one horrible way, Indian country is fully in step with, or perhaps
even one step behind, the rest of America: obesity is rampant;
in varying degrees, diabetes is a scourge upon all tribes. Too
many of us are in sad physical shape.
in this new year: lets get smart, get healthy; eat well and
in moderation; lay off alcohol and drugs; and exercise. While we
are at it: lets treat each other better; seek inner peace;
lets try to be happy.
PGA Pro Notah Begay III stressed recently at the NCAI convention:
"My mother always stressed to me, when you have difficulties,
reflect on your culture."
that diabetes is quickly becoming the greatest killer of Indian
people, Begay vowed to be an advocate in the fight for a healthy
Indian country. Or, as NCAI president Tex Hall told the same audience:
"Healthy is hot! Treaties, not diabetes!"
vision is one of health, of a fit and trim Indian people. The hope
and the wish is for an Indian people who feel good from the power
of self-love and the privilege of good wind in the lungs, strong
legs, good digestion, good relations and the inner grit that can
feed spirit. For those fortunate ones born into healthy bodies,
a reminder to value the gift, to resolve to care for and use our
bodies to good cause. Strengthen rather than weaken yourselves,
so that your strength may help your relatives - old and young -
who need you.
offer this vision of healthy body and healthy spirit as the greatest
of our aspirations, and as the most proper common resolution we
can muster. It is probably the greatest common challenge of our
peoples and certainly, we are not in the least alone in this heartfelt
Indian country, numerous tribes, projects and individuals have taken
up the battle represented by poor diet, obesity and the often resulting
adult onset diabetes, the tragic scourge that was virtually unknown
in our communities before 1900 but now attacks hundreds of thousands
of our people, even very young children. This growing new consciousness
was gratifyingly evident at the NCAI, where participants shared
a long walk to raise health and fitness awareness and to make the
point that we are all in this together. It is evident among many
tribal projects developing what scholar Gary Nabhan calls "foods
with true American roots."
is a growing consciousness of the positive health impact of good
food on our people. Across Indian country, many tribes are committing
to the process of recovering our health through our traditional
knowledge of food. More and more tribes maintain their own seed
banks now while family and even tribal gardens are coming back.
the Haudenosaunee, the Indian corn cuisine is in a revival as part
of the get-healthy movement. The emphasis is to preserve the old
seed, to prepare healthy foods for balanced nutrition, and to have
pride in ones culture. Projects such as Daybreak Farming and
Food Project, the Pinewoods Community Chefs Collaborative and others
have generated growing interest in the value of the traditional
foods. From the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, Quebec, for instance,
a Diabetes Wampum Belt has traveled more than 1,500 miles to more
than a dozen communities. Carried by walkers, bicyclists, canoes
and runners, the message of the belt is health.
King, Blackfeet, is among Indian authors making a contribution.
Her book, "Native American: Food is Medicine," explores
the prevention and control of diabetes and hyperinsulinemia. It
introduces the "Renewal of Life: Food Journal," which
assists people in tracking their daily intake of carbohydrates,
proteins and fats. "Nobody wants to give up fry bread,"
she says. "But there are ways to prepare it so its not
so harmful to us."
Southwestern Native communities, Native Seeds/SEARCH and the Seed
Savers Exchange have re-propagated hundreds of varieties of American
Indian corn, beans, squash, chilies and other foods and medicines.
Many of these were nearly extinct. At Gila River, Ariz., where the
Native population suffers extremely high rates of diabetes, the
new Kai restaurant, which opened in October 2000, offers foods prepared
from traditional Native crops and many foodstuffs grown on the reservation.
Pine Ridge, S.D., Billy Mills Running Strong for American
Indian Youth programs assist in preparing the ground for nearly
500 family gardens every summer. For many, their own gardens constitute
the only source of fresh vegetables. Nutritionists call many traditional
foods, such as beans, acorns and mesquite "slow release foods."
They are more slowly digested and thus absorbed by the body in more
efficient and healthy ways.
52 Native nations that participate in the InterTribal Bison Cooperative
aim to restore buffalo herds on Indian tribal lands. Since 1990
they have worked successfully to expand and build buffalo projects.
But theirs is not simply a commercial effort; it involves the continuity
and recovery of culture and good health through the proper relation
with an animal considered sacred by numerous tribes. Buffalo meat
- particularly that of grass-fed animals - is low in fat and high
in energy. We cannot overstate the importance and necessity of these
many fine Indian country programs and initiatives.
between food production, good nutritional education and vigorous
exercise programs is also crucial. The federal government must help
more. It is after all responsible for the large-scale destruction
of Indian economies and self-sufficient cultures - the foundations
of healthy American Indian food production - and responsible for
introducing the infamous commodity foods that have wreaked havoc
on Native bodies. The government is by treaty and policy, responsible
for Indian health. But according to a Civil Rights Commission report,
the feds spend about $5,000 per capita each year for health care
for the general U.S. population and $3,803 for federal prisoners,
but only $1,914 per capita for Indian health care. This is a travesty.
list goes on. The link between good food and good health is becoming
more known. Eating more Native and natural foods is one half the
strategy of health and nutrition. Exercise, breaking a sweat, is
the other requisite. Highly recommended in this context: "Rez-Robics"
a funny and very useful video for and by Indians by DreamCatchers
Inc. and Navajo Health Promotions.
three decades ago, cigarette smoking was completely acceptable in
most of society. Conscious campaigning has taught us to see cigarette
smoking for the unhealthy activity that it is. The growing movement
toward a healthy lifestyle in Indian country is very welcome. In
2004, lets exercise; lets eat right; lets restore
the strength of good health to our present and future generations.
Indian communities can receive free copies of "Rez-Robics"
by sending a self-addressed box or padded envelope big enough for
two VHS videotapes along with five dollars worth of postage stamps
(no meter labels) to DreamCatchers Inc., 23852 PCH #766, Malibu,
CA 90265. For more information, visit http://www.dreamcatchers.org
or e-mail email@example.com.