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Food has a unique way of bringing people together. That can happen when we travel thousands of miles to a new destination to try new foods. It can also happen when you travel thousands of miles and find that the cuisine feels like home.

That's what happened when I traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to embark on the first-ever trade mission focused on Indigenous products.

There I was, inside a Canadian grocery store that was well-stocked with Minnesota wild rice and pancake mix. And there I was, inside Vancouver's only Indigenous restaurant — Salmon n' Bannock — sampling a wide variety of Indigenous cuisine, including Anishinaabe foods from our part of the continent.

I didn't just feel at home because some of the foods were familiar to me. I also felt at home because of what Inez Cook, the owner of Salmon n' Bannock, said: "Indigenous food and restaurants are not just a theme." She's right. They're not the avocado toast of 2024. They're a connection back to the first foods that people ate dating back millennia.

That's why this trade mission was so important. Think of the opportunities we have in Minnesota to showcase — and sell — the Indigenous food created here in another market, like Canada.

For the Ojibwe, our natural homelands don't end at International Falls or Lake of the Woods, so it's a natural progression for Ojibwe producers here to want to sell goods in Canada.

The Canadian market is now experiencing a rapidly growing demand for other Indigenous foods from Minnesota. One afternoon we visited Save-on-Foods, a Canadian regional grocery store, to see their recent showcase of Indigenous Foods throughout their store. We saw products from across the U.S. and Canada — and even from Minnesota, like wild rice and pancake mix from the Red Lake Nation.

We learned their biggest obstacle in selling these products isn't lack of interest — but a level of demand they can't sustain. In only two days, they had begun to sell out of items and were worried about what to tell customers when they came back for more. As Indigenous growers and producers break into these markets, their longevity will not be determined by fluctuating demand, but by their ability to keep up.

To fix supply issues, there are regulations we need to work through. For example, food products sold in Canadian grocery stores must be written in English and French. Another has to do with how we classify various seeds — like wild rice — and what restrictions are in place to prevent contamination.

Joined by agribusinesses, tribal leaders and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, this trade mission created space for nation-to-nation policy discussions on the most pressing issues facing Indigenous producers and agricultural communities.

Many Indigenous growers and producers I met have never had the opportunity to explore the Canadian market. While showcasing products from Tribal Nations in foreign markets is long overdue, the trade routes themselves date to a time before borders were drawn. And, while this trade mission made history as a first of its kind, trade with the U.S. and Canada is far from new for our nations' first food growers. This trip was one step of many in restoring these trade networks that sustain people across nations. It's also an example of Indian Country's resilience and willingness to work together to restart progress that should have never been erased.

This trade mission helped partners across industries identify those roadblocks and tailor support for the Indigenous companies that are curious to begin exporting — because the demand is there.

I've been proud in my time as lieutenant governor to champion important programs at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture such as the Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative, that addresses food security by promoting traditional agricultural practices, or the Emerging Farmers Office, which supports beginning farmers through grant opportunities and technical assistance. We also passed $1 million in important support for dairy farmers this year. These efforts are making a real-time impact on our ability to support these businesses to build a sturdy foundation to meet the demand.

While investing in Indigenous growers and producers stimulates our collective agricultural markets, it also gives entire populations the opportunity to access products native to these lands.

The thought of keeping Canadian grocery stores well stocked with Minnesota wild rice had this Ojibwe lieutenant governor excited. But let's also consider Minnesota's other Indigenous food, like corn, walleye, squash and maple syrup, and picture them in Canadian school lunches, restaurant dishes and morning cups of coffee. The options are endless, and we are just getting started. Our neighbors to the north are excited and ready to welcome all of what Minnesota has to offer, and Minnesota is ready to provide.

Peggy Flanagan is Minnesota's lieutenant governor.