Mino-Miijim (Good Food) Program
The Mino-Miijim (Good Food) Program of the White Earth Land Recovery Project was created to address the diabetes epidemic on the White Earth Reservation and to restore health and balance to the community.
While the prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes is increasing world-wide, Native American populations are particulary at-risk. As the traditional diet of our people has been gradually supplemented by highly processed and refined food products, the rate of diabetes in Native populations has steadly increased. Today, Native American populations have the highest rate of Type 2 Diabetes in the world. In Minnesota, over 25 percent of Native adults have been diagnosed with diabetes. Compared with the white population in the state, Native people are 4.9 times more likey to die from this disease. Native people also suffer from higher rates of diabetic related health complications.
Fortunately, our cultural traditions provide a powerful mechanism through which we can address the issues of diabetes. Our teachings tell us that traditional foods are medicines: they provide both nourishment and healing for our people. When we harvest and eat these foods, we become connected to the cycle of the seasons and the rhythm of the earth. Our ancestors understood the importance of living and eating in harmony with the earth, that is why so many stories deal with the sacred nature of our traditional foods. Eating these traditional foods re-connects us with the stories and traditions of our people.
Western science has corrobrated the belief that our traditional foods can serve as medicine by preventing the onset of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other illnesses. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic intestinal disease and most types of cancer were virtually unknown in hunter-gatherer cultures surviving today. Researchers are particularly interested in the issue of diabetes. Extensive research has suggested that the diabetes epidemic among Native populations is linked to the rapid transformation of lifestyle that occurred as a result of colonization.
The process of colonization effected a dramatice change in patterns of exercise and diet. The forced adaptation of a sedentary lifestyle and the subsequent increase in obesity rates, facilitated the spread of diabetes, heart disease and other related health complications. In addition, the switch from a traditional diet, which was high in dietary fiber and lean sources of protein (wild game) to a diet rich in sugars, refined carbohydrates and fats has fueled the diabetes epidemic. A recent study comparing the effects of a traditional diet and an Anglo American diet on the development of Type 2 Diabetes on a group of 165 non-diabetic Pima Indians, found that individuals consuming an Anglo diet were 2.5 times more likely to develop the disease than were those who were consuming a traditional diet.
Another study of the Pima Indians compared the diabetes rate in a remote Mexican village where people lived a relatively traditional lifestyle, with the diabetes rate in a group from Arizona where the people lived a more modern lifestyle. The rate of Type 2 Diabetes in individuals from the Mexican village was 11 percent in women and 6 percent in men, while the rate in the individuals from Arizona was 37 percent in women and 54 percent in men. A study conducted by Swinburn et al. in 1991 indicated that the change from a high carbohydrate traditional Pima diet to a high fat, modern diet, caused a decrease in glucose effectiveness, acute insulin secretion, B-cell sensitivity and glucose tolerance without changes in insulin sensitivity or B-cell capacity. Numerous studies in the Pima and other groups have demonstrated that the traditional diet and traditional exercise patterns, can play an important role in the prevention and control of diabetes.
Drawing upon the wisdom of our cultural teachings and the findings of modern researchers, the Mino-Miijim Program seeks to re-introduce a healthy lifestyle centered around traditional foods. Our program currently provides traditional and healthy food items to 180 diabetic individuals and their families. Currently, Mino-Miijim participants receive a bag of food containing buffalo meat, hominy corn, chokecherry or plum jelly (made with honey), maple syrup, wild rice and mazon. In addition to these traditional foods, we deliver whatever vegetables or healthy food items we can obtain through the North Country Food Bank, located in Crookston, MN. As well, our Mino-Mijjim Program relies heavily on donations from caring individuals around the country.
Most of the foods we deliver come from the area. For example: the wild rice is hand harvested in canoes, utilizing the traditional method. The purchasing of this rice provides supplemental income for individuals who generally earn very little money. In addition, it insures the continuation of our cultural traditions. The maple syrup, plums and chokecherries are also harvested by individuals on the reservation.
Although the Anishinaabeg obtained much of their foods through hunting, fishing, and gathering, they were also gardeners and they traded extensively with neighboring agricultural tribes. These tribes all practiced a form of gardening designed to mimic the diversity of the natual landscape and to exist in harmony with the surrounding web of life. The vegetables grown in these gardens were much higher in nutrients than their modern counterparts. For example: Arikara squash contains more than twice the calcium and magenesium found in commerical varieties. This squash is also and excellent source of dietary fiber and the antioxidant beta-carotene.
Recognizing the important role played by traditional food crops (specifically beans, corn, squash, and sunflower seeds) in the traditional Anishinaabeg diet, we recently initiated a gardening and seed saving project, our Gitigaanig Project. Through this project, we are seeking to protect ancient traditional crops from extinction and to encourage traditional agriculture in our community. In the near future we hope to provide our Mino-Miijim participants with corn, beans, squash and sunflower seeds grown in our gardens at WELRP.
Because traditional foods are even more effective in the prevention of diabetes, than in treatment of the disease, we are expanding our work in order to ensure the wisdom, stories and cultural knowledge of our elders with regards to traditional foods is passed on to the younger generation.
If you would like more information about our Mino-Miijim Program, or to make a donation towoards our important work to combat diabetes in our community, please email us.