Ajay Singh Chatha ’23

Highland Support Project, Richmond, VA

This summer, I had the pleasure of working at the Highland Support Project (HSP), a nonprofit working on community organizing in solidarity with indigenous communities and First Nations groups in North America and organizing in Richmond, VA, where it is based out of. They have a particularly strong relationship with the White Mountain Apache community, as well as various community initiatives with Central American indigenous communities relating to issues like rural medicine, education, poverty, skill-building and tribal enterprise. The organization’s community organizing in Richmond encompasses various social issues like transportation, health services, food services, and Covid-19.

My remote work desk.

My first project was research into indigenous food sovereignty movements, which was a topic I was able to choose completely independently. I selected this topic because of my interest in food systems, and this was an opportunity to bridge that with my interest in Native American and Indigenous studies. I did a survey into the local food and water systems, and research into local food sovereignty initiatives like, Ndée Bikíyaa, or the People’s Farm.

My second project was to help the HSP research gaps in local food welfare systems and come up with policy solutions in the form of a white paper that could be distributed to local community and municipal organizations. Here, I took inspiration from my first project and came up with a food sovereignty approach to downtown Richmond’s food deserts and swamps, which prioritizes aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute, and consume food, rather than market and corporate demands; this crucially differs from food security initiatives, institutionally doing nothing to transform the material conditions that create food insecurity.

While I immensely enjoyed both projects, they were very different in that the first was more academic and theoretical in nature, while the second called for more direct community engagement and a material list of solutions. I thought the process for the second project was much more rewarding, which has made me think more about my interests in pursuing a career in academia versus something involving more direct community organizing. I have also had a budding interest in urban planning, with a critical theory focus, which my second project allowed me to dip my toes into, and I ended up really enjoying studying land use and the built environment.

I really want to thank the ’68 Center for Career Exploration, especially Dawn Dellea for doing the groundwork for this internship program, and for everyone involved for this great experience.