Courtesy First Nations Development Institute
A new report from the First Nations Development Institute compares the national average of common food items to prices on different reservations.

7 Foods That Cost More on the Rez, and One Junk Food That Costs Less

Tanya H. Lee

What people living on Indian reservations have long suspected turns out to be true—they pay much more for food than people in other communities do. The combination of higher food prices, lower per capita incomes and lack of access to fresh and healthy food often leads to diet-related, life-threatening illnesses. High food prices also impact family and tribal economies, making less money available for other things—education, business development and environmental preservation, according to a new report from the First Nations Development Institute.

The institute set out to prove what people have been saying for years—food prices on reservations are out of line with food prices nationwide. They looked at food prices at one store in each of eight Indian communities. Some were tribal grocery outlets, others not. Here’s what they found:

Milk averaged 44 cents per gallon more

The average price for a gallon of milk nationwide was $3.76. Prices in Indian country ranged from $3.49 in two communities to $4.59 and $4.79 in stores in Mission, South Dakota. The average price difference between a gallon of milk purchased in the study communities and one purchased elsewhere in the country was 44 cents.

Bread cost a whopping 66 cents more per loaf on average

Nationwide, a loaf of bread costs an average of $1.41 per loaf. In reservation communities, prices were as high as $2.89 per loaf, more than twice the national average. In only one community, Auburn, Washington, was bread cheaper than the national average.

Ground beef averaged 84 cents a pound more

The average price of ground beef nationwide was $4.29 a pound. In Auburn, Washington, ground beef cost $6.29 a pound, while in Sisseton and Pine Ridge, South Dakota, it was 50 cents and 30 cents a pound less than the national average. The report noted that South Dakota is a heavy beef-producing state, and that may influence prices there.

Eggs cost 7 cents more per dozen

The average price for a dozen eggs was $1.95 nationwide. In three reservation communities, eggs cost less than that, while on five reservations, they cost more, as much as $2.50 a dozen in Cochiti, New Mexico. On average, Indian communities paid 7 cents more per dozen eggs.

Apples were 83 cents a pound more

A pound of apples (3 or 4 apples) averaged $1.36 nationwide, but on Indian reservations, the average price was much higher—$2.19 a pound, or 83 cents more. Apples were not less expensive than the national average on any of the Indian reservations.

Tomatoes on average ran 66 cents a pound higher

Tomatoes cost an average of $1.65 a pound nationwide. On Indian reservations a pound of tomatoes averaged $2.23 a pound, more than 30 percent more, and ran as high as $3.58 a pound (twice as much). Only in Window Rock, Arizona, were tomatoes priced less than the national average, and the difference was only 6 cents.

Coffee averaged $1.63 a pound more

Nationwide, a pound of coffee averaged $5.03. It was more expensive in all of the reservation communities studied, going as high as $9.29 a pound in Window Rock, Arizona, and averaging $1.63 a pound more.

Cheetos cost 62 cents a bag LESS

Cheetos were the exception, costing less on every Indian reservation studied than they did nationwide. The average cost nationwide was $3.88 a bag. In Teal, South Dakota, a bag of Cheetos was only $2.88; on average Cheetos cost 62 cents a bag less in Indian country. The lower price of Cheetos in Indian communities is disturbing. The report said that it may be the result of normal price-setting procedures, but speculated that a “cynical view of this pricing is that some junk foods are always more inexpensive in Native communities, where demand is high from Native consumers.”


 “Indian Country Food Price Index: Exploring Variations in Food Pricing Across Native Communities – A Working Paper” is FNDI’s first report on this study and indicates trends that they plan to explore further, including looking at causes for higher food prices on reservations, such as modern food production practices and a long-standing lack of government support for food production on Indian lands.

The study analyzed prices at these stores: Bunches in Mission, S.D.; Cochiti C-Store in Cochiti, N.M.; Food Lion in Cherokee, N.C.; Bashas’ in Window Rock, Ariz.; Safeway in Auburn, Wash.; Sioux Nation in Pine Ridge, S.D.; Teals in Sisseton, S.D.; Turtle Creek Crossing in Mission, S.D. The study was funded by W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the report was written by A-dae Romero-Briones and Raymond Foxworth of First Nations Development Institute.

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