During the morning of our second day at Pine Ridge, the class stopped at the nearest place for coffee. This place is a combined gas station and grocery market, of shockingly limited options for nutritious eating and serves as the primary source of food for the Reservation community. As I walked through the aisles of the store, I tried to think of what I would eat if I lived on the Reservation. The only item I could think of consuming was a container of rolled oats and a bag of grapes. The aisles of processed, high fat, high sugar junk foods overwhelm the small corner of “fresh produce” that consists of iceberg lettuce and few other vegetable and fruit items of poor freshness and comparatively high prices. How can this nation of people be empowered in any way regarding their cultural identity and communal strength when there is a disturbing health crisis of food deserts, obesity, and diabetes?
One of the most obvious indicators of malnutrition is obesity, despite the common misconception that those who are obese are not going hungry. Pine Ridge Reservation, a vast 2.2 million acres, is a food desert. Western foods of the junk food corporate industry are killing the community. During one of my morning runs, I watched as a massive truck with the image of Pepsi-Cola on the sides drive through the Reservation. I felt this marked a subtle symbolism of the continuing colonialism today. Food is a huge component of cultural identity, by shifting food traditions by allocating infertile lands to Reservations and supplying Western processed foods in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), is incredibly problematic.
In 2010, there was a court hearing to address and review the FDPIR. In this hearing, issues of healthy foods, education, and allocation are discussed. A quote from the beginning of the hearing:
I have hoped to hold this hearing to take a closer look at the FDPIR program, which in my opinion, does not get enough attention. It is unfortunate, but a fact of life is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease herein Washington, D.C.: out ofsight, out of mind. And while the tribes have continued to work hard for their communities, they are, unfortunately, notalways given the attention they deserve from Congress. With that said, we are long overdue in reviewing the effectivenessof this program. In fact, we went back and looked at the official records and could not find--andI state, could not-- find a hearing that focused exclusively on Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations at any time in the recent past. So your comments are even more important.
The full transcript can be found here.
Additionally, it seems from a news article that the opening of a Subway provided quick and easy access to more nutritious and fresh foods than those available in the small convenience grocery store. The article and video can be found here. And here, an interesting article from Native American Netroots, which is a “forum for the discussion of political, social, and economic issues affecting the indigenous peoples of the U.S, including their lack of political representation, economic, deprivation, health care issues, and the on-going struggle for preservation of identity and cultural history. I found this article to be particularly helpful because it details what individuals can do on a personal, local, and national level. The suggestions for getting involved on a national level include:
* Lobby for additional funding for culturally-appropriate diabetes research and prevention programs through IHS.
* Lobby for federal funding for tribal initiatives to maintain diabetes management and traditional treatment programs, including tobacco and alcohol cessation programs.
* Lobby for federal funding for investment and development dollars to bring healthy food initiatives and businesses to reservations.
* Demand that federal assistance programs distribute healthy foods, such as whole grains, and provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
* Lobby for funding for research and development, through the National Institutes of Health, the Indian Health Service, and the Association of American Indian Physicians, dedicated to prevention, treatment, and education programs in Native populations.