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For Tribes, Traditions May Be Key to a Healthier Future; In Indian Country, the Battle Against Diabetes Draws on Native Traditions -- and Emerging Ideas About 'Culturally Appropriate' Public Health
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Holistic medicine; Minority & ethnic groups; Native Americans; Diabetes
Author: Pember, Mary Annette
Date: Apr 9, 2002
Start Page: F.01
Section: HEALTH TAB

Lorelei DeCora, an Indian Health Service (IHS) nurse and member of the Ho-Chunk (or Winnebago) tribe, had just spent the day in a South Dakota hospital ward in which every patient was a Native American being treated for diabetes-related problems. As she walked out, she noticed the clinic floor littered with pamphlets about how to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes. Suddenly she had a simple realization: "This ain't working." Pamphlets do not change lives.

Inspired by DeCora's research, Georgia Gomez, a tribal community health representative and emergency medical technician on the Winnebago reservation, worked with [Michelle Smith] to produce a program she calls "Team Up." Funded by a small grant from the tribe, the three- day program is conducted at a Sioux City, Iowa, hotel and conference center, about 20 miles from the reservation. Participants are fed a controlled diabetic diet with an emphasis on traditional foods, and receive education, exercise demonstrations and emotional and spiritual counseling by local native leaders, all in the setting of a talking circle. Blood sugar testing is conducted throughout the program to provide tangible proof, in the form of lower blood glucose levels, that even brief and moderate changes in diet and exercise can have immediate impact.

Reintroducing traditional foods to Ho-Chunk society is also part of the effort. "Children of the Wicawas" is a project in which children learn traditional gardening, food preparation and preservation methods. DeCora's project has published a cookbook featuring modern updates of traditional Ho-Chunk foods, such as buffalo and rice soup, buffalo pie and a modern twist on Lakota dried meat and chokecherries. "Before we can start talking about nutrition," DeCora says, "we have to renew the spiritual connection our people had with food as a gift from the creator. It makes sense for us to renew our bodies with that traditional source."

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