From Indian Country Today:
The U.S. has long treated Indian religion and creation stories as quaint myths, but it sure holds dearly to its own mythical stories of creation. The colonizer’s myth of the first Thanksgiving is a delightful story where Native nations of the east broke bread with the colonists of the “new world.” Native peoples, however, know the full fabrication of the historical circumstances surrounding this celebration. But one thing that cannot be forgotten is the central role that food plays in this historical pageant. Food takes center stage in this narrative because Native peoples were in control of their food.
Connecting the dots between vibrant Native food systems and economies, however, is far from complicated. Agricultural and food-systems production provided the backbone of trade and exchange for most Indian nations. One aspect of American history rarely receives attention was the U.S. government’s strategy to deliberately starve Indians into submission by deliberately destroying their food systems—whether it was George Washington’s torching of hundreds of thousands of bushels of Iroquois corn, or the willful destruction of the fields and orchards of the Apache and Pueblo people.
Roughly 400 years after this first Thanksgiving, many Native peoples are dependent upon public assistance to eat, including the USDA’s commodity food program. Statistics also tell us that Native people in 22 states receive commodity food, and that approximately one in four Native households is “food insecure,” and do not have enough to eat. Moreover, another one in 10 households is experiencing hunger. We can easily connect the dots between the current state of Native food systems, and Indian peoples’ lack of control, and horrifying Native health statistics.
Health studies show that six of 10 Native Americans are likely to develop type 2 diabetes—mostly the result of poor dietary health—and have higher instances of obesity and heart disease. It is troubling that diabetes was essentially unknown among Indians in 1912, and still clinically nonexistent in 1930. Today, Indians suffer diabetes more than twice the national average (some places, the rate is much higher), and it is consuming more and more American Indian health-care resources. A final startling fact, from “State of the Science: A Cultural View of Native Americans and Diabetes Prevention.” In it Edwards and Patchell alarmingly report that per-capita health care expenditures in 2003 were $3,803 for each federal prisoner, but only $1,914 per capita in the federal allotment to Indian Health Services. How can we not conclude that spending priorities on health are directly linked to access to care and health outcomes.