Got Tradition?

American Indians use native foods to fight diabetes and revive Indian culture

| June 16, 2005


Diabetes rates are on the rise across the country, growing faster among American Indians than most other populations. In the last decade, American Indians have experienced a 50 percent increase in the disease, Daisy Hernandez writes in ColorLines.

On some reservations, people are seeking remedies beyond insulin, exercise and a better diet; they're suggesting a return to traditional foods, for both physical and cultural health. Terrol Dew Johnson, founder of Tohono O'odham Community Action in Arizona, argues that acquainting American Indians -- both young and old -- with traditional, low-glucose foods like tepary beans is good for one's body and one's cultural identity. 'You're not just seeing these beans,' he tells Hernandez. 'You're seeing the whole culture. That bean holds our language, our songs, our history.'

In northern Minnesota, the White Earth Land Recovery Project provides elders with packages of wild rice, buffalo meat and other traditional foods. Many of the elders remember the foods from ceremonies, and refer to them as the 'good commodities,' Hernandez writes. It's a way of distinguishing them from the cheese and canned pork the federal government supplies.
-- Danielle Maestretti

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