Our last few posts were about the high rates of disease experienced by Native American people directly related to poor nutrition. It is important to note that, when considered in an historical context, these disease rates are a recent development. Today, the diet of many Native Americans living on reservations resembles that of poor people in the general U.S. population. Only 10% of Native American families report eating a healthy diet.
Traditionally, the diets of indigenous peoples were full of lean meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables native to their regions. During those times, the diseases mentioned in our posts did not exist. Thinking about the drastic change in nutrition and the corresponding change of health status in Indian country, I am reminded of an important and relatively new concept – that of food sovereignty.
Food sovereignty is a policy framework that advocates the right and freedom to grow diverse and nutritious food and the right to have access to save healthy, adequate and affordable food consistent with cultural needs.
The issue of food sovereignty is taking hold on many reservations, increasing an understanding of the connection between culture, community and food. It is renewing an interest in cultivating, harvesting, consuming and celebrating traditional foods in some Native American communities. “The 1491 Diet” (a story in Indian Country Today Magazine) points out that nutrition is not simply about eating the right food. It discusses the full value that can be realized when food and nutrition are considered within a cultural context and that a fully balanced diet considers comprehensive physical, cultural, and environmental health.
Our Champion For Healthy Kids project looks at wellness from a culturally relevant view. It is exciting to be developing a nutrition and activity curriculum that speaks specifically to the people on the Crow Creek Reservation. It is important that our Head Start Healthy Living project will address the contemporary challenges of poverty, lack of access, and few organized exercise options in rural Indian reservation communities. It is equally important that our curriculum incorporate information and activities that emphasize the historical and cultural elements of self-reliance, healing, connection to the Earth, and respect for the whole person.