From bounty to leftovers
The 'Whites' Invade the Indigenous Diet
It is not my intention to be a ‘Debbie Downer’ here! However, I feel it is important to know that these drastic changes to the American Indian diet were the direct result of military force and were a conscious decision by the U.S. government at that time.
Before European contact it is estimated that there were some 30 to 60 million buffalo roaming North America. With the outright intention of literally starving Plains Indian people into submission, the U.S. government made a conscious decision to call ‘open season’ on all buffalo anywhere at any time by anyone. Colonel Richard Dodge said in 1867, “Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” And so they shot them…. from moving trains, killed them en masse for only their hides and tongues, and brought the American Bison to the brink of extinction in just 40 years, from 60 million down to just 600. The same was done in the southwest during 1863 – 1864, a period in which tens of thousands of sheep were slaughtered by the U.S. Calvary, thus crippling the Dine’ (din-AY – ‘Navajo’) people. Another example is the Ponca People being forcibly removed from their homeland on the Niobrara, where they had long been farmers and agriculturalists. And the Pacific Coastal Peoples being taken away from their ancient fishing traditions and pushed onto reservations. The examples and tragic stories are, of course, endless.
And so the reservation period began, and with it came ‘the whites’. What ‘whites’ am I referring to? Why of course – flour, sugar, salt and milk! Yes, for the first time in the ancient history of American Indian people, whole milk and these forms of flour, sugar and salt were introduced to the indigenous diet in large doses. Even by today’s standards we know that too much of any of these ingredients in any diet can be detrimental to our health. But being that the diets of Native American people had never included milk, and such high concentrations of white flour, sugar and salt, the effects on the overall health of Indian people were, and still are, devastating. The introduction of fatty meats like pork and even beef also had adverse effects on the indigenous diet. Not to mention the fact that food rations from the U.S. to Indian reservations were often spoiled, rotten or short in supply.
The long term result for American Indian cultures across the country was, and still is, near epidemic problems with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, terrible dental problems and countless other diet related health issues. And so it is that, by force, the indigenous diet went from being a robust, healthy, organic, local foods driven way of eating, to a destructively unhealthy diet of flour, sugar, salt and cheap, overly processed foods. Before the introduction of these items, it is noted by historians of the times that Native people were strong, lean and healthy, with good teeth and were in great physical condition. The adverse results of the forced change to the indigenous diet not only affected the physical health of Indian people, but their mental state of mind, and their socioeconomic well being. But that is not where the story ends. Stay tuned for my next blog for some great news on what is happening now throughout Indian country!
John Two-Hawks - Grammy nominated Native American Flute Music Recording Artist, author, activist and speaker. FULL BIO