Confederation to teach value of healthy eating

by Fabiana Torreao

In an attempt to change 100 years of unhealthy eating habits among Native Americans, a confederation of six tribal colleges are working to research and teach Native American communities about the impact of food and nutrition on health and well-being.
With chronic health issues such as diabetes and heart diseases at epidemic levels in American Indian nations in the Great Lakes region, the Woodlands Wisdom Confederation seeks to create a community consciousness.
The University joined the confederation in December 1998, creating a unique partnership between a land-grant institution and land-grant tribal college. The confederation’s first faculty, staff and student mixer was held Friday at the St. Paul Student Center.
“To me, the St. Paul campus represents the mother Earth and how we can protect it,” said Vikki Howard from the University’s Department of American Indian Studies.
The confederation combines tribal history and knowledge of food production to teach, research and outreach Indian communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota.
While only 4 percent of the national population suffer from diabetes, about 28 percent of the Native American population is affected, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The disease affects every single household in these reservations, or one out of every two adults, if children under 15 are disregarded, said Holly YoungBear-Tibbetts, College of Menominee Nation dean.
Of the 3,200 people in the Fond du Lac Reservation, 7 percent have been diagnosed with diabetes, said Lynelle Hanson from the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.
The confederation’s program is aimed at creating nutrition education among community residents that would help prevent diabetes as well as other diseases.
Ronald Phillips, University professor of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, said he would like to see more Native American students enriching the University’s undergraduate community.
Currently, the University has a little more than 200 Native American undergraduate students and less than 10 faculty members.
“Indian culture connects the health of the land to the health of the people in a holistic approach,” said Craig Hassel from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition. “We could benefit by understanding their cultural world view.”
The group’s funding comes from two $100,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grants and the University’s Visions for Change Project, funded by the Kellogg Foundation.
“It was quite a big step for a Big Ten university to take,” YoungBear-Tibbetts said.
Each tribal college also contributes staff members, the equivalent of $25,000 per year per college.

Fabiana Torreao covers St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected].