SOURCE: Native Health News Alliance

Native Health News Alliance

March 30, 2015 14:51 ET

Shakopee Mdewakaton Sioux Launches $5 Million Campaign to Improve Nutrition in Indian Country

MINNEAPOLIS, MN--(Marketwired - March 30, 2015) - A Minnesota tribe is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to addressing obesity and diabetes in Indian Country.

The Shakopee Mdewakaton Sioux Community, in conjunction with the First Nations Development Institute, the Notah Begay III Foundation and the University of Minnesota, announced on March 24 that it would provide $5 million to launch the Seeds of Native Health campaign. 

The initiative is an effort to improve access to nutritionally sound food while reducing the rates of preventable diseases that are often tied to poor diets, including obesity and diabetes, which in turn lead to other health complications.

According to Indian Health Services, with 16 percent of all Natives diagnosed with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, Native children are currently nine times more likely to develop the disease than their non-Native classmates.

"Nutrition is the foundation of our lives and our being," said Lori Watso, Shakopee Mdewakaton Sioux Community Secretary/Treasurer. "It not only effects our health, but we need to take a step back and see that it effects everything: family relationships, social relationships, work, our students' ability to concentrate and perform in school. It's our life's foundation."

The initiative will take a three-pronged approach to address food insecurity in Indian Country. Along with supporting original research projects to provide greater insight on nutrition and food sovereignty, the initiative will provide grant funds through the First Nations Development Institute and Notah Begay III Foundation for tribes and communities across the country to finance local-level nutrition projects.

Calls for proposals will go out later this year with winners to be announced before the end of the fiscal year.

"We know that the people in the individual communities have a clear sense of what's going on in those areas and are the best folks to address those issues," said Mike Roberts, president of First Nations Development Institute. "If you're looking to us for genius, you've come to the wrong place. We can simply help in terms of sharing what we've learned from working with communities over the years."

The First Nations Development Institute is receiving $1.4 million to re-grant for projects related to food access, food sovereignty and capacity building. The Colorado-based non-profit has had its own food sovereignty initiative since 2001 to help address the overabundance of food deserts in Indian Country.

Food deserts are urban neighborhoods or rural areas that do not have reliable, easy access to fresh, healthy, affordable food, often forcing residents to rely on heavily processed items with more questionable nutritional credentials.

Along with many smaller tribes, many larger nations are wrestling with food access issues for significant swaths of their population.

More than half of the Choctaw Nation's jurisdictional area in southeastern Oklahoma meets the definition of a food desert, as does almost the entire Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota and most of the Navajo Nation's reservation in Arizona and New Mexico.

Headquartered in Albquerque, the Notah Begay III Foundation is receiving $1.1 million to re-grant for childhood nutrition programs. Named for the Navajo PGA golfer, the organization has worked with programs in 14 states to date and sees the initiative as an opportunity to expand its efforts to reach more Native children.

"The work we're doing is so critical," said Justin Huenemann, executive director of the Notah Begay III Foundation. "There's so much energy and investment on economic development, which is great, but that doesn't account for what's needed in the future. When we talk about preventing diabetes and proper nutrition, it's not just trying to get kids into sports -- it's about building their capacity.

"The numbers are so daunting that if we don't pay attention to this as an economic issue, a social issue or a self-determination issue, we'll be facing an even more uphill battle. We need to think about how we're serving our youth and preparing them for the future."

The initiative's third partner, the University of Minnesota, will be the convening institution for a new series of annual conferences on Native American nutrition, developing appropriate cultural interfaces between academic research and its application by Native communities, and creating a repository of best practices and national expertise.

"Many tribes, nonprofits, public health experts, researchers, and advocates have already been working on solutions," said Keith Anderson, vice chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakaton Sioux Community. "We hope this campaign will bring more attention to their work, build on it, bring more resources to the table, and ultimately put Indian Country on the path to develop a comprehensive strategy, which does not exist today."

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