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Promoting Healthy, Native North Carolinians at Pow Wows

Pow Wows are a great venue to showcase your initiatives to improve access to healthy, affordable foods and can be a venue to improve access to healthy, affordable foods too!  Check out how Cherokee Nation integrated healthy options into their national holiday and through their Cherokee Nation Healthy Nation/Foods Project created a vendor policy to mandate all Cherokee Nation concession stands sell only healthy or traditional foods.  To elaborate, the Cherokee Nation’s National Holiday offered attendees healthy concession options, including buffalo and elk jerky, baked chips, wrap sandwiches, trail mix bars, frozen fruit bars, turkey hot dogs, and flavored water.  The event also featured a 5k race, health fair, and cultural games with physical activity opportunities.
Besides efforts within schools, local Parks and Recreation concessions stands have tried to offer healthier options like Murfressboro Parks and Recreation in Tennessee.  They even posted calorie counts on some of their concession items.  Cities are also adopting healthy vending machine policies for their city buildings, including Boston, Bell Gardens, and Boulder.   Some of these efforts just focus on ensuring there are healthier alternatives available and healthier items are promoted.  Others work to improve access to healthy items and reduce less healthier offerings of foods and beverages.  Look at your current Pow Wow offerings, look within your tribal buildings, and seek out ways to improve your concession and vending offerings!

Food for Thought

  • Sell Sappony Water-provide access to a healthy beverage while supporting a fellow tribe!
  • Showcase healthy, traditional foods
    • Feature collard greens prepared with healthy seasoning
    • Provide samples of whole-grain breads and deli sandwiches
    • Raffle off healthy tribal cookbooks and recipes
    • Explore how Kinston-Lenoir County teamed with the University of North Carolina-Chapel HIll to use food tastings at their 30th Annual BBQ Festival of Neuse to promote healthy ways to prepare BBQ!   They are working on a healthy hush puppies recipe too!
    • Suggest healthy portion sizes and have your MC re-enforce what a healthy portion is
    • Garner sponsorship from local food retailers and encourage them to use signature and promotional materials that promote Native, traditional foods and provide specific guidance to type 2 diabetic customers
    • Encourage or even require each vendor to sell and promote at least one healthy food option at a reasonable price (The Taste of Chicago is one example of where this requirement is placed on vendors)
      • Possible items could be:
        • deli sandwiches on whole grain bread with fresh vegetables
        • whole grain bagels
        • peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat bread
        • fruit cups or seasonal whole fruit
        • veggie bags
        • smoothies
        • low-fat frozen yogurts
        • fresh salads
        • vegetable-based pasta salads
        • buffalo or elk jerky


Pictured above is the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribes fruit cup sales at their annual spring Pow Wow

Pictured above is the Lumbee Tribe’s Boys & Girls Clubs fruit cup fundraiser during the tribe’s spring Pow Wow

Food Safety Considerations

Working with your local health county and state agriculture department is essential to ensure food safety at your Pow Wow!  Contact your local health county and the state agriculture early in the planning stages to review any proposed operations to ensure each vendor is following the best food handling and preparation practices and complying with all relevant local, state, and federal laws.  At the State Department, contact Brett Wood (, 919-733-7366).
Often local and state agencies will have free sources you can distribute to your local vendors to re-enforce food safety tips!   Key food safety things to keep in mind are:

  • Purchasing your food from licensed vendors
  • Documenting all food purchases and food safety practices
  • Monitoring appropriate temperatures
  • Cooking foods to adequately kill any potential pathogens
  • Avoiding cross-contamination
  • Storing foods properly
  • Maintaining personal hygiene

Packaged Items (e.g., trail mix or baked chips):  Generally, if the concessions are only retail products that are already commercially processed and packaged (e.g., trail mix or baked chips), these items are not subject to inspection.  These concessions should not be engaged in any further processing, such as opening and heating sandwiches.  Generally, if fruit is cut up to be served as a topping on ice cream or frozen yogurt or for a banana split, the State Department of Agriculture regulates this activity and this activity alone does not rise to the level of a food service operation.
Whole Fruit or Other Agricultural Commodities:  State agriculture department inspects on a complaint-basis only, but you should call the department to inform them of your operation.
Prepared Foods (e.g., deli sandwiches or stews):  Generally, the local county health department inspects the food vendor as a temporary food service establishment.  All North Carolina local counties permit and inspect using the same North Carolina rules and regulations.

Other Concession and Social Gathering Opportunities to Ponder

Bakeless Bake Sales
Explore bakeless bake sales at your Pow Wow and other social gatherings!  This healthier alternative can easily be a competitive event for identifying the best desert or “sweet treat” alternatives.  As one example, the best tribal trial mix could be a competition at your next Pow Wow!  A tribal resolution, “Ban the Pop”, has been tried by a tribe out west to discourage soda pop at Pow Wows and other tribal events.  Smoothie stands might be a refreshing and healthy alternative!  Increasingly, schools and communities are finding creative non-food fundraising, ranging from fun runs to rent-a-teen helper to recycling festivals.
Healthy Tribal Meetings
Explore Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina resources on hosting healthy meetings.  Suggestions include healthy snacks and meals, along with physical activity options.  Similarly, the New York State Department of Health provides a one-pager, including suggestions for vendors.

Get Active!

Integrate physical activity to complement your healthy eating initiatives.

  • Encourage dancers and attendees to dance
  • Remind attendees to stand up and cheer on their favorite dancers
  • Challenge attendees to walk around the vendor booths multiple times
  • Create a morning walking activity or fun run

Pictured above is a Sappony-led activity break during the 2013 Unity Conference (the conference theme was “Planting the Future from our Traditional Roots through Healthy Eating!”).  Sappony led two breaks during the 2013 conference and we hope activity breaks are a regular part of future Unity Conferences!