Maybe you're an American Indian who drinks peppermint tea in the morning.

Or perhaps you hunt, fish and gather even as a city dweller, living close to the Earth the way American Indians did historically.

This week, Raquel Halsey is in Missoula as part of a project between the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the University of Montana. As part of her degree in anthropology, she is assessing "traditional food use and food security of an urban Indian community."

On Wednesday, Halsey and Quentin Means of the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center toured community gardens that have become a food source for clients of the center in the past couple years. The food assessment is a first for an urban American Indian community in the U.S., according to UM.

Halsey, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, landed in Missoula partly because of its vibrant local food environment, and she'll be talking with UM faculty and staff this week as well as members of the urban Native American community.

One of the first steps of the project is to answer a question about the dietary preferences of American Indians in the city.

"What kind of food would they like to access when they're in the city?" Halsey said.

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On the garden tour, Means, garden coordinator, talked with Halsey about the successes and challenges at plot Nos. 60 and 42 so far. Garden City Harvest operates the Associated Students of the University of Montana Community Garden. 

"This is a new initiative, or new effort we're trying to make available to our clients," Means said. "I think it's an awesome opportunity."

In the first year, clients volunteered to garden earlier in the season. On one plot they planted the "three sisters" of corn, beans and squash in mounds, and on another plot they grew pizza fixings like tomatoes, garlic, oregano and marjoram.

"It was pretty to see once it was fully grown," Means said.

At the center, they grew sweet grass and sage in planters, and brought boxes of vegetables to distribute from the garden plot. Means said people used up the vegetables, but later in the summer volunteers dropped off from working the plot.

Some American Indians headed to powwows in July and August, but he suspected others needed to feel more ownership of the project.

"It wasn't their garden. It was the center's garden," he said.

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This year, he'll break up the plots so a handful of individuals or families can have their own garden, and he'll mentor them from start to finish.

"They'll be involved throughout the growing season, so they'll be able to take their own food home," Means said.

As part of the assessment, Halsey will learn where city dwellers who are American Indian get traditional food, such as meats, roots, plants and teas. Once she has an idea of what people are eating and the ways they access food, she and partner Sierra Dakin-Kuiper will offer a report that will create a model to address food security in urban American Indian communities.

Means said he's looking forward to the recommendations and applying them to help clients of the center. The center has a mission to provide health education, outreach and referrals for local services.

Supporting the project are the following: Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Native Nation Building course, focused on Native American development issues in the 21st century; UM Environmental Studies; and the UM Native American Center of Excellence at the Pharmacy School.

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