June 22, 2011

US condemned Indians to diabetes

I've talked before about how forcing Indians onto reservations resulted in poverty, crime, and disease. Most of the time this connection is nebulous, since no one kept good statistics on Indians until recently.

But here are some modern cases where the linkage is direct and clear. The US destroyed centuries of health and nutrition habits and basically compelled Indians to eat poorly. The results were predictably bad.

A Dam Brings a Flood of Diabetes to Three Tribes

By Lisa JonesHerbert Wilson arrived on Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota in 1954. A Vermont-bred 33-year-old, fresh from Harvard with a tour as a bombardier in World War II and a stint in the Coast Guard, Wilson arrived in the tiny town of Elbowoods to serve as the sole doctor for three tribes that had spent the years since white colonization the same way they had spent the preceding centuries—raising corn, beans and squash in the fertile floodplain of the Missouri River. “Very few people were overweight,” recalled Dr. Wilson. “There was no welfare, no commodity food, and did I mention there was no diabetes?”

But even as Wilson and his wife unloaded their four small children and cat from their 1946 Hudson sedan, the disease that has become the scourge of Native American health was on its way. It was coming in the form of water—the recently constructed Garrison Dam was destined to flood that town and seven other Native communities strung along a 30-mile stretch of the Missouri River, which meant the resident Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people had to move to high, barren ground, processed food and a five-decade descent into obesity, hypertension, kidney disease and diabetes. Ironically, the flood would drown the only hospital the reservation has ever had.

As dramatic as it is, their story differs from that of other tribes only in the details. Native Americans in the United States have become 2.2 times more likely to develop diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. And they have all gotten there in pretty much the same way—they lost their land, became sedentary, consumed cheap and unhealthy food, and received worse health care than any other group of people in the country.
And:Set against the bleak statistical landscape of American Indian health, the diabetes upsurge on Fort Berthold isn’t unique, severe or even surprising. Nationwide, 16.3 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives are diagnosed with diabetes and are three times more likely to die of diabetes than non-Indians. Researchers opened their eyes to the phenomenon back in 1963, when a group of them traveled to the Pima reservation in Arizona looking for data on rheumatoid arthritis and stumbled upon an “extremely high rate of diabetes,” according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. So they returned to study that instead.

The Pima Indians thrived for centuries on corn, beans and squash they raised on the banks of the Gila River. They also gathered a huge variety of wild plants, and trapped game and birds. In the 1860s, they grew enough wheat that they could sell—5 million pounds to the U.S. government for the Civil War effort, according to Gregory McNamee, author of Gila: The Life and Death of an American River. A few years after that, white farmers upstream, especially the Mormon colony at Safford, diverted their water supply so much that by 1872 the Pima couldn’t feed themselves. The tribe appealed to the farmers without success, and then went to D.C., to talk to President Ulysses S. Grant. He suggested that the Pima move to Oklahoma. They declined.

In 1900, there was perhaps one recorded case of diabetes among the Pima. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Gila was altered by more dams and diversions to funnel water into growing cities like Phoenix, and the Pima’s already depleted farming enterprises shrank further. And the people got fat. Really fat. They are, in fact, among the fattest people in the world.
Comment:  If these actions don't qualify as genocidal, they're not far from it. The US acted with depraved indifference to the Indians' health. It didn't care if they lived or died. If their lifespans were shortened by 10 or 20 years, well, so what?

Government supersized Indians

It's roughly like condemning someone to the diet in the documentary Super Size Me:Spurlock dined at McDonald's restaurants three times per day, eating every item on the chain's menu. Spurlock consumed an average of 20.92 megajoules or 5,000 kcal (the equivalent of 9.26 Big Macs) per day during the experiment.

As a result, the then-32-year-old Spurlock gained 24½ lbs. (11.1 kg), a 13% body mass increase, a cholesterol level of 230, and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accumulation in his liver. It took Spurlock fourteen months to lose the weight gained from his experiment with a special vegan detox diet supervised by his future wife, who was a chef specializing in vegan dishes and gourmet.
To reiterate the outcome, it took a highly motivated individual 14 months to undo one month of bad eating habits. It required a chef specializing in vegan dishes to prepare a special vegan detox diet. Needless to say, most Indians don't have access to gourmet chefs.

For more on the Fort Berthold situation, see Al Jazeera to Visit Fort Berthold and Review of Waterbuster. For more on health issues, see "Res-Love" = Abuse and Alcoholism and Spirit Level Is Low in US.

Below:  "Lake Sakakawea, created when the Garrison Dam was built in the 1940s and 1950s, flooded the towns of Elbowoods, Sanish and Van Hook, as well as the rich farmlands surrounding them. Signs near the dam show the lake and its relationship to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation."


dmarks said...

Alwayts interesting to see stories on this place, where I had a few days to immerse myself in it once.

It should also be pointed out in light of the news about the flood at Minot, that the MHA Nation is located very close to Minot.

Anonymous said...

Well, on the case of Spurlock, it should be noted that veganism by definition requires supplements, while detox diets are themselves a fraud; your liver and kidneys detoxify all you need.

A lot of it is also traditional diet versus modern diet. You see a change from fat and protein to carbohydrates, from cis fats to trans fats, and from intact carbohydrates to refined carbohydrates. I have a friend who, simply saying no to hydrogenated oils doubled his HDL.

dmarks said...

Anon is right. The whole "Detox" thing is a scam.