Hopi/Tewa boy playing with nanha in the cornfield...Happy
I recently attended the 17th Native Diabetes Prevention Conference
in Phoenix. The theme was "Protecting the Generations, A Lifespan
Approach to Preventing Diabetes"; protecting our future by introducing
"lifestyle changes" to our people so that they will never have to
experience diseases such as diabetes. Lifestyle change is the modifying
or eliminating long-held habits of eating or physical activity,
and maintaining a new, improved habit over months and years; making
the change permanent.
I attended a session led by Dorothy Krupknick, MS. RD, CSO,
"Individualized Nutrition Programs for Diabetes". She told us the
path to better health is "you are what you eat". Trends are changing
the way we eat, and we need to educate with accurate information.
She then motioned towards my direction and said, "Going back to
native plant-based diets, low-fat, high fiber foods is what you
should be telling people. Using your ancient foods of corn, beans
and squash, minimizing sugar intake to six teaspoons a day, using
portion control and proper selection of food, is the way to go.
But you, (I'm guessing she meant us native people), already knew
that". So I found myself sitting up a little straighter, with a
prideful smile, and then realizing in the same instant that yes,
we do know this, but do little if nothing at all with our knowledge.
That is why there is a 110% increase in diagnosed diabetes from
1990 to 2009 in American Indians and Alaska Native youth aged 15-19
We have substituted our traditional foods with marketed foods.
While most Hopi/Tewa families use some traditional foods on ceremonial
or festive occasions, a study of contemporary dietary practices
identified a limited number of traditional food items in fewer than
25% of daily food records of Hopi/Tewa families.
Older Hopi recognize our traditional foods as "giving good health,
with a happy heart" and are dismayed that the young people no longer
learn to produce and prepare them. "Traditional food is a big part
of health, because Hopi food has a pleasing taste, and it's much
healthier than what we eat today. It serves as a way for paying
back people that do good deeds for you. It links us to our family
and villages in certain times when we have weddings; it links us
together through weddings, harvest, dances; it teaches us and identifies
what roles we have as a female. It also is a big part of passages
of our life, through puberty and the way we teach our kids. It brings
us together for baby namings and ceremonies." (Respondent from Village
of Oraibi, 2006)
My father told me that we need to remember and recall what prayers
were made for us when we are born; "Be happy and have a long healthy
life without illness and go to sleep in old age. At birth, the first
food eaten by the infant is Hopi food. The statement is, "Here,
have this food; this is your food", as the infant is fed Hopi food.
This signifies that we have our own Hopi food for our bodies, which,
for centuries, have provided nourishment. Now we are eating other
foods that are not good for our bodies. Too much sugar, preservatives
in food, energy drinks, potato chips, etc. Being more selective
in eating the right foods, exercising, and being spiritually involved
in our ceremonies is the right thing to do".
Over and over again we hear this same message, but we continue
to ignore the good advice we are given. I feel our health and well-being
is too high of a price to pay. If we don't take the time to reteach
our children, make lifestyle changes in our own households so they
can live long, healthy lives and carry on our traditions and culture,
our way of life will ultimately come to an end.
If you don't know how to prepare our traditional foods or don't
know where to gather our tuitsma, kwiivi, ongatoki, meha, etc.,
ask our elders. Take the time to talk to them and learn from them
while you can. They have a wealth of knowledge. There are several
books out on Hopi cooking, one by Mrs. Kavena, and another by our
own Office of Community Health Services called Healthy Hopi Recipes.
You must be willing to ask someone to show you how to make piki,
parched corn, somiviki. The old saying that "It takes a village
to raise a child" rings true. Most people will help you if you show
them you are willing to put the effort into learning. If you are
determined to change your path and start in a new direction, allow
nothing stop you. In the end it will be worth every effort you made,
for yourself and our children.