The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) and three national partners, the First Nations Development Institute (FNDI), the Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3) and the University of Minnesota announced Tuesday a $5 million campaign to improve the nutrition of Native Americans across the country, Seeds of Native Health.
According to a press release, The Seeds of Native Health campaign will improve awareness of Native nutrition problems, promote the wider application of proven best practices, and encourage additional work related to food access, education and research. “Nutrition is very poor among many of our fellow Native Americans,” said SMSC Chairman Charlie Vig in the release. “The SMSC is committed to making a major contribution, and bringing others together to help develop permanent solutions to this serious problem.”
“Many tribes, nonprofits, public health experts, researchers, and advocates have already been working on solutions,” said SMSC Vice-Chairman Keith Anderson. “We hope this campaign will bring more attention to their work.”
SMSC Secretary/Treasurer Lori Watso told ICTMN she believed that traditional native foods have much higher nutritional values than the processed foods that are much more accessible today. Watso said the tools necessary in combatting the lack of nutrition in Indian country would need to come from a combination of efforts. “I think this is a multi-faceted thing. You have to approach this from different directions in order to bring the best ideas together. What we have done in the past, and what I think we will be continually able to do, is trust tribes tell us what they need,” Watso said. “Many tribes do not have the financial resources to do this, but they also may not have the structures or people in place to help them be successful.”
Watso says isolating the best practices in Indian country will be a process of discovery, acknowledging that it has never been done. “We do not really know what these best practices are yet. I think we will find this out as there has not been a lot of study in Native communities. When you talk about health factors and general health issues, we always talk about the national population as a whole.”
Michael Roberts, the president of FNDI told ICTMN his organization is thrilled to be working with the Shakopee, and the other partners to combat nutrition issues in Indian Country. “We all have all sorts of hopes and dreams when you have good partners like the Mdewakanton. It is pretty amazing when a tribe steps forward and takes an issue like this head-on. They have fully acknowledged that there is a health and nutrition and hunger crisis in Indian country.
“They have also acknowledged that some factors of our community are not stepping up and investing money in Native American programs,” says Roberts.
Both Roberts and Watso shared a common belief that the 5 million dollar investment is well worth the time and effort to help individuals in Indian country suffering from lack of good nutrition.
“I feel that we are investing in native peoples dreams and ideas and we are helping them. I believe this is what the Shakopee want to do as well,” says Roberts. “I think we can have a real renaissance in Indian food - not only is this a pertinent issue, but it is very timely. People in Indian country say they recognize something is wrong here and we want to fix it. People are looking towards traditional diets. And this moves that along in a very nice way.”
Follow ICTMN Correspondent Vincent Schilling on Twitter - @VinceSchilling