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

November 21, 2013

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).


Code Talkers to Better Walkers: How American Indians Have Helped Fight Wars and Obesity

August 21, 2013

In honor of Navajo Code Talkers Day this past week on August 14, Government Book Talk explores some Federal publications that utilize American Indian traditions and culture to combat serious problems of the past and present.

Native Code Talkers in World War I

“Code talkers” became the term used to describe Native American soldiers from various Indian tribes who communicated on radios, telephones and telegraph during World Wars I and II. They spoke in their own languages and dialects, all of which were indecipherable by enemy forces. Because few non-Indians knew these difficult native languages, which in many cases had no written form, they provided ideal codes for relaying secret operational orders.

WWI-Choctaw-Code-Talkers-w-FlagImage: The Choctaw Code Talkers enlisted in the U.S. Army in World War I even though their lack of citizenship exempted them from the draft. (U.S. Army photo)

In France during World War I, the 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Division, had a company of Indians who spoke 26 languages and dialects. Two Indian officers were selected to supervise a communications system staffed by 18 Choctaw. The team transmitted messages relating to troop movements and their own tactical plans in their native tongue. They helped the American Expeditionary Force win several key battles in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in France, the final big German push of the war.

Soldiers from other tribes, including the Cheyenne, Comanche, Cherokee, Osage and Yankton Sioux also were enlisted to communicate as code talkers. Previous to their arrival in France, the Germans had broken every American code used, resulting in the deaths of many Soldiers. However, the German Army— which captured about one out of four messengers—never broke the Indians’ “code.”

More Native Code Talkers are Used in World War II

After the United States entered World War II in December 1941, more Armed Forces used code talking units with each unit composed of members of a specific American Indian tribe.

Navajo Code Talkers

The United States Marines recruited several hundred Navajos for duty in the Pacific region. The Marines chose these Navajos for their ability to speak their native language, Diné bizaad (Navajo), for code talking.

Philip Johnston, a son of missionaries who had grown up on the Navajo reservation, originally recommended Navajo to the Marines as a language well suited for cryptology. In a memo to the Commandant of the Marine Corps in early 1942, Navajo was declared uniquely suited to succeed more than some other languages proposed for use. At that time, most Navajos were fluent in their native language. The Marines were lucky; in 1942 only an estimated 28 non-Navajo Americans could speak the extremely difficult Navajo language!

Hitler had heard of the possibility of using Native American languages for codes prior to the United States’ entry into the war, and had sent a number of German anthropologists to the United States prior to WWII to learn Native American languages. Navajo was reportedly the only language the German anthropologists had yet to learn. Navajo also benefited by being so unlike other Native American languages that there was no language similar to it. If you’re fluent in Spanish, you might be able to muddle along in Portuguese after some basic lessons. Navajo has no analog.

Navajo-Code-Talkers-in-JungleIn May 1942, the first Navajo recruits attended boot camp; they then moved to Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, to create the Navajo Code Talkers Dictionary. The Marines trained approximately 400 Navajos as code talkers. To relay the messages they were encoding, they had to learn to operate three types of radios. At that time the code talkers called themselves “radiomen”.

The developers of the Navajo code modeled the alphabet portion on the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet. That alphabet uses words to represent letters, e.g., Fox for the letter F. In the Navajo code, Ne-Ahs-Jah is Navajo for Owl, which stood for the letter O. To spell the word Navy, the code talker might say, “Tsah (Needle, or N), Wol-La-Chee (Ant, or A), A-Keh-Di-Glini (Victor, or V), Tsah-As-Zih (Yucca, or Y)”.

The Navajo Marines also chose Navajo words to represent about 450 frequently used terms in the military. It was hard. According to code talker Wilfred Billey, “one of the most difficult parts of forming the Navajo code was using it to relay precise information, such as coordinates or troop movements because several words in the Navajo language have various meanings” (May 22, 2003, “Navajo Code Talker Continues Oral Tradition”, Marine Core Logistics Base Albany).

Some of the choices were very creative. Navajo is a classic language that didn’t originally include terms like “tank”, so the Navajo Marines dubbed it “Chay-Da-Gahi”, or tortoise. The Navajo Code Talkers Dictionary, published by the Navy years later after it was declassified, showed the versatility of the code’s creators. The code was so effective in World War 2, it was also used in the Korean War, being phased out before Vietnam.

In fact, at Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, declared, ‘Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima’” (Navajo Code Talkers: WWII Fact Sheet). During that battle alone, the radiomen transmitted 800 messages without error.

Comanche, Sioux and Hopi Code Talkers for the Army

Although the Navajo tribe is the one most remembered for its contributions to the World War II communications code units, the US military also used Basque, Comanche, Sioux, Hopi and a number of other American Indian languages as code languages. Basque was rarely used because there were native Basque speakers in Europe which made the U.S. military wary of using it more widely.  However, because the various Army units of Code Talkers were so secret, their very existence was kept classified until the 1970s or later.

American-Indian-Code-Talkers-LanguagesImage: List of American Indian Code Talkers’ languages and the numbers of tribal members who served, if known. There were at least two Code Talkers from each tribe. Source: National Museum of the American Indian’s website.

Army-Signal-Corps_9780160453519The US Army’s Signal Corps is the military branch that develops, tests, provides, and manages communications and information systems support for the command and control of combined US Armed Forces, including code talkers. You can read the history of the Army Signal Corps in Getting the Message Through: A Branch History of the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

The US Army’s 4th Signal Company, also known as the Code Talkers, used seventeen Comanche Code Talkers. Like the Choctaws of World War I, and the Navajos in the Pacific Theater, the Comanche Code Talkers used their native language to prevent the enemies of the European Theater from intercepting messages of the allied troops during World War II. The unit was instrumental during the Normandy invasion.

Sioux code talkers, composed of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota native soldiers or “L.D.N.’s”, spoke their native “dialects” (languages) which were understood by each native soldier in the unit. On December 19, 2000, Congressman John Thune said of the Sioux code talkers’ contribution:

“It is important for us to honor these veterans whose contributions have, until recently, been ignored. Often sent out on their own to provide communications with headquarters on enemy location and strength, they sometimes spent 24 hours in headphones without sleep or food. Many endured terrible conditions without protection from the enemy. Using three Sioux languages Lakota, Nakota and Dakota, the Sioux Code Talkers were able to communicate messages the enemy was unable to crack.”

The Hopi tribe also helped in the communications coding efforts. Eleven Hopi men developed a highly secret code language which they used to assist US Army intelligence in the Marshall Islands, New Caledonia and the Philippines during the Second World War. Again, because of the super top-secret nature of their work for Army Intelligence, the Hopi Code Talkers’ contribution was not officially recognized until April 26, 2012, on the inaugural Hopi Code Talkers Recognition Day.

Applying American Indian Traditions to the War against Obesity

The United States Government continues to utilize Native American language and traditions to solve important problems of the day. For example, with the public health issue of childhood obesity and diabetes rising to dangerous levels in the US, the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Native Diabetes Wellness Program (Wellness Program) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) Division of Diabetes Treatment and Prevention recently teamed up with the Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee (TLDC) to produce the award-winning Eagle Book series.

The developers of this series realized that the old, traditional American Indian diet and activity levels were in line with today’s medical recommendations to eat less processed food and more fruits and vegetables as well as exercising more. Thus, they worked with Native groups to incorporate traditional American Indian story-telling techniques and themes to promote increased physical activity such as walking and playing as well as making healthier—and more natural—food choices to reduce obesity and prevent diabetes.

Coyote-and-the-Turtles'-Dream-9780160913174 Preventing childhood obesity and diabetesThe common Native American theme of the tortoise/ turtle used by the American Indian code talkers resurfaces in the newest book in the series, Coyote and the Turtle’s Dream.  In this middle school-age mystery/ adventure book, the wise elderly box turtle helps the mischievous Coyote and the Indian reservation town’s residents solve a mystery to foil the plans of a fossil poacher while teaching the underlying message about healthy eating and increased physical activity.

With the first four books aimed at elementary schoolers– Through the Eyes of the Eagle, Knees Lifted High, Plate Full of Color, and Tricky Treats and the next book for middle schoolers– Coyote and the Turtle’s Dream— the Eagle Book series has been snapped up by teachers, nutritionists, librarians, parents and children’s health providers all over the country as an effective tool to teach children about healthier eating habits and increasing activity while also instilling an appreciation for Native culture which extols respect for elders and living in harmony with nature.

You can read more about the Eagle Book series on our Government Book Talk blog post entitled: “Native Traditions Help Kids Unplug, Read and Be Healthy.”

How Can I Obtain These Publications?

EBOOKS:

PRINT EDITIONS:

About the author(s): Adapted by Government Book Talk Editor-in-Chief and GPO Promotions & Ecommerce Manager, Michele Bartram, 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).


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