State of First Nations Health

Our health is not what it used to be. Nowadays our people – young and old – suffer from many chronic lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

But what is the cause of these health problems? Why did First Nations people not suffer from these problems 50 or 60 years ago? The answer is we have strayed away from our traditional lifestyle when it comes to diet and activity. Greasy, fatty, sugary and salty foods are in our homes, schools, stores and restaurants.

Our ancestors had more varieties of food. Iroquois had at least twenty varieties of corn, even more beans, squash and melons of many different kinds. When you go to the grocery store how many different kinds of corn do you find? One? Maybe two? You will find white sweet corn or maybe yellow sweet corn, oh and popcorn. But with all the varieties of corn the Iroquois had they also had many different ways of eating corn. Sometimes corn was picked when it is just baby corn, picked when it is green or picked late in the season. Then corn had to be dried and processed. Some you would roast, while some you hulled.

Now with regard to beans, there was many to choose from. Today you can’t get many beans at a store. Even in California where you will find more beans than other places you would still have less than ten varieties. Now when it comes to greens in the Iroquois diet that would be anything that on mother earth that you could digest. Maybe you would have to boil it first and these greens would have medicinal properties and great nutritional properties.

I want you to think of how much food our ancestors ate and compare it with the modern diet, then you will understand the variety of nutritious foods they consumed. The majority of the world’s vegetables originated in the Americas after all. They observed over time what foods best impacted them and not which foods help make the most money like big business does today.

Food was seen first as medicine not profit. Even in hospitals they don’t view food as medicine because the food they have will kill you. Our Iroquois white corn is far more nutritious and even helps to fight diabetes. I have noticed at my home garden the chipmunks will take the Iroquois white corn seed I plant and leave the genetically modified sweet corn so they take the best corn and leave me the rest.

We have developed a sedentary lifestyle with the internet, TV and computer games instead of being more active like our ancestors. We are manipulated by the food industry into thinking that processed foods are nutritious. There are toxic chemicals, carcinogens in our foods and we are ingesting genetically modified organisms and now we are paying the price for it.

But this column is not meant to bring people down, it is here to give hope, inspire and educate each week. All these chronic lifestyle diseases are avoidable. Take for example the Pima in Arizona who suffer from one of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the world. They have an American lifestyle of eating unhealthy food and are not active. But their Pima cousins across the border in Mexico are poorer but have a traditional lifestyle by growing and eating there own food, are very active and type 2 diabetes is virtually non existent.

Our ancestors knew that if you have healthy food, you have healthy bodies, minds, spirits and communities but if you pollute your food and water you will contaminate your bodies, minds, spirits and communities. I have studied a lot of our history and found that runners that delivered messages could run ninety miles in twelve hours which is an amazing accomplishment.

There is a record of a hundred year old Seneca woman walking a hundred miles to the signing of the Treaty of Canadaguia of 1794 and the Seneca Chief Cornplanter at about ninety eight years of age walked a hundred and ten miles to the Buffalo Creek Reservation and died at approximately a hundred and four. Now if these people could do these things we should be learning as much as we can about them, what they ate and there daily activity.

After all we are in a sad state when we have people that can’t even walk to there mail box but drive instead! Forced assimilation caused many indigenous people to believe that they had no knowledge or wisdom to offer, that they were subhuman but we know the reverse is true. We should look at eating differently, eating more foods that we don’t find at the grocery store, growing our own heirloom foods, eating traditional game instead of chicken, beef and pork. We have all this knowledge of the old ways at our fingertips, it is not lost like some would say. It’s just not being used!

Fred Leonard

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