Decolonizing Thanksgiving

Friday, November 20, 2020
Haku (hello), 
In the midst of Native American heritage month, and in anticipation of a food-centered holiday with complex meanings for us all, I want to share some thoughts and resources around the topic of Native Americans and food. And, I hope you are all able to enjoy a safe, good meal soon with people you love, regardless of the date or reason.
Prior to colonization, Native Americans prepared and enjoyed a wide variety of foods specific to their geographic areas. The Chumash people specifically (my Tribe) primarily consumed wild berries and flowers (spe’y), acorns (‘ixpanish), and salmon (a’lilimuw). These foods were medicine, a way to connect and nourish our physical bodies with the natural fruit of our ancestral territories.  Berries, acorn, and salmon provided beneficial nutrients that uniquely interacted with the proteins found in our DNA to support our physical and mental health. (As a side, if you’re interested in how ancestral vs. foreign foods interact with Indigenous people’s DNA to influence health outcomes, check out these recent studies in the fascinating world of epigenetics: here and here.) 
When the Chumash and other Native American people were violently displaced, many Indigenous food traditions were lost. Unfamiliar foods were forced into the Native American diet. Chumash people were forced to adopt new and unfamiliar farming practices, many of which were in direct contrast to traditional farming practices and values. It didn’t take long before Chumash and other Native people around America started experiencing an onslaught of diseases rooted in the resulting lack of proper nutrition (in addition to the myriad of other diseases brought about by colonization). Many Native Americans today still struggle with health conditions due in part to poor nutrition. And, one in four Native Americans is food insecure, meaning they don’t have secure and sustainable access to nutrient-rich food sources. Additionally, environmental harms have devastating impacts on the availability and nutritional value of traditional foods. 
HOWEVER, Native American people are resilient! Indeed, Native American people around the country have been reclaiming traditional foods, decolonizing their diets, and relearning how to use food as medicine. Health outcomes are slowly but surely improving, and Native American people are keeping cultural food practices alive for generations to come.  
To learn more about the role food plays in Native American history and culture, and for ways to get involved, please check out these resources: Kaqinaš (thank you) & Kiwa’nan (see you later)
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