November is Native American Heritage Month
What started at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S., has resulted in a whole month being designated for that purpose.
The first American Indian Day in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several states celebrate the fourth Friday in September. In Illinois, for example, legislators enacted such a day in 1919. Presently, several states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continues to be a day we observe without any recognition as a national legal holiday.
In 1990 President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, under variants on the name (including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”) have been issued each year since 1994.
I am Karen Two Shoes, RD and Nutrition Coordinator for Seminole Tribe of FL. I am also a Seminole Tribal member – Panther Clan. As a child growing up in the 1970s, our tribe was poor and one of our main food sources was government commodity foods. This was canned meat, juice drinks, white flour and rice and maybe cans of green beans. Balanced nutrition was not a concern. As you can guess, eating these foods as a child lead to eating the same foods as an adult. In my 20s (1990s) I was more concerned about my burger and beers. By this time, I had obesity and was taking a handful of various meds. When it came to this lifestyle on the reservation, I was not alone. In 2000, I was diagnosed with diabetes – so very common I can’t believe I was surprised. All I knew was I didn’t want to do insulin shots, I did not want to lose my appendages and I wanted to have healthy kids and be alive to take care of them. I remember an elder saying she thought it was a death sentence when she got her diabetes diagnosis. That made me so very sad and scared. I just knew it didn’t have to be that way. So I did the work! I changed my diet and started exercising. I had healthy kids and taught them to be healthy. I lost a fair amount of weight and had managed by blood sugar to my doctor’s content. By the mid-2010s, I decided to become and RD and bring this education along with my own experiences back to my tribe.
Food is such a personal experience influenced by EVERYTHING! Culture, upbringing, beliefs, traumas, triumphs. Our tribe and so many others, had a healthful diet, The colonization of the Indigenous diet has been one of the biggest detriments to Native peoples’ health. We were essentially forced to eat foreign foods and now get criticized for having a crappy diet. We, as Seminole people do not have food insecurity like so many others. But we do struggle with the flavor profile left from those high fat, high sugar government foods form our childhoods which we then pass on to our children. Finding a balance between our health and history is a challenge but I believe it is one we can conquer. COVID really taught us that our health is more than a number on a scale or a dress size. And I am seeing Tribal members, young and old, coming in for nutrition counseling with this understanding. I am hopeful and committed to making a contribution to this healthful movement.