance to live out the Ojibwe way of life.

The Keewenaw Bay sits on the southern shore of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, once home to thriving ecosystems of fish like ogaa (walleye) and manoomin (wild rice)—staple foods that are also essential elements of Ojibwe origin stories. But fragmented access and ownership, chemical contamination and over-harvesting are just some of the systemic barriers to accessing these pillars of life for the Ojibwe. This continued erasure of Indigenous food systems has burdened Indigenous efforts to fight climate change, and contributed to the harrowing statistics: across the 574 federally recognized tribes located in 35 states, American Indians and Alaska Natives have the lowest life expectancy of all racial or ethnic groups.

If environmental degradation is a weapon in the legacy of genocide, revitalizing Native foodways can be a tool for healing relations with life-sustaining ecosystems. Informed by Ojibwe teachings, Jerry and Katy urge that embodying the foundational elements of Ojibwe understanding in our food and agriculture systems is necessary not only for the well-being of Native peoples, but also for the survival of humanity as a whole. 

Recontextualizing “regeneration”: the need for a paradigm shift

In the dominant U.S. agricultural system, farmers are incentivized to grow foods in a way that compromises human health and damages the ecosystem’s longevity, contributing to 8-10% of climate change-causing emissions. Lauded as a solution to address these issues, regenerative approaches to agriculture have gained mainstream attention in recent years. Though many “regenerative” practices are taken directly from Indigenous and traditional approaches, Jerry and Katy point out that in the process, they have been corrupted: both the term and the strategies are decontextualized, reducing what should be a way of life to a set of discrete practices that ultimately fail to address the root causes of ecosystem degradation. Indigenous agricultural and forestry practices, on the other hand, are inherently regenerative in that they encompass daily life grounded in place, rather than a reductionist process that promotes extraction. “In other words, you cannot help but begin a healing and healthy relationship with place when you exist among it,” Katy says.

The Indigenous world view challenges the dominant siloed understanding of agriculture itself, which often conjures images of fields of neatly planted row crops cultivated in isolation. Instead, to be truly regenerative, agriculture and food systems should be understood as intricately connected to ecosystems and beings therein. “Regeneration as it's currently understood is [just] reparation from past grievances in the system,” Katy says. “To be place-based, [a practice] needs to be proactively in relationship with a place. That is how you begin to regenerate.” 

Jerry and Katy emphasize a major paradigm shift is needed: away from extractive agriculture and towards a system based on foundational values of responsibility and reciprocity with the land and all living beings. They explain that soil and ecosystem health—typical focus points of the mainstream regenerative agriculture movement—are just parts of a holistic relationship among  humans and all living beings, which is central to the Ojibwe worldview. Jerry challenges us to consider: “If we're still extracting so much from that soil based on that agricultural practice [such as mechanistic agriculture], is that agricultural practice the best for that soil type?”

Jerry shows the plot on the farm where the duo grows a variety of crops using traditional methods passed down for generations. These methods often challenge conventional ways of growing food: while a nitrogen-fixing cover crop or vermiculture system in one place may yield results on the soil nutrient content in that context, it may not be the case for long-term vitality – or even survival – of another place. “If we're depleting the [soil] nitrogen through row crops, maybe we shouldn't be planting in that manner,” Jerry says. Respecting the seeds and the sovereignty of the plants in this process is key, and acknowledging that a non-mechanistic approach to agriculture will require a big paradigm shift.

Forum’s multi-stakeholder initiative Growing our Future highlights the need to “fundamentally transform the goals of our agriculture system: from one focused on maximizing yield and profit to one that supports equitable economic prosperity, allowing people and planet to flourish.” Indigenous practices and relationships to the land take this a step further, by asking us to consider the sovereignty of the beings, including the plants, animals and microorganisms, in a place and asking what we as human beings can do to support that sovereignty. 

Within the dominant Western paradigm, what will it take to extend rights to living beings beyond humans, and acknowledge the agency of all living beings involved in our efforts to apply regenerative approaches?

“Regenerative agriculture ought to be the development of a relationship to place, and upholding responsibility to [the living] beings in the place,” Katy says. According to Ojibwe educator, activist, and elder Eddie Benton-Benai, the people rely on all other beings to sustain life, so in turn hold the responsibility to care for them. As Benton-Benai relates in The Mishomis Book: “The people were given a gift of unlimited development. But this development had its dangers, its twin. The people could help themselves but they could also destroy themselves.” These stories, retold for generations, are examples of the depth of knowledge that is carried by this land and are built into the surviving repositories of Indigenous knowledge.

Intergenerational collaboration to reconnect and repair 

Respectful collaboration is key to address the decimation of ecosystems and living beings who suffer as a result. This process is easily achieved by supporting and rebuilding the relationship that was purposefully disconnected with the land and the Indigenous people of that land.

In the spirit of collaboration, Jerry and Katy worked on an interdisciplinary team to create the Dibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad (Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu, a guide to “Caring for those who take care of us”). The menu is a multimedia guidebook to chronicle and share some of the methods currently influenced by some Ojibwe, Oneida, and Menomenee people to adapt to the climatic changes the land and ecosystems are experiencing due to extractive human activity. It features place-based adaptation methods designed by tribal communities. These methods reflect a world view that makes decisions according to the changes happening on the land. It provides a tool to develop relationships and form strategies for intertribal and inter-organizational collaboration.

Through their work and teachings, Jerry and Katy advocate for a re-orienting of decision-making power back to Indigenous communities through Indigenous land-based practices rooted in their cultural heritage. “I don't care if this is in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Oregon… If you have a climate change project and you want to do this work,” Jerry says, “you’d better have a relationship with your local tribes. And they better be the ones that are leading this project.”

As Jerry, Katy, and their collaborators outline in the guidebook, "relationships [with both human and non-human beings] will present the path to healing and to a sustainable future." 

The impacts of extractive agriculture, and a new way forward

One of the key tenets of the Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu is the importance of relationships and knowledge built over time.

“If you're regenerating something,” Katy explains, then ask: “What happened? What is—and what should be—in these soils, on this landscape, in the water? Are you going to wait 600 years for this to become the forest it was? That's what [regeneration] really actually means here.” That’s the foundation of place-based decision making. As Jerry puts it, “it’s not just the practices themselves that matter, it’s the overall approach rooted in place, developed in accordance with traditions and methodologies that took shape over millennia.” 

Walking through the forest behind their home where they harvest ziinzibaakwadwaaboo (maple sap), Jerry and Katy share how the history of the ininaatig (sugar maple) illustrates what happens to the land—and the well-being of Indigenous communities—when it’s been impacted by extractive methods. 

The outermost 10 acres of their property where Jerry and Katy practice sugaring was taken out of tribal ownership following the allotment period which was codified in 1854 in this particular region.1 More recently, this portion of the land was “high-graded” by private landowners, a destructive and exploitative practice in which loggers take the healthiest trees, leaving the forest with poor genetic feedstock for future regeneration. The plot was finally purchased by Jerry’s family and came back into tribal care generations later.2 

Jerry and Katy show how “where we are right now in the western UP [upper peninsula of Michigan], we have the most dense sugar maple stands in the world… it’s the epicenter of sugar.” Jerry points out how many of the trees closest to the road are diseased or unhealthy due to the loggers. “In 1865, my community made over 450 thousand pounds of maple sugar,” he tells us as we walk further into the denser section of the forest, where his great-grandmother practiced sugaring in the 19th century. “If you took that volume of sugar and put it into today’s value, it’s more valuable than both of the [Ojibwe tribe’s owned] casinos combined.”

Jerry and Katy use this clear delineation to illustrate the devastating impacts of extractive mindsets that pervades many aspects of the U.S. agriculture and resource management system: the living beings on the land and the long-term regeneration of the ecosystem are no longer prioritized. 

Despite the decimation of their cultural inheritance, Jerry and Katy are actively participating in a resurgence of sugaring practices in the Ojibwe community. Their methodologies are rooted in tradition, while blending current technologies in order to compensate for the current situation they and their communities are facing.

Katy emphasizes that they aren’t necessarily the ones “regenerating” the forest. “It’s doing that without us,” she says. “We are simply participating and revitalizing our relationship with it again.”

Protecting ecosystems under threat: a prerequisite to regeneration

The traditional Ojibwe harvesting practices for manoomin (wild rice) exemplify how regenerative practices are embedded in the Ojibwe worldview: a profound understanding that foods are all around us, systemically intertwined with our water, soil, and climate. “When [those ecosystems] become threatened,” Katy shares, “we lose those foods.”

The gathering of the manoomin is integral to both the sustenance and cultural heritage of Ojibwe communities. Their homeland is characterized in traditional stories as “the place where food grows on water” (Benton-Benai). Colonial settlers in the area observed that the Indigenous peoples did not harvest all of the rice, falsely concluding that much of it went to “waste” during the harvest (Kimmerer). Little did they know, the Ojibwe harvesting method actually regenerates the rice beds by re-seeding. 

“As I'm ricing, I take a portion of that rice and put it into the open water. We want this rice to be here and we're gonna help it grow,” he says. “But that's not going to be possible if a massive mining company [such as Eagle or Talon mines] takes 40,000 acres of rice beds out of public access.3 Legislation introduced in the US House of Representatives could further jeopardize the ecosystem by lifting regulations and greenlighting energy and mining developments. Despite efforts made by Indigenous activists and environmental groups to push back, key representatives who back the billl have failed to address the demands of tribes on the issue of land use. 

These battles are an extension of the activism that runs deep in both Jerry and Katy’s families. But they are also major impediments for them be able to focus on their own mission. “We're still trying to stop degradation, let alone regeneration,” Jerry says. “It's constant, it's exhausting.”

As extractive mindsets proliferated since the cession of territories, the bountiful rice beds have been decimated by over 90%, according to researcher and biologist Barb Barton. Habitat degradation, and water manipulation, and contamination caused by continuously encroaching manufacturing industry and industrial agriculture projects like the mines have significantly altered the landscape, making it unsuitable for the delicate ecosystem required for wild rice to thrive. 

To keep the practice alive, Jerry now has to travel to Minnesota to harvest rice using traditional methods. In partnership with tribal councils, activists like Jerry are closely monitoring remaining rice beds to protect them from the continued threats of extractive industry – a necessary precursor to regeneration. 

Re-envisioning “regeneration”: expanding boundaries and borders

“You got the card that says, here you are, you can be an Ojibwe human being,” Katy shares, referring to her tribal identification card. “But that doesn't actually allow me to be Ojibwe. It allows me to have a political identification and to stay in my concentration camp,” another name she has for the reservation. “As an Ojibwe woman, in order to live, I'd have to travel and move around and follow the food,” she says.

According to Katy, to grow or harvest food “regeneratively” requires more than just a static plot of land and the implementation of pre-prescribed soil health practices. These decontextualized practices “may actually be, long term, a bad thing for the Indigenous people that live there,” and for the ecosystem as a whole, Jerry says. 

The authors of the Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu share a strategy to regenerate species in the face of drastic effects of climate change by “relocating ecosystems to support a new balance.” But the boundaries of reservations, states, and other political boundaries limit those solutions. “Our reservation boundaries cannot get picked up and we can't migrate to Canada as the sugar maple go up there,” Jerry adds. “If we want to be Keweenaw Bay Indian community Lake Superior Ojibwe, it's only right here.”

Katy prepares local venison pozole for a family meal. The family exchanges their goods with local producers and food collectors, supplementing their stores with Indigenous  corn and grain varieties from across Turtle Island, or the North American continent.

Challenging the current system: prioritizing reciprocity, respect, and responsibility for the long-term health of ecosystems

Centering the decision-making with those who have cultivated and nourished the land for millennia will ultimately restore right relations with the land, the authors of the Menu contend. “Our past helps us see the decisions that we should be making for [a] positive outcome in the future,” Jerry says. “All of these stories and understandings [over] thousands of years; that's what's helping steer the decision-making process: looking seven generations ahead.”

The duo’s daughter enjoys the maple sap before it’s boiled. Her interaction with the process of sugaring is part of Jerry and Katy’s efforts to empower youth to embody the principles of their traditional food harvesting techniques, as well as cultivating relationship with the local ecosystem. The family taps, gathers, hauls and boils the sugar maple sap in a process called sugaring. It takes 35 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. The sap is boiled over a wood fire to produce syrup and sugar, following traditional practices passed down over the generations in the Great Lakes region. 

Through their work, Jerry and Katy are constantly making decisions about impact and longevity. “This year, I made the decision: I don't want to tap any of the trees more than once.” Katy says. “And I made that choice because I was realizing our impact.” She and Jerry have built an elaborate system of sap lines and siphons through the forest to strategically transport the sap tapped from trees that can tolerate the harvest, without the need to haul back the harvest on snowshoes or a snowmobile.

“I have the ability, the stamina, the physical strength in the upcoming years to gather from further trees,” she continues. Rather than tapping the same nearby trees, as is done with extractive methods, Katy “can walk to the next tree and put the tap in that one to make it a little less burdensome on the tree”—a tough task that asks more physically from the people, not the tree.”

Within the confines of the current agriculture system, is it possible for farmers to make similarly tough decisions about growing and harvesting on land, in a way that prioritizes the long-term health of the ecosystem?

To do so will directly challenge settler and Western modes of authority, which place highest value on Western science and anthropocentric research that often excludes Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK, or Indigenous knowledge).

For the decision-making dynamics to be re-oriented towards tribal sovereignty in the ways that Jerry and Katy recommend, institutions will have to begin to recognize TEK as much as, if not more than, Western science. In 2021, the Biden administration officially recognized TEK as a priority to elevate within federal scientific and policy processes. This commitment initiated a platform for the US government to turn to tools like the Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu as guidance for federal decision-making, signaling an important step towards a reconfiguring relationships, trust, and power necessary to begin regeneration.

A call to action: the time is now to create a new foundation for the future

How can non-Native entities engage the communities who know and cherish the land, and hold the knowledge of caring for the beings there? Mainstream agricultural stakeholders need to go beyond acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples; recognizing and reconciling the harm non-Native stakeholders have caused by breaching Indigenous communities’s trust for centuries. The authors of the menu suggest: “Do not assume you are the authority. Take guidance from the community, understand your place in this effort, and allow for true relational values to flourish.”

Katy knows her children will suffer from the impacts of climate change and continued extractive mindsets, so she continues to teach them the knowledge from her people as a way to truly begin to mitigate what is coming and regenerate what was there.

Like many stakeholders engaging in Growing our Future, Jerry and Katy urge that the time is now to carry out bold actions in food, agriculture, and climate. The future of soils, food and water access, and the earth’s climate is at stake. “I'm not worried about us. And I can't be worried about you all anymore,” Katy urges. “Our parents and grandparents told you what to do. We are telling you what to do. You were given the opportunity once, you have the opportunity now. You have to decide to do it differently.”

Jerry and Katy’s experience is one of three stories highlighted by international sustainability non-profit, Forum for the Future, to put the spotlight on vital perspectives on regenerative agriculture in the United States. The Frontlines of Indigenous Agriculture series aims to tell the stories of those on the frontline of regenerative principles and to explore what can – and must – be learned from Indigenous voices as transitions within global food systems gather pace.

Find out more with Michael Kotutwa Johnson, a 253rd-generation Hopi farmer, and with Spring Alaska Schreiner of Sakari Farms.

The Frontlines of Indigenous Agriculture series is part of Forum’s Growing our Future program.


1Jerry and Katy emphasize that to truly understand the complex history of the plots would require hours of discussion, pages of research, and a robust understanding of how settler-colonial and tribal legal systems intersect. Take the White Earth Reservation Land Settlement Act, for example, which allowed the US government to seize millions of acres of land and prevented those evicted from their homeland from investigating the land theft. In response, the White Earth Land Recovery Project is fighting to restore land and cultural rights, and mitigate environmental decimation by restoring Ojibwe ways of life, and is part of a larger ecosystem of resistance to continued assaults on Indigenous land.

2The sugar maple stand pictured is a part of the tribally owned property. Jerry and Katy sugar on their own private property and additionally, have a permit from the tribe to access the adjoining land. This  process requires bureaucracy and red tape with both the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, adding to the barriers they face in continuing their traditional practices in order to nourish their family and community.

3From proposed massive open pit nickel mine in Akon county said to supply Tesla batteries, to toxic herbicide chemicals planned to be applied by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources to treat invasive species, tribes are in constant battle to stop ecosystem threats and protect rice beds. “The tribe has to spend millions of dollars on legal fees,” Jerry shares, but are up against companies that with full coffers for legal proceedings, and actively contribute to the campaigns of members of Congress to pave the way for continued extraction at the expense of ecosystems and living beings who inhabit them.


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