Go Native and Get Healthy: Fight diabetes with a healthy Native American diet

It’s Native American Heritage Month! Let’s celebrate! Let’s have some pumpkin seeds and some corn silk tea!

American Indian girl with Navajo fry breadThis month is a month to honor Indian heritage, and many powwows* and festivals are being held to honor Indian culture, so you definitely want to do something festive. There are few Indian celebrations that do not include luscious frybread, with its accompaniment of Indian taco meat, honey or colored syrup. (Frybread or fry bread, a notable Native American food, is the official “state bread” of South Dakota!)

Image: Native American girl holding a plate of Navajo frybread. Photo credit: AP

The temptations of frybread aside, a better way to for you to celebrate would be with a healthy food, like an apple or a carrot stick. Maybe you’d even be interested in going hardcore by adopting a native foodways diet, like the foods eaten in the Decolonizing Diet Project.

Appropriately, November is also Diabetes Awareness Month, which ties in with Native American Heritage Month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked the two and created the Native Diabetes Wellness Program, since “American Indian and Alaska Native adults are twice as likely to have diagnosed type 2 diabetes than non-Hispanic whites” (Diabetes Among American Indians and Alaska Natives, CDC). It’s more important to stop this high incidence of type 2 diabetes and obesity among Native peoples, starting with the patients themselves—especially since 27.4% of Indians lack health care coverage, according to the 2012 American Community Survey from the Census Bureau. One way to do that is to encourage eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Living a Balanced Life With Diabetes: A Toolkit Addressing Psychosocial Issues for American Indian and Alaska Native Populations (Kit) ISBN: 9780160913662A number of Indian health professionals, writers and activists have written and promoted healthy habits for Indians. For adult American Indians and Alaska Natives, the Indian Health Service has developed the multimedia kit Living a Balanced Life With Diabetes: A Toolkit Addressing Psychosocial Issues for American Indian and Alaska Native Populations.

Of course, the earlier you start to create change within a population, the better chance you have of changing a trend in that society. Nambé Pueblo health education specialist Georgia Perez wrote the first four books of the “Eagle Books” series for children with this intention. The series includes the titles 1) Through the Eyes of the Eagle, 2) Knees Lifted High, 3) Plate Full of Color, 4) Tricky Treats. and 5) the middle school book, Coyote and the Turtle’s Dream.

CDC-Eagle-Book-Series for children using American Indian stories to teach healthy eating and preventing diabetesThe first four titles are folio-sized (large format) full-color picture books for story time reading, with a target audience of Indian children in second and third grade. Lisa A. Fifield, a member of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin (Black Bear Clan), and Patrick Rolo, a member of Bad River Band of Ojibwe, painted the lush watercolors that illustrate the first four books in the series. Perez and Lofton wrote the books from an Indian perspective with Indian characters, and Indians created the entire enterprise. With more than two million copies distributed to libraries, schools, Indian cultural centers, and more, according to the CDC, the program is a real success (The Story of Eagle Books, CDC).

All of the books are rooted in Indian cultural traditions, and advocate eating a healthy diet and exercising to avoid diabetes and maintain a healthy body. The CDC planned to continue the Eagle Books series with chapter books for middle school children, but unfortunately the agency was unable to continue the series after they published the first book, Coyote and the Turtle’s Dream, by Terry Lofton. The five volumes that CDC has published forward the message of harmony of the individual with nature, culture, and health. Ms. Perez makes particular points against type 2 diabetes.eagle-books-rain-that-dances-mr-eagle

The character of the Eagle talks with the Indian boy Thunder Cloud,

[Mr. Eagle] “Yesterday, I told Rain That Dances that many of your people are getting very sick from a disease called diabetes. Even some young people have diabetes now.”

[Thunder Cloud] “What is diabetes?”

[Mr. Eagle] “Diabetes is when your body does not use the food you eat the right way. So there is too much sugar, or glucose, in the blood. It can make people sick if it is not in balance. Just as your tummy is in balance when you eat the right amount of food — not too much, not too little, but just right — your body needs to have just the right balance of sugar in your blood. But someone who has diabetes can learn to take care of it and stay healthy. And you can do things to keep from getting this disease. One very good way is to do something every day to get your body moving” (Knees Lifted High, p. 2).

Balance is a key value among the cherished values of most Indian nations, and using this kind of language speaks to everyone, and most particularly to Indian children.

Although the author and illustrators dedicated the books to the idea of promoting Native American cultures and health, the messages provided in them can speak to any child. Eagle and Rabbit refer to “sometimes foods”, a phrase that will be familiar to any Cookie Monster fan that has been to Sesame Street. The art is so inviting that it will draw readers in to learn more and care about the characters, who are earnestly trying to improve their lives. You root for them to win. After reading these books, I was ready to trade in my frybread for a solid diet of cattail bread, wild rice salad and three sisters.

*For those unfamiliar with Indian culture, a powwow is a social gathering of Native Americans featuring dancing, drum music, singing, arts and crafts demonstrations and sales, and traditional tribal foods—and often, frybread and Indian tacos as well. Attendees include Indians and non-natives; the gatherings also provide an opportunity for elders to teach youth native tribal dances and other traditional practices.

How can I obtain these Native American and healthy eating publications?

1)    FOR THE PUBLIC

2)    FOR LIBRARIANS

Librarians can find the records for Tricky Treats, Knees Lifted High, Plate Full of Color, Through the Eyes of the Eagle and Coyote and the Turtle’s Dream in GPO’s Catalog of Government Publications or CGP.

About the author(s): Adapted from an original blog post by Jennifer K. Davis from GPO’s Library Services & Content Management Division that supports the Federal Depository Libraries Program (FDLP).

5 Responses to Go Native and Get Healthy: Fight diabetes with a healthy Native American diet

  1. Bodybuilder says:

    Thank you for your fantastic article. I also must say your layout is a joy to view. Keep up the good work.|

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  2. sandheya says:

    native American girl looking very nice with holding a plate of Navajo fry bread. the author and illustrators dedicated the books to the idea of promoting Native American cultures and health, the messages provided in them can speak to any child. thanks for this wonderful blog.

    Like

  3. Danica Pasion (@DanicaPasion) says:

    Many Sites can be a great source of information about diet plans Eating the right kind and amount of food should be included in the priority for diabetic patient.

    Like

  4. Nicol says:

    This is a great post.Thank you for the great tips.

    Like

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