In 2016, under one of its programs, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded 15 grants totaling $422,500. These grants were funded by the Seeds of Native Health campaign created by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) to improve the nutrition of Native Americans across the country. One of the grantees was the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe’s Traditional Foods and Medicines Program and its “Native Infusion: Rethink Your Drink Campaign.”
The project’s focus is to encourage tribal youth to incorporate and increase traditional, ancestral beverages, fruits and vegetables – healthy foods – into their diets. By focusing on traditional, ancestral beverages and foods, the tribe hopes to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and improve the health of the younger tribal members to combat diabetes, obesity and tooth decay later in life.
Valerie Segrest is the Traditional Foods and Medicines Program manager, and a tribal member. Segrest says the implementation of the “Rethink Your Drink Campaign” is an important part of creating change in the eating habits of the tribe’s youth and their community.
“The discussion is focused on the facts and information … our communities have been disempowered for so long that we need to start with culture in the discussion. To let them (the community) be the driving force, so they feel more empowered to take their health into their own hands,” said Segrest.
Six healthy beverage posters were created by two Salish artists, Roger Fernandes (Lower Elwha) and Joe Seymour (Sqauxin), who drew the images; and Annie Brule, who was the graphic designer. The posters will be displayed throughout the tribal community in the schools and community centers. A curriculum guide was created and made available to educators to increase the number of people who can teach the youth about traditional diets and how to make healthy beverage choices.
Segrest and her colleague, Elise Krohn, M.Ed., co-authored Native Infusion: Rethink Your Drink – A Guide to Ancestral Beverages, which is included in the toolkit. The guide is extensive and provides information on how to “Navigate the Beverage Aisle” to avoid the sugary drinks; information on the six posters and how the images connect to the ancestral drinks and cultural teachings; how to make infused waters, herbal teas, sodas, bone broths and smoothies; how to set up a beverage station; and where to find further information and resources.
The Muckleshoot Tribe offered a one-day nutrition education summit in mid-May 2017 with 40 educators, tribal community members and youth leaders trained on using the healthy beverage toolkit. Youth representatives, mostly middle-schoolers from the Muckleshoot Tribal School, attended, along with youth from the after-school program.
There were guest speakers who addressed the health impacts of sugary drinks, the healthy beverage movement in British Columbia, and how to set up beverage stations. The summit was more than handing out information. It strived to engage the attendees and to encourage dialog to reinforce that the return to creating and drinking traditional healthy beverages is an act of tribal sovereignty.
“We traded our ancestral drinks in for the sugar and energy drinks, which don’t have our health in mind. There is a rich cultural tradition in our healthy beverages,” said Segrest.
At the one-day nutrition education summit, Segrest and Krohn demonstrated how to make bone broth, and teas out of leaves and flowers versus bark, roots and hard berries. Attendees also learned how to harvest, dry and store the teas correctly. There were beverage stations set up so people could sample the various teas, which reinforced the accessibility and taste of the teas.
Infused waters were made with fruits and vegetables to encourage the drinking of water. One theme Segrest often hears is that water has no taste, so people avoid drinking it. The infused waters gives people options and encourages them to stay hydrated.
The participants went home with their toolkits made up of the six posters to display around their communities, along with the guide and a tribal recipe book, which included a section on beverages. The recipe book is another Muckleshoot project supported by the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board and the Centers for Disease Control’s Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country (GHWIC) program. Segrest utilizes all available resources to maximize her program outreach and funding. She saw an opportunity to add beverage recipe cards to the existing popular recipe program that features foods specific to the area.
Segrest reminded the participants that “sovereignty isn’t an end goal, it’s something we do every day. Drinking ancestral beverages is a political act.”
Segrest and her colleagues will continue to provide trainings over the next several months and she is thankful to the Shakopee Seeds of Native Health campaign, the Muckleshoot Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program, and to First Nations for supporting her work as an activist for her community.
“The work wouldn’t be as prevalent or as strong without the support of First Nations, and it’s not just due to the funding, but to the relationships built with the folks within the organization. First Nations brings people together to feed off each other – to think, to partner. At First Nations’ gatherings you’re able to cross-pollinate with others, which reminds you that you’re not alone.”
The Seeds of Native Health effort encompasses efforts to improve awareness of Native nutrition problems, promote wider application of proven best practices, and encourage additional work related to food access, education and research. First Nations was one of SMSC’s strategic, inaugural partners in the effort. The campaign builds on localized efforts to solve the problems of Native American nutrition and hopes to raise awareness, spread knowledge, create capacity for change, and develop additional solutions on a broader scale.
By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer