Friday, April 11, 2008

Unnatural Causes: Bad Sugar

The funny thing about watching these may think beforehand you know what it's going to be about, but you don't. Bad Sugar isn't simply about diabetes, and it isn't simply about how the loss of a native's diet brought about higher incidence of diabetes. How is it that the world over, natives that have had their lands taken, who have lost their histories, whether in the Americas, in Australia, or elsewhere, these natives have experienced a higher than usual rate of diabetes?

The Tohono O'odham nation in Arizona "has the highest rate of type 2 diabetes in the world." Terrell Dew Johnson, activist and artist, says his elders never said they have diabetes, "they've always said 'I just have bad sugar.'"

The ancestors of the Pima in Arizona were master water engineers. The Coolidge Dam on the Gila River took away their water. At first, the people died from starvation. Within two generations, they began dying from type 2 diabetes.

Not only were the foods supplied by the US government to Native Americans to replace their lost livelihoods loaded with fat, sugar, and carbs (remember this is how we got fry bread), stress and poverty also contributes to the higher rates of bad sugar. Remember, chronic stress = too much cortisol = impaired glucose production. Fresh food was not provided until 1996.

When Coolidge had that dam built, the Pima were promised there would be water for all. Heh, yeah right. The Pima went nearly 100 years without water. The prosperity of Phoenix and the rest of Arizona is built on the backs of the natives. Prosperous Scottsdale has a 5% rate of diabetes; working-class Bullhead City has a 11% rate; the reservation has a 50% rate.

The documentary refrained from mentioning green lawns and golf courses while the Gila River ran dry. There was mention that among whites, there has been a culture of believing "that the tribes did not deserve the water."

This is the sort of thing that Rev. Wright referred to when he said he hates America, and I cannot blame him. While Barack Obama had to say his former minister was "stuck in the past," to appease the bristling Nationalists, I think he was wrong. This is not the past! Until white America reaches a tipping point in acknowledging this, racism will not be something of the past. I hate this about white America too. Now, after the Water Rights Act of 2004 (2004!!) the Pima have water flowing in the Gila River again.

From the community discussion:

  • news that day: local tribes accepted not-quite-billion dollar settlement. The tribes agreed to drop lawsuits regarding ecological management of the Columbia River. (The money is expected to come from electricity rate. Again it is a win for the corporations.)
  • there was no mention of corn sugar: corn syrup is "bad sugar" and is in everything
  • Q: what is it that created problems for these communities. A: They were forced into decisions that go against their values. A: They were forced to eat cheese and carbs, not their native diet. [it seemed to me people shied away from saying they were robbed of their land, their culture, and their history]
  • There are 9 reservations in Oregon: we need to broaden this conversation to the state level
  • School lunches, emergency programs: success is based on measurement of calories, should be on nutrients
  • Q: what are the next steps, some solutions? A: my community and family affected by diabetes: need education on how to cook
  • Community solutions: African American Coalition taught barbers and beauticians about diabetes. This teaches a culture of taking care of each other. Need to find "unexpected alliances." How about health brochures in freebies in libraries, on Trimet, in various languages...not just at the doctor.
  • Share in the bounty: community gardens. I need to remember to share about Growing Gardens--that is what I'd like to see in our community gardens.
  • Let's have health fairs all the time: community activity board, billboards, signs.

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