In Maine, 11.4 percent of people experience food insecurity, according to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the report does not break down the data to show the percentages within particularly vulnerable groups.

Experts know that the prevalence of food insecurity is even higher among people of color, and that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted Maine’s Indigenous communities, underscoring disparities in economic stability and food access that have persisted for generations.

And they say that the lack of data is damaging.

“The invisibility of Black, brown and Indigenous people in data sets has a direct result on the resources we’re able to secure and the effective advocacy we’re able to undertake. Not having the data suggests there is not a problem. In fact, the opposite is true. We’ve known this for generations,” said Lisa Sockabasin, a citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk, who serves as director of Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness.

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness provides culturally centered public health and social services to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point and the Penobscot Nation.

Through its Ktanaqson (abundance) program, the nonprofit is trying to help meet the needs of low-income tribal members by providing education about traditional foods and increasing community knowledge about how to grow, harvest, store, preserve and cook them.

The program empowers tribal households and communities to use their own traditions to address hunger by cultivating their own fresh and healthy foods, said Andrea Sockabasin, a citizen of the Penobscot Nation, who leads the organization’s division of nutritional and physical activity.

No Kid Hungry, a national campaign of Share our Strength, recently gave the organization a grant to expand the Ktanaqson project, which leaders say will help achieve the goal of a sovereign and sustainable tribal food system for all five Wabanaki communities. The project will help tribal members connect to federally assisted nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and SNAP-ED, which provides education and activities focused on healthy eating. But the hope is to build resiliency far beyond such federal help.

The SNAP benefits community members receive “barely scratch the surface of meeting their needs,” Andrea Sockabasin said, underscoring the need for the Ktanasqon project and the traditional foods mobile pantry the organization launched last year.

The traditional foods mobile pantry has distributed thousands of pounds of traditional food – including potatoes, apples and green beans – to the five tribal communities. The organization received grant money to pay for trucks to deliver food and to increase storage capacity at food pantries and bring in clean drinking water.

Its focus now has also turned to securing contracts to buy and distribute as much food as possible from Indigenous growers and fishermen.

“Developing a sovereign and sustainable food system while celebrating food and culture is truly a dream come true,” Lisa Sockabasin said.

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