Traditional Foods Project
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Using Traditional Foods and Sustainable Ecological Approaches for Health Promotion and Type 2 Diabetes Prevention in American Indian and Alaska Native Communities is a 5-year grant that champions 17 tribal programs striving to restore local, traditional foods, and related physical activity, while strengthening social support. From South Carolina to Alaska, projects reflect the wisdom of indigenous cultures as distinct as the land each partner calls home.
The grant encourages communities to track project efforts for program improvement and project sustainability purposes. Emphasis also is placed on the importance of communities recording and sharing stories about healthy, traditional ways of living.
Overall, the Traditional Foods project goals are to—
- Support traditionally-oriented, sustainable, evaluable ecological approaches to diabetes prevention, focusing on community efforts to reclaim traditional foods and physical activity in their communities.
- Encourage local policy changes to increase availability and access to local, traditional foods and forms of exercise.
- Revive, create, and preserve stories of healthy traditional ways shared in homes, schools, and communities.
- Engage community members to follow program progress with an eye towards improvement and sustainability; participate in health promotion activities; explore diabetes in context with history, with social support; and share stories of hope for preventing diabetes and its complications.
American Indian and Alaska Native communities are reclaiming traditional foods as part of the global Indigenous food sovereignty movement that embraces identity, history, and traditional ways and practices to address health. These stories highlight traditional foods efforts in culturally and geographically diverse communities across Indian Country.
Traditional knowledge about health and preventing type 2 diabetes
Actor Wes Studi approaches stickball game being filmed for a public service announcement
in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Nation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Diabetes Translation, Native Diabetes Wellness Program and the Traditional Foods Program’s tribal partners in conjunction with CDC’s Division of Communication Services and the Office of State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support are pleased to announce the availability of 30- and 60- second video public service announcements (PSA) and an 8-minute video entitled Our Cultures Are Our Source of Health. The PSAs highlight the wisdom of cultural knowledge, including harvesting local foods and playing traditional games, in promoting health and preventing diseases like type 2 diabetes in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
We are a proud people. We are working on getting ourselves healthy again…and we will. We’ve been invisible too long, and this PSA will help to show the world we are still here.
Director Cathy Abramson, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, CDC/ASTDR
Tribal Advisory Committee
Type 2 diabetes is a growing concern around the world. American Indian and Alaska Native adults are twice as likely to have diagnosed diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. In addition, Native American youth aged 10 to 19 years are developing type 2 diabetes at higher rates than youth in other racial and ethnic groups of this age.
The PSAs were filmed at the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and feature renowned Cherokee actor Wes Studi and representatives from tribal partners from across the United States. “Hopefully we can be the solution to preventing Type 2 diabetes …by eating more traditional foods and playing our traditional games,” said Studi, known for his movie roles including Avatar, The Last of the Mohicans, and Dances With Wolves. Studi gave testimony to the Senate Indian Affairs committee hearing, The Way Out of the Diabetes Crisis in Indian Country, in 2010.
Tribal communities are engaging youth and families to reclaim traditional ways of health by harvesting local, traditional foods and increasing access to traditional games and dancing. Cora Flute, health educator for Cherokee Nation's Traditional Foods Project, told the University of Oklahoma’s American Indian Institute that their program will “continue to increase awareness that traditional foods are a part of our past that has sustained us and kept us healthy. Community and family gardens were essentials in access to fresh healthy foods and physical activity was part of staying healthy," she emphasized.
A lot of us live by numbers…we’re statistics, blood sugars, blood pressures, weight, A1Cs. But the number we should focus on is being number one in health. Watching the PSA was very moving. It gives you hope.
Councilwoman Sandra Ortega, Tohono O’odham Nation, CDC/ASTDR
Tribal Advisory Committee
Flute expressed her gratitude for being able to take part in the PSAs, noting the messages are about “finding ways within ourselves—Indian people preventing diseases such as type 2 diabetes.” She added that tribal community members should be acknowledged for bringing people together for the benefit of others.
Aubrey Skye, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Native Gardens Coordinator, echoed Flute. Skye, who played stickball in the PSAs, noted that while it is not a traditional Lakota game, he enjoyed playing and learning that the social form of stickball “includes everybody—elders, youth, men, and women, anyone who wants to play. All are part of the circle.” Stickball and lacrosse are traditional games of many tribes. Stickball, sometimes referred to as “the little brother of war,” helped to resolve conflicts. Skye drove 15 hours to Tahlequah with a Lakota elder, Mrs. Loretta Bad Heart Bull, to participate in the filming and to connect with a friend from the Tribe of Delaware Indians.
The filming went on for a week in the dead heat. The folks in the PSA, it impacted them beyond the filming. We play stickball every weekend on that field. When they saw what was going on, they wanted to be a part of and spread the message. This is a very good example of a model that can be used to do PSAs in Native communities. Not just the final product, but the process.
Lisa Pivec, Cherokee Nation, CDC/ATSDR
Tribal Advisory Committee
“The message is that even in the 21st century with the problems we face today, traditional ways have health benefits for now and for future generations,” explained Skye. “We already have everything we need,” he said, referring to the connection between the land and health.
Cherokee Nation Sequoyah High School senior, Mahli McNac, who plays stickball in the PSAs said, “It’s cool to be part of this message.”
The CDC sponsors the Traditional Foods Program with 17 tribes and tribal organizations, working to reclaim traditional foods and related physical activity in the interest of the health of the people. “Our cultures are the source of health” advised tribal representatives after Congress designated the Special Diabetes Program for Indians and CDC’s prevention efforts in tribal communities. The Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee and the Tribal Advisory Committee viewed the PSAs before they were released.
Representatives from the following programs also participated: the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa in Upper Michigan, Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Salish Kootenai College in Montana. The Young Kingbird drum group from Red Lake, Minnesota, contributed music for the audio production. The Red Lake Nation hosted all of the Traditional Foods partners in September, 2012, for their biannual meeting where the Young Kingbird group performed for the partners and community. The Talking Leaves Job Corps, Cherokee Nation, generously cooked and displayed the banquet table filled with food from all four directions for the filming. Tohono O’odham Community Action (Arizona) sent tepary beans grown on the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Learn more about CDC’s Native Diabetes Wellness Program.
Our Cultures Are Our Source of Health PSAs
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