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White Earth Land Recovery Project

Archive for Mino-Miijim (Good Food) Program

White Earth Anishinaabe Restore Local Food Economy

Anishinaabeg Food EconomyOn the White Earth Reservation, we are working to restore our traditional food economy and protect the sacred seeds and food given to us by the Creator.

In this work, we both advocate protecting our wild rice and other seeds from patenting and genetic contamination and are committed to once again, feed all of our community.

Our goals include:
  • Producing enough food in the next two years to feed at least l000 of our tribal members.
  • Protecting the genetic integrity of our wild rice and sacred seeds.
  • Determining the value of the food economy on our reservation, re-localize it, and capture the value added for our premium lake harvested wild rice on national and international markets.
Anishinaabeg Food Economy 2At the core of our work, we are also keen on insuring that our most needy people have access to foods – so we provide food to 170 elderly diabetic families, and have launched in 2007, the Pine Point School Farm to School Program, as a central part of our work at Mino Miijim.

We hope to strengthen these programs, and provide a model which can be used in other parts of our community, and elsewhere. All of this is part of our larger work to restore land, strengthen our culture and insure that we are preparing for the generations yet to come.

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Mino-Miijim (Good Food) Program

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.

Margret Smith (r.i.p.), Former Mino-Miijim Coordinator & White Earth Elder

Margret Smith (r.i.p.), Former Mino-Miijim Coordinator & White Earth Elder

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.

Article of Interest

November 23, 2005
Native Foods Nourish Again

By KIM SEVERSON

Last week, Noland Johnson pulled the season’s final crop of tepary beans from the piece of desert he farms on the Tohono O’odham Reservation, about 120 miles southwest of Tucson.

The beans look a little like a flattened black-eyed pea. The white ones cook up creamy. The brown ones, which Mr. Johnson prefers, are best simmered like pinto beans.

As late as the 1930’s, Tohono O’odham farmers grew more than 1.5 million pounds a year and no one in the tribe had ever heard of diabetes. By the time Mr. Johnson got into the game four years ago, an elder would be lucky to find even a pound of the beans, and more than half of the adults in the tribe had the kind of diabetes attributed to poor diet.

While researchers investigate the link between traditional desert foods and diabetes prevention, Mr. Johnson grows his beans, pulling down 14,000 pounds this fall. Most will sell for about $2.50 a pound at small stores on the reservation.

Mr. Johnson, 31, began farming beans partly as a tribute to his grandfather, who died from complications related to diabetes. He always saves some beans for his grandmother, who likes to simmer the white ones with oxtail.

“I see my grandmother telling her friends, ‘Yeah, I can get some beans for you,’ ” Mr. Johnson said. “The elders, they’re so glad to see it.”

But there are other fans, too. Home cooks pay as much as $9.50 a pound for teparies online. Big-city chefs are in love with the little beans, too, turning them into cassoulet, salads or beds for braised local pork.

As American Indians try to reverse decades of physical and cultural erosion, they are turning to the food that once sustained them, and finding allies in the nation’s culinary elite and marketing experts.

One result is the start of a new sort of native culinary canon that rejects oily fry bread but embraces wild rice from Minnesota, salmon from Alaska and the Northwest, persimmons and papaws from the Southeast, corn from New York, bison from the Great Plains and dozens of squashes, beans, berries and melons.

Modern urban menus are beginning to feature three sisters soup, built from the classic Indian trilogy of beans, squash and corn. At the Mitsitam Cafe, opened last year in the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, cooks create dishes with roasted salmon, chilies and buffalo meat.

At the Cave B Inn, a resort a couple of hours’ drive east of Seattle, Fernando Divina, the chef and a co-author of “Food of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions,” uses fresh corn dumplings, local beans, squash and Dungeness crab to augment a sophisticated menu meant to match wines from the resort’s vineyards. Smoked whitefish chubs from Lake Superior and sassafras gelie ended up on the table at Savoy restaurant in Manhattan earlier this fall, and later this month pine-roasted venison with black currants and truffled hominy will star at a $100 indigenous foods dinner at the Equinox restaurant in Washington.

Native foods encompass hundreds of different cultures. “There’s only now becoming a more pan-Indian sense of what Native food can be,” said the author Louise Erdrich, whose mother was Ojibwa. She writes about tribal food in many of her books and is working on a cookbook with her sister, a pediatrician on the Turtle Mountain Reservation.

“You’re talking about evolving a cuisine from a people whose cuisine has been whatever we could get for a long time,” Ms. Erdrich said.

American Indian food is the only ethnic cuisine in the nation that has yet to be addressed in the culinary world, said Loretta Barrett Oden, a chef who learned to cook growing up on the Citizen Potawatomi reservation in Oklahoma.

“You can go to most any area of this country and eat Thai or Chinese or Mongolian barbecue, but you can’t eat indigenous foods native to the Americas,” said Ms. Oden, who has been traveling the nation filming segments for a 2006 PBS series titled “Seasoned With Spirit: A Native Cook’s Journey.”

One item that won’t be featured on her show is fry bread, the puffy circles of deep-fried dough that serve as a base for tacos or are eaten simply with sugar or honey and are beloved on Indian reservations. That bread is fast becoming a symbol of all that is wrong with the American Indian diet, which evolved from food that was hunted, grown or gathered to one that relied on federal government commodities, including white flour and lard – the two ingredients in fry bread. Read the rest of this entry »