Decolonized Diet May Fend off Imported Illness

[What If: Following Ancestral Diet can Solve Disease?]

burdock great_lakes_region-300x257 cattail

What IF the high starch foods on the shelves of post stores are the trigger to a number of non-indigenous diseases that are the bane of Aboriginal people?  Neither of the core tribal groups possesses the wealth of written information contained in the colonist’s library.  Instead, word of mouth is our history.  With it, traditional knowledge is too often simply brushed aside or overwhelmed by the wizardry of modern day marketing.

It has troubled me for some time as I observed alarmingly high levels of diabetes among various communities. It seemed to be much more evident in more remote communities where mining and timber exploitation had resulted high numbers of non-indigenous workers.  Simple economics saw the trading posts of the day offering basic food stock that was foreign to the Native diets.  Such things as bleached flours and processed sugars were gradually introduced indigenous communities as a result of quick (though expensive) access at the various company operated trading posts.

Over time, high sugar and high starch foods such as snacks and prepackaged pastries had filled the shelves of the outpost shops and the pantries of Aboriginal people living in close proximity.

I had long suspected that the introduction of these food items had a direct relationship to the evident high levels of diabetic amputations that I witness in remote locations. A recent article in “Two Row Times” (an excellent little weekly at Six Nations) left me with a secondary question.  What IF the high incident of disease/illness that is foreign to Turtle Island  is NOT only brought on by the introduction of non-indigenous diet but is also the product of removal of hereditary diet items?

The Two Rows article about the work of Dr. Martin Reinhardt, Assistant Professor – Center for Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University spoke about an experiment that Dr. Reinhardt was conducting. His research into the relationship between natives of the Great Lakes basin and indigenous/traditional diet and food stocks opened my eyes to something that may have been hidden in plain sight.

While we quickly react to attempts to limit hunting and fishing rights, the traditional gathering skills are fading. As a boy, I came across very little information on the subject and that was many years ago. I do recall many field snacks in which we pulled up cat tail stalks and ate the wonderful  “white stuff” we found hidden inside the base of the stalk.  I later learned that this field food had a name: they call it rhizomes and even eaten raw they were a handy field snack right from Mother Nature’s pantry.

I later learned that this very same item once was the basis to most of the flour used in pre-contact diets. Soaked and  dried and then ground it produced a powder that proved to be an interesting substitute for the processed flour used in pan-bread. Similarly, the little root knurls are actually “corms”. We used to peel and fry these little items to produce another healthy treat from the simple cattail. Mother Earth thus provided so much “good food”.   Years later, I learned that these rhizomes and cat tail corms are nutritious and calorie-dense food.  Of course, processed bags of manufactured wheat flour are much easier to obtain than mucking around in the ditches and bogs.  But what is the health cost?  Perhaps Dr. Reinhardt’s research will provide the key to a number of health related questions. Can it be that Native metabolism and colonists metabolisms are different enough that “one man’s feast is really another man’s poison?”

Traditional medicines contained in various plants once were the “drug store” for indigenous people living in the Great Lakes basin. It took generations for the settler populations to begin recognizing the health value of traditional remedy such as burdock to treat liver ailments, constipation, chronic headaches, gas and indigestion. 

 Research such as that being conducted by Reinhardt is invaluable and I take my hat off to Two Row Times for pursuing the story.  You will not find such “good news” in the main-stream newspapers.


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