Sunday, November 14, 2010
“World Diabetes Day”
Today is the first day of the Indigenous Food Challenge. We have decided to commence our challenge on this date to commemorate the loss of a wonderful person that was taken early from our lives through diabetes. Victor Reece was a master carver and storyteller from the Tsimpshian Nation. More than this Victor was a loving father and grandfather.
We are all too aware of the alarming rates of diabetes among First Nations Peoples. A colonial lifestyle has brought with it a colonial diet for our people. Our once active practices of harvesting and preserving indigenous foods have given way to a sedentary, over-indulgence of unhealthy foods. Many of the foods that have become ‘traditional’ to our people (bannock, fry bread, homemade white bread, etc) are main staples within the common indigenous household. It is this normalization of introduced foods that has weakened our immunity and made us more susceptible to diseases and obesity.
Traditionally, our people maintained a spiritual connection with the land and the food systems therein. Our harvesting practices were gentle upon the earth and in return we received plentiful amounts of nutritious and nourishing foods. The ability to feast or to share food in great quantities took much effort and our families cherished this opportunity. The sharing of food has always been an important part of our culture. In many First Nations communities this cultural value has not changed… but the food has.
Go to a feast today and you will quickly realize this change of diet. Turkey, Roast Beef, Spaghetti, bread, potatoes, and a wide assortment of sugary desserts have replaced the hand-picked local foods. Similarly, the average First Nations family’s cupboards are now filled with canned, processed foods, and products high in starch, sugar and salt rather than fresh and preserved foods from the local area. This change of the palette has happened very quickly throughout First Nations communities.
During the 1950’s and 60’s, shortly after World War II had provided a higher military presence along the western coast of Canada, bulk shipments of food were transported to First Nations reserves where First Nations peoples were now confined to small parcels of land and could not travel with the migrating herds of caribou, moose, salmon and buffalo, or travel to the summer villages for the harvesting season. The common belief during this time was that First Nations peoples were poor and undernourished because the majority of their food sources originated directly from the surrounding land and sea. As an act of compassion food was shipped in to First Nations reserves. These donated foods included: canned pork, sugar, flour, and other food items that could be transported and preserved for long durations of time. Needless to say these foods were a stark contrast to the high-protein diet that had been evident among our people for countless generations. As a result, the diet and lifestyle of our people changed seemingly overnight. Compound this with the damaging effects of the residential school experience, crippling laws that inhibited traditional lifestyles and alcoholism and you have a recipe for disaster.
Today, we are surrounded and continuously bombarded with a barrage of unhealthy, fast and convenient foods. Our berry picking songs erased from our memories and replaced with TV jingles… “ba-da ba-da-da, I’m loving it.” Pop, chips and chocolate bars have become the most common trade items among our people. Our people have been very resilient. We have survived smallpox, measles, influenza, whooping cough, tuberculosis but we are not yet through this onslaught of disease. Today, we are confronted with disproportionate rates of cancer, arthritis, heart disease and most of all diabetes!
As a family we recognize that action must be taken. Every member of my family is genetically predisposed to diabetes. As a First Nations man my life expectancy is the lowest in the country. The disease has become intergenerational through my wife and my maternal and paternal lineages. Never before has a disease permeated so deeply into our way of life. In an effort to combat this assault upon our health we seek to draw strength from our ancestral ways. We appreciate the medicinal aspects of our indigenous foods and aim to use these foods as a way out of this position.
Over the past several months we prepared ourselves for this challenge. Although we maintained a consistently unhealthy diet we harvested and preserved a wide assortment of indigenous foods. These foods include: deer, moose, salmon, cod, shellfish, sea asparagus, bull kelp, eulichan grease, seaweed, frozen and dried fruit and berries, and locally grown vegetables. We have canned, frozen, smoked and dried many of these foods to preserve them for the winter season. Our plan is to engage in a strictly indigenous diet for four months beginning on November 14th 2010 and ending on March 14th 2011. Throughout this challenge we will monitor our weight, blood pressure, and heart rate as well as psychological, emotional and spiritual self-assessments. The diet we will follow will primarily consist of indigenous foods harvested locally and/or in other regions by indigenous sources. We have allowed ourselves to include locally produced fruits and vegetables throughout this challenge and also locally milled oats and similar products found at the local farmers market.
We appreciate that there will be some obstacles encountered throughout this challenge. As a family of eight we are constantly dealing with an assortment of issues around food. School snacks and lunches (our children went to school with a snack of dried moose meat and dried apples, they were surrounded by the other students willing to trade their chocolate and juice boxes for a piece) this will require more effort on our behalf, extended family dinners and celebrations, the winter holidays, and out of town business trips are all areas that we anticipate the biggest challenges. And of course we will have to deal with withdrawal from certain ingredients that are no longer in our diet – sugar, dairy, flour, and chocolate to name a few. Also, during this challenge we will be welcoming a new addition. We feel that the challenge will not necessarily be an easy one but the rewards will be amazing!
John Rampanen, Nitanis Desjarlais and family
Also Victor Reece did the logo for Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities Indigenous Foods Network
It was one of his last designs before he got too sick.
Whale in its natural elements represents the top of the food chain. The face emerging from the blow hole represents the humans who use the resources the same as the whale. The copper colour represents the wealth amongst the West Coast People. The eye of the Whale is a Salmon, Trout head and it depicts the beginning of life, as we know it today, of the ocean. The shadow of the Killer Whale represents the passing of information from one generation to the next. The shadow represents the ancestors, whose knowledge and wisdom we honour.