Leech Lake woman links health and non-traditional diets


LAWRENCE, Kan. - Radical changes in Native American diets in the past 150 years play a major role in the high blood pressure and diabetes which threaten the Native population today, says a Leech Lake, Minn., woman involved in a university food study.

"Our tribal college is involved with the Woodlands Wisdom Consortium, that is six tribal colleges and the University of Minnesota that have joined together to look at bringing Indigenous food knowledge in a curriculum based on change of a more healthy diet. We are looking at cardiovascular disease and diabetes. We will be building a curriculum by getting knowledge from the community to see what our foods were and what they should be," Gina Gabrielle said.

Indigenous populations all had their own specific diets, Gabrielle said. By going back to natural food sources she said she believes Indigenous people will lose their dependency on pharmaceuticals and processed foods.

"What I have learned and what I see going on, is there is such a disparity in foods that have been created and artificially processed and how that makes us so our bodies can't absorb the foods we are supposed to eat," Gabrielle said. "It is all maintaining a balance. The healthier we eat and the more balanced our body, mind, spirit is the better the choices we will make."

Gabrielle is head of the Department of Justice at Leech Lake Tribal College. She holds a doctorate in homeopathy and master's degrees in Oriental medicines and criminal justice.

She became interested in homeopathic medicine several years ago and, reflecting on drugs like Viagra being used by more and more American men, Gabrielle spoke of a study she was involved in a few years ago.

"There is a biological reason this is happening to men in our country. It is a basic biomedical imbalance and herbs can help that. But something like Viagra, which is marketed for all people regardless of the condition, is going to end up killing more men than it is going to help ... with herbs, you are going to bring the body back to a natural balance. All our bodies want to do is heal and work right."

However, Gabrielle doesn't advise people to run out to the nearest health food store and start buying vitamins and herbs indiscriminately. "Do not self dose,"she cautioned. "It is very difficult with Western knowledge on herbs, which changes daily to know what to do. Do not haphazardly do things."

Her knowledge of herbal remedies came from the Chinese and talking to elders.

From those discussions and study, little things - such as the value of blueberry tea, which is good for diabetes - are beginning to come out, she said.

The consortium is building a web site that will contain information about Native diets and healing herbs.

"When we talk to people you can see it in their eyes, you can hear it in their hearts, 'Yes, we need to go back to this,'" Gabrielle said.