The Experiential World of D'Arcy McNickle

A World Beyond Imagination?

Day not so strenuous. Forms go faster. Also discover some mistakes made yesterday. Hope they get their sugar.
D’Arcy McNickle, 5 May 1942

Sugar ration cards. The Tohono O’odham Tribal Cattle Program. Migrant farms. Cooperatives. Lectures on nutrition and health. These things, all of which D’Arcy McNickle wrote about as he traveled through the Southwest as a representative of the Office of Indian Affairs in the spring of 1942, might seem disparate.

In reality, they all speak, like McNickle’s garden writing, to the ways in which food shapes our lives. The quote featured here speaks to McNickle’s efforts to assist Native workers in migrant labor camps register for sugar rations issued by the federal government after imports collapsed shortly after U.S. entry into World War Two. His references to cattle programs, cooperatives, migrant labor, and lectures on nutrition and health in still other entries further speak to the ways that tribal nations sought to build their economies and individuals sought to provide for their families in the midst of drought and the ongoing Great Depression.

Thinking about all the insights into food and foodways evident in McNickle’s diary led us to ask whether he could have imagined a world like ours–one in which community gardens, food sovereignty, Indigenous foodways, and traditional ecological and ethnobotanical knowledge have become not only powerful methods of individual and collective empowerment in Native America but also increasingly mainstream methods of addressing food inequality and the climate crisis. Of one thing we feel certain: local people, scientists, and academics alike are doing so, like McNickle would have, with a growing awareness of the value of Indigenous knowledge and of the need for local community members to take the lead.

How does food shape your experiential world and what are your foodways?