"Attacks on Indigenous peoples’ food sources were some of the first and most devastating acts committed by early western governments"
As Indigenous people, it is important that we understand why many people in our communities are currently in poor health so that we may better understand the importance of reclaiming our indigenous foodways. It is also important to understand that in the days of our ancestors, our communities were most certainly in better health.
The people we descend from were athletically gifted people and our original dances, songs, combative techniques, ceremonies and games are all proof of this. The diets that our people followed allowed them to have a better quality of life than many of us now. Since the invasion of westernization on the lands inhabited by Indigenous peoples, the overall physical/spiritual health and wellbeing of the people has quickly deteriorated. Attacks on Indigenous peoples’ food sources were some of the first and most devastating acts committed by early western governments. In addition to the invasion came dramatic changes to the ecosystem by the introduction of foreign and invasive plant and animal species, which led to severe environmental disruption, thus further deteriorating Indigenous ways of life. The strategic introduction of alcohol also contributed to a spiritual disconnect from our land and its resources, resulting in poor health.
Further European incursion into the lands––now known as the Americas––led to centuries of brutal and devastating colonial practices which continue, to this day, impact Indigenous peoples' overall health and wellness. With the depletion of Native lands and confinement of Native peoples to Reservations; with the cultural genocide and epidemic of abuse which took place in the church and in boarding schools; and with a severe drop in population, Native peoples became further dependent on government assistance and native communities weakened.
In the Reservation era, our ancestors were forced into an abrupt change of lifestyle and struggled to adjust to entirely foreign economic and governmental systems. Their traditional ways of hunting, fishing and harvesting were either outlawed or impossible to continue because of the environmental devastation which had already ensued. In a pathetic attempt to make up for treaty violations, the Government began distributing food, healthcare and education to Native peoples. These programs were initiated under the disguise of good-naturedness but in reality only further damaged our communities. Commodity food programs introduced heavily processed, fatty and starchy unnatural foods like fry bread into Native diets. The Federal government intentionally introduced these cheap and unhealthy foods in Native communities with hopes of systematically wreaking havoc on native minds and bodies. The attack on Native health and wellbeing was to further eradicate the power of the people so that there could be no resistance to the continuing theft of indigenous land and resources; an age old tactic that was used for centuries in ancient Europe.
In spite of their ill effects on our bodies, minds and spirits, these harmful foods have become a part of our cultures today. Consequently, Native peoples are suffering from the epidemic of obesity, further resulting in deadly diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, infertility, cirrhosis, strokes, neurodegenerative diseases and malignant neoplasms. Euro-American culture has furthermore influenced our people to devalue our spiritual connection to food.
The presence of alcohol, drugs and other mind and mood altering substances are a direct negative result of colonization and have contributed greatly to not only the current state of poor health, but also to the mental, emotional and spiritual disconnection that many of our people are experiencing. All of this has disempowered us and if we don't act now, it will continue to hind our abilities to collectively heal to restore, preserve and evolve our indigenous nationhood.