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Indigenous Nutrition

July 21, 2012

“Eating is a sacrament.  The grace we say clears our hearts and guides the children and welcomes the guest, all at the same time . . .  To acknowledge that each of us at the table will eventually be part of the meal is not just being “realistic.”  It is allowing the sacred to enter and accepting the sacramental aspect of our shaky temporary personal being . . .  And if we do eat meat it is the life,  the bounce, the swish, of a great alert being with keen ears and lovely eyes, with foursquare feet and a huge beating heart that we eat, let us not deceive ourselves.” [Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild, 184, 19, 184.]

One of the major problems facing an Animist is eating and wearing the physical remains of those who have been killed.

One role of shamans is the persuading of animals to allow themselves to be found by hunters and to give up their lives for the good of humans. Shamans persuade animals and humans that hunting and being hunted is sacrificial. In places where shamans are not involved with hunting, other humans(e.g hunters or elders) are required to offer the necessary respect to animals who might still be considered to have sacrificed themselves (Humphry, Caroline, with Urgunge Onon, Shamans and Elders, 1996 Oxford University Press pp. 35-36)

Slain animals must be propitiated… “because they personally and their kin as a community have been insulted and assaulted… At the very least this requires decent, respectful treatment as the animals body is prepared for consumption as food, clothing, tool or weapons. The animal might expect parts of its body to be returned to the sea or land, or otherwise removed from human consumption. That which continues to exist beyond human utility not only reminds humans that they do not and cannot take and possess everything, but also that they are dependent.” (Harvey, Graham Animism Hurst & Company, London p.148)

In some places the shamans job is to converse with beings who care for animals, a “lord” or “mistress” of the animals. It is for these persons to decide whether or not hunters will meet and receive animals that they can kill.

There are shamans in pastoral societies as well as urban and they too may engage with animal persons or their owners. In some cases they may have to provide some sort of compensation. (Kendall, Laurel Shamans, Housewives and other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press 1985). For example, in order to maintain human mastery over the animals given into their protective care, and given up for their use, the Exirit-Bulagat of southern Siberia offer animal sacrifices to the more powerful protector of both humans and herd animals, the Lord-Bull. (Hamayon, Roberte N. La chasse a l’ame: Esquisse d’une theorie du champanisme siberien, Nanterre; Societe d’ethnologie. 1990 pp. 605-704)

The Achuar people live on the border between Ecuador and Peru:

The only way for a hunter to be successful is to live in harmony with the game he hunts and with its guardian spirits, known as kuntiniu nukuri (literally: “game mothers”). The hunter’s relationship with the both the prey and their “game mothers” is personal and cultivated over a lifetime, and these relationships are characterized principally as affinal. He must follow these two rules: taking these animals with moderation and showing respect to the animals he kills. Both of these rules of hunting are codified in cautionary myths.

Achuar blow-dart hunter

The hunted (parrots, toucans, monkeys, and peccaries) are like brothers-in-law who have to be seduced with the anent (magical song) and attracted through magic spells. The hunt also requires the consent of the “mothers of the animals,” fearsome spirits who watch over the prey as a shepherdess over her flock, and accept the kill of those under their protection only if certain rules are respected, such as that only what is absolutely necessary for the family is hunted, and that the animals hunted are not teased, and that those orphaned are taken to the house and treated with affection. This “ecological” attitude prevents the indiscriminate destruction of the fauna just as the planting of small plots serves to preserve the rain forest which quickly recovers when a garden is abandoned. (Descola, Phillipe ” The Achuar: The People of the Aguaje Palm”

Whereas Achuar male hunters socially relate to game animals as affines, Achuar women sustain consanguineal relationships with the plants they cultivate… Nunkui, the equivalent of the Makushi Cassava Mother, is, like her, the mistress spirit of cultivated plants… By this it is meant that she is their creator, their mother, as well as a fertility amplifying agent (Descola 1986:239,245). Nunkui’s motherly authority, however, seems to derive more from the fact that she is an adoptive mother, than from the fact that she is their progenitor (Descola 1986: 249), and it is this particular mother-child relation that is transferred magically through chants from Nunkui to female horticultors. Achuar cultivators see themselves as sharing with Nunkui, who is both a powerful friend and a close ally, as well as a kind of sister, the co-guardianship of plant children. (Rival Laura M. And Neal L. Whitehead (eds), Beyond the Visible and the Material Oxford University Press 2001p. 58-59)

Gardens are watched over by the spirit of gardens, Nunkui. Women sing anents, magical songs, as a medium to communicate with their plants, Nunkui, and other particular objects. The songs are extremely personal so they are either sung in the head or on an instrument, but always in secret. Each anent has basically the same melodic structure but different lyrics.


That the hunter-gatherer was healthy there is no doubt. Weston Price DDS noted an almost complete absence of tooth decay and dental deformities among native Americans who lived as their ancestors did. (Weston A. Price, DDS, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, (619) 574-7763, pages 73-102 )

President of the Weston A. Price Foundation Sally Fallon Morrell and Mary Enig, PhD discuss the work of Weston Price in their article “Guts and Grease: The Diet of Native Americans”. Native Americans “had broad faces, straight teeth and fine physiques. This was true of the nomadic tribes living in the far northern territories of British Columbia and the Yukon, as well as the wary inhabitants of the Florida Everglades, who were finally coaxed into allowing him to take photographs. Skeletal remains of the Indians of Vancouver that Price studied were similar, showing a virtual absence of tooth decay, arthritis and any other kind of bone deformity. TB was nonexistent among Indians who ate as their ancestors had done, and the women gave birth with ease.” (Morrell, Sally Fallon & Enig, Mary “Guts and Grease: The Diet of Native Americans” December 31 1999 Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts 2001)

Price interviewed the beloved Dr. Romig in Alaska who stated “that in his thirty-six years of contact with these people he had never seen a case of malignant disease among the truly primitive Eskimos and Indians, although it frequently occurs when they become modernized. (Morrell & Enig: 2001)

The early explorers consistently described the native Americans as tall and well formed. Of the Indians of Texas, the explorer Cabeza de Vaca wrote, “The men could run after a deer for an entire day without resting and without apparent fatigue. . . one man near seven feet in stature. . . runs down a buffalo on foot and slays it with his knife or lance, as he runs by its side.” (The explorer Cabeza de Vaca is quoted in WW Newcomb, The Indians of Texas, 1961, University of Texas.)

De Vaca reports on an Indian “traversed by an arrow. . . he does not die but recovers from his wound.” The Karankawas, a tribe that lived near the Gulf Coast, were tall, well-built and muscular. “The men went stark naked, the lower lip and nipple pierced, covered in alligator grease [to ward off mosquitoes], happy and generous, with amazing physical prowess. . . they go naked in the most burning sun, in winter they go out in early dawn to take a bath, breaking the ice with their body.” (Morrell & Enig: 2001)

Many plains Indian cultures at the turn of the century into the 1900’s were still very close to their hunter-gatherer food system (Paleolithic), which would have been a very basic food pyramid consisting of meats, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, excluding grains, milk, and refined sugars. The Paleolithic hunter-gatherer diet consists basically of proteins, carbohydrates and fats food groups. Michael Eades (1996) describes the health of the hunter-gather people exceeded that of the agriculturally developed communities. In part, Eades attributes the health disparity due to the fats and proteins that the hunter-gatherer relied upon as their mainstay foods in comparison to the cultivated grains as a protein source. David Helwig Paleolithic Diet (2001), states that among aboriginal hunter-gatherer societies that survived into the twentieth century the rates of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, and other conditions were remarkable low until they switched to modern diets. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” Native Nutrition and Food Initiative Research, The University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona & Blackfeet Community College Blackfeet Nation Browning, Montana p.26)

According to S. Boyd Eaton, “we are the heirs of inherited characteristics accrued over millions of years; the vast majority of our biochemistry and physiology are tuned to life conditions that existed before the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Genetically our bodies are virtually the same as they were at the end of the Paleolithic era some 20,000 years ago.” (Eaton SB, Eaton SB 3rd, Konner MJ (1997)“Paleolithic nutrition revisited: a twelve-year retrospective on its nature and implications” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 51 (4): 207-16)


The diets of the American Indians varied with the locality and climate but all were based on animal foods of every type and description, not only large game like deer, buffalo, wild sheep and goat, antelope, moose, elk, caribou, bear and peccary, but also small animals such as beaver, rabbit, squirrel, skunk, muskrat and raccoon; reptiles including snakes, lizards, turtles, and alligators; fish and shellfish; wild birds including ducks and geese; sea mammals (for Indians living in coastal areas); insects including locust, spiders and lice; and dogs. (Wolves and coyotes were avoided because of religious taboos) (WW Newcomb, The Indians of Texas, 1961, University of Texas)

Ruminant animals, such as moose, elk, caribou, deer, antelope and, of course, buffalo were the mainstay of the Amerindian diet, just as beef is the mainstay of the modern American diet. The difference is that the whole animal was eaten, not just the muscle meats. (Morrell & Enig: 2001)

Samuel Hearne, an explorer writing in 1768, describes the preparation of caribou: “Of all the dishes cooked by the Indians, a beeatee, as it is called in their language, is certainly the most delicious that can be prepared from caribou only, without any other ingredient. It is a kind of haggis, made with the blood, a good quantity of fat shred small, some of the tenderest of the flesh, together with the heart and lungs cut, or more commonly torn into small shivers; all of which is put into the stomach and toasted by being suspended before the fire on a string. . . . it is certainly a most delicious morsel, even without pepper, salt or any other seasoning.” (The Journals of Samuel Hearne, 1768)

Beverly Hungry Wolf describes the preparation and consumption of a cow in The Ways of My Grandmother, noting that her grandmother prepared the cow “as she had learned to prepare buffalo when she was young.” The large pieces of fat from the back and cavity were removed and rendered. The lean meat was cut into strips and dried or roasted, pounded up with berries and mixed with fat to make pemmican. Most of the ribs were smoked and stored for later use. (Beverly Hungry Wolf, The Ways of My Grandmother, pages 183-189)

All the excess fat inside the body was hung up so the moisture would dry out of it, recalls Beverly Hungry Wolf. It was later served with dried meat. Some fats in the animal were rendered into “lard” instead of dried. All the insides, such as heart, kidneys and liver, were prepared and eaten, roasted or baked or laid out in the sun to dry. The lungs were not cooked, just sliced and hung up to dry. Intestines were also dried. Sapotsis or Crow gut is a Blackfoot delicacy made from the main intestine which is stuffed with meat and roasted over coals. Tripe was prepared and eaten raw or boiled or roasted. The brains were eaten raw. If the animal was a female, they would prepare the teats or udders by boiling or barbecuing-these were never eaten raw. If the animal carried an unborn young, this was fed to the older people because it was so tender. The guts of the unborn would be taken out and braided, then boiled too. The tongue was always boiled if it wasn’t dried. “Even old animals have tender tongues,” she recalls. (Morrell & Enig: 2001)

The marrow was full of fat and was usually eaten raw. The Indians knew how to strike the femur bone so that it would split open and reveal the delicate interior flesh. Eaton and others report that the marrow is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids but Stefansson describes two types of marrow, one type from the lower leg which is soft “more like a particularly delicious cream in flavor” and another from the humerus and femur that is “hard and tallowy at room temperatures.”16 According to Beverly Hungry Wolf, the grease inside the bones “was scooped out and saved or the bones boiled and the fat skimmed off and saved. It turned into something like hard lard.” More saturated fat the professors have overlooked! (Morrell & Enig: 2001)

The animal figures painted on the outside of a Blackfeet lodges have “arrows that enter into the mouth and extend to the intestines and organs. This line draws attention to the importance of the spiritual life force held within the intestines and internal organs. Also, this belief is further reinforced by the Blackfeet game hunter. When a buffalo is taken the hunter will eat the liver immediately upon the kill while still fresh and warm. The taking and eating of the liver signifies the spiritual life force and is considered very healthy.”(“Native Plants and Nutrition” Native Nutrition and Food Initiative Research, The University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona & Blackfeet Community College Blackfeet Nation Browning, Montana p.16)

Animal fats, organ meats and fatty fish all supply fat-soluble vitamins A and D, which Weston Price recognized as the basis of healthy primitive diets. These nutrients are catalysts to the assimilation of protein and minerals. Without them minerals go to waste and the body cannot be built tall and strong. (Morrell & Enig: 2001)


Native Americans and other hunter-gatherer tribes around the world foraged and ate from natures provisions. The vegetation diet consisted of a variety of plants, trees, bushes, berries, roots, grasses, wild fruits, nuts, seeds, fungi and lichens. This included anything edible that grew above the ground as well as below, and other vegetation that grew in water (algae). One of the ways Natives knew what vegetation was edible and which was not was through their keen observation of animal nature. For example, the site of a wolf digging up the roots of a certain willow along the banks of a river, a bear in spring time eating fresh roots and flowers, a squirrel gathering seeds and nuts, the bison foraging on prairie brush and grasses, moose having a feast on water algae and grasses, deer munching on flowers, tree bark and berries, are all indicators that what an animal will eat, most likely it is safe for a person to ingest. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” Native Nutrition and Food Initiative Research, The University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona & Blackfeet Community College Blackfeet Nation Browning, Montana p.19)

Root vegetable is a generic term that includes both true roots such as tuberous roots and taproots, as well as non-roots such as tubers, rhizomes, corms, and bulbs. Root vegetables are generally storage organs and contain energy carbohydrates and water. Roots differ in concentration and balance between sugars, starches and other types of carbohydrate such as grains and lentils. Plant roots are generally high in dietary fiber, calcium, potassium, folate, vitamins, minerals and live enzymes. The plant leaves, stems, and flowers contain much of the same as the roots but may contain other natural nutrients such as natural organic salts (sodium) and fewer carbohydrates. Most plant roots, stems and leafy greens, with an exception of a few, are considered alkaline in nature in comparison to meats which are acidic. All herbs are also considered alkaline. A balance of alkaline and acidic foods is important for the diet. It is stated that when a person is out of balance, either too much or too little of either acidic or alkaline rich foods, that individual’s chances of becoming ill, or limited physical functioning is increased. Further, foods that contain organic natural salts, such as leafy greens from plants, and the flesh of fruits and berries, are necessary for optimum health. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” p.24)

The fruits and berries group is defined as the succulent plant part; a fleshy or pulpy fruit, usually edible and of small size irrespective of its structure (Merriam Webster‘s Collegiate Dictionary, 1996). On average, most fruits and berries contain iron, potassium, minerals, vitamins A, B6, and C. The seeds of a plant contain fiber for proper elimination, sodium, and are also considered anti-carcinogenic and anti-oxidant. Most domesticated fruits are alkaline, few are acidic, and therefore, we can infer that fruits in the wild are similar in acids and alkaline content. For example, wild strawberries are considered a very good mineral source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, vitamins A, B, C, and an anti-oxidant. Because strawberries contain Phenylethylamine (PEA), it is considered an anti-depressant and mood lifting. It is acidic in nature, and the seeds make for great fiber in the intestines and bowels. Wild Huckleberries which are alkaline are high in potassium, iron, and vitamins B and C, thus making it an excellent choice for building healthy blood. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” pp.24-25)

During earlier times plant food preparation (if not eaten raw or dried for later use) by most tribes was done by boiling in water or roasting in an earth bed of rocks, wood and leaves or other plants. Food bulbs or roots were placed in the pit on top of leaves and protected with another layer of leaves on top; light soil was then placed covering the pit and a fire was then built. At other times a fire of wood was first made in the pit heating the rocks, and then allowed to burn the wood to charcoal before the addition of the protected food source. Some tribes in the Great Plains culture still practice these methods of cooking today. In addition, with the new convenience of cement, a pit is lined with it and can be used over and over, thus, making the roasting method easier. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” p.19)

The Blackfeet practiced a system of burning or setting on fire areas of land. By doing so, it would insure a healthy crop of both wild and cultivated bushes, plants, and grasses for human and animal consumption. For instance, the Blackfeet knew that where the healthy bushes and grassy plains were, so too were the bison. The process of burning away promoted the new brush and healthy grass that the bison preferred. This process would also greatly enhance edible roots such as the prairie potato, turnip, camas and Indian breadroot. As a result, roots, plants and wild game for consumption would be highly nutritious and ensure a higher quality of physical health. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” p.13)


The line between an agricultural and hunter-gatherer tribal society is not clear cut. Many Native American tribes that are considered agriculturalist continue to hunt and gather year around, especially during the winter months. Conversely, many hunter-gather tribes would manipulate the landscape through cutting or burning un-useful plants while also encouraging those they could consume. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” p.4)

Archeological evidence supports that at approximately 11,000 years ago, in Europe and Asia there was a movement towards the deliberate cultivation of wild grains for gluten. Cultivation of gluten enhanced the rising (fluffy) quality, smoother texture and taste of bread products. There after began the first domestication and processing of wild grain plants, notably wheat, millet, and barley. On the American continent, Native American agriculturalist and hunter-gatherer tribes did not cultivate wild or domesticate grain plants specifically for gluten. There was no un-natural processing or manipulation, genetic or otherwise. Research supports that the Euro and Asian cultures that modified grains, especially for gluten purposes, developed diabetes and its associative diseases. (Eades, M.D., Michael R., and Eades, M.D., Mary Dan Protein Power: The High-Protein/Low-Carbohydrate Diet. New York, NY: Batam Books. 1996)

Native American agriculture was most advanced in what is now the southern United States, Mexico, and the Andean region of South America. Native Americans from those areas used special farming techniques like irrigation, terracing, crop rotation, and planting windbreaks to improve their farms, and they usually harvested enough crops to dry and store for the winter. Some examples of southern Native American tribes who were expert farmers included the Hopi, Navajo and Cherokee tribes. Other tribes further to the north planted crops in garden plots in their villages but did not harvest enough to last the winter, so they would split up into hunting camps during that time instead. Examples of northern tribes who farmed this way included the Lenape and Iroquois tribes Besides food crops, Native American farmers often grew cotton, hemp, tobacco, and medicinal plants. (

It can be safely said that because Native Americans did not manipulate grains for gluten properties, there are no reported incidences of diabetes and associative diseases prior to the introduction of processed foods that contain gluten.

Wild Rice Harvesting

A variety of plant foods were used throughout the North American continents, notably corn (in the temperate regions) and wild rice (in the Great Lakes region). Dry corn was first soaked in lime water (water in which calcium carbonate or calcium oxide is dissolved), a process called nixtamalizacion that softens the corn for use and releases vitamin B3, which otherwise remains bound in the grain. The resulting dough, called nixtamal or masa, can be prepared in a variety of ways to make porridges and breads. Often these preparations were then fried in bear grease or other fat. Many groups grew beans and enjoyed them as “succotash,” a dish comprised of beans, corn, dog meat and bear fat. As an adjunct to the diet, corn provided variety and important calories. But when the proportion of corn in the diet became too high, as happened in the American Southwest, the health of the people suffered. Skeletal remains of groups subsisting largely on corn reveal widespread tooth decay and bone problems. (William Campbell Douglass, MD, The Milk Book, Second Opinion Publishing 1994, page 215)

‘If agriculture provides neither better diet, nor greater dietary reliability, nor greater ease, but conversely appears to provide a poorer diet, less reliably, with greater labor costs, why does anyone become a farmer? (Cohen, M. N. “Population pressure and the origins of agriculture: an archaeological example from the coast of Peru”, in Reed, C.A., ed., The Origins of Agriculture, Mouton, The Hague. 1977)

“The adoption of cereal agriculture and the subsequent rise of civilisation have not been satisfactorily explained, because the behavioural changes underlying them have no obvious adaptive basis… The answer, we suggest, is this: cereals and dairy foods are not natural human foods, but rather are preferred because they contain exorphins. This chemical reward was the incentive for the adoption of cereal agriculture in the Neolithic. Regular self-administration of these substances facilitated the behavioural changes that led to the subsequent appearance of civilisation… Though it was, we suggest, the presence of exorphins that caused cereals (and not an alternative already prevalent in the diet) to be the major early cultigens, this does not mean that cereals are ‘just drugs’. They have been staples for thousands of years, and clearly have nutritional value. However, treating cereals as ‘just food’ leads to difficulties in explaining why anyone bothered to cultivate them… The fact that overall health declined when they were incorporated into the diet suggests that their rapid, almost total replacement of other foods was due more to chemical reward than to nutritional reasons… Thus major civilisations have in common that their populations were frequent ingesters of exorphins. We propose that large, hierarchical states were a natural consequence among such populations. Civilisation arose because reliable, on-demand availability of dietary opioids to individuals changed their behaviour, reducing aggression, and allowed them to become tolerant of sedentary life in crowded groups, to perform regular work, and to be more easily subjugated by rulers. Two socioeconomic classes emerged where before there had been only one (Johnson & Earle 1987:270), thus establishing a pattern which has been prevalent since that time… Opium poppies, too, were an early cultigen (Zohari 1986). Exorphin, alcohol, and opium are primarily rewarding (as opposed to the typically hallucinogenic drugs used by some hunter-gatherers) and it is the artificial reward which is necessary, we claim, for civilisation… Cereals have important qualities that differentiate them from most other drugs. They are a food source as well as a drug, and can be stored and transported easily. They are ingested in frequent small doses (not occasional large ones), and do not impede work performance in most people. A desire for the drug, even cravings or withdrawal, can be confused with hunger. These features make cereals the ideal facilitator of civilisation (and may also have contributed to the long delay in recognising their pharmacological properties)… Our hypothesis is not a refutation of existing accounts of the origins of agriculture, but rather fits alongside them, explaining why cereal agriculture was adopted despite its apparent disadvantages and how it led to civilisation… Gaps in our knowledge of exorphins limit the generality and strength of our claims. We do not know whether rice, millet and sorghum, nor grass species which were harvested by African and Australian hunter-gatherers, contain exorphins. We need to be sure that preagricultural staples do not contain exorphins in amounts similar to those in cereals. We do not know whether domestication has affected exorphin content or-potency. A test of our hypothesis by correlation of diet and degree of civilisation in different populations will require quantitative knowledge of the behavioural effects of all these foods.” (Wadley, Greg; Martin, Angus “The Origins of Agriculture: A Biological Perspective and a New Hypothesis” Australian Biologist 6: June 1993 pp. 96-105)(Itallics added)

Groups led by Zioudrou (1979) and Brantl (1979) found opioid activity in wheat, maize and barley (exorphins), and bovine and human milk (casomorphin), as well as stimulatory activity in these proteins, and in oats, rye and soy. Cereal exorphin is much stronger than bovine casomorphin, which in turn is stronger than human casomorphin. Mycroft et al. (1982, 1987) found an analogue of MIF-1, a naturally occurring dopaminergic peptide, in wheat and milk. It occurs in no other exogenous protein… Since then, researchers have measured the potency of exorphins, showing them to be comparable to morphine and enkephalin (Heubner et al. 1984), determined their amino acid sequences (Fukudome &Yoshikawa 1992), and shown that they are absorbed from the intestine (Svedburg et al.1985) and can produce effects such as analgesia and reduction of anxiety which are usually associated with poppy-derived opioids.(Greksch et al.1981, Panksepp et al.1984). (Wadley, Greg; Martin, Angus “The Origins of Agriculture: A Biological Perspective and a new Hypothesis” Australian Biologist 6: June 1993 pp. 96-105)

One of the most striking phenomena in these studies is that patients often exhibit cravings, addiction and withdrawal symptoms with regard to these foods (Egger 1988:170, citing Randolph 1978; see also Radcliffe 1987:808-10, 814, Kroker 1987:856, 864, Sprague & Milam 1987:949, 953, Wraith 1987:489, 491). Brostoff and Gamlin (1989:103) estimated that 50 per cent of intolerance patients crave the foods that cause them problems, and experience withdrawal symptoms when excluding those foods from their diet. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to those associated with drug addictions (Radcliffe 1987:808). (Wadley, Greg; Martin, Angus “The Origins of Agriculture: A Biological Perspective and a new Hypothesis” Australian Biologist 6: June 1993 pp. 96-105)

Concerning milk, Native American hunter-gatherer tribes did not domesticate animals for milk purposes. Further research supports that 80% of the global population is allergic to milk after a young age due to the lack of specific enzymes to break down the milk lactose (sugar). An individual’s enzymes naturally decrease with age. Therefore, milk is best suited for babies and youth, preferably mother’s breast milk (Eades:1996). Native Americans consumed calcium nutrition found in berries, leafy plants, stems, and roots.

The study on Blackfeet foods and history is exemplary of the forced cultural impact and life-style changes upon Native tribes across North America. The Blackfeet history begins in 1730, approximately the time when guns, horses and small pox first appeared, thus, altering the life of the Blackfeet forever. The 1730 period is followed by the 1855 Lame Bull treaty that brought a greater abundance of United States government “rations” (flour, sugar, coffee, lard and etc.). This same period includes the beginning of missionary school system as a means of education and assimilation of the dominant culture’s food/life ways, philosophy, and religion, therefore, effectively altering the health of Blackfeet. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” p.5)

Lame Bull Treaty was signed by leaders of the Blackfeet tribe gathered at the mouth of the Marias and Judith Rivers on October 17, 1855. This treaty defined tribal territories and proclaimed peace between the tribes and the U.S. Government. In exchange the attending tribal participants were given sacks of processed white flour, sugar, tea and etc. These staples became their introduction to foods that have eventually contributed to the present health conditions of the Blackfeet today. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” pp.10-11)

Blackfeet author, Marietta King, describes the “Food Pyramid Lodge” from her book Native American: Food is Medicine (2002). The Food Pyramid Lodge is based upon her research on the hunter-gather diet and the USDA Food Guide Pyramid and then modified to meet today’s dietary changes amongst Native peoples. Her Food Pyramid includes 7 food groups; meats (protein; fish, poultry and eggs), vegetables, berries (carbohydrates), unsaturated fats (fats), herbs, milk and grains/sweets. According to Ms. King, Native people are lacking proper physiological nutrition and suffering from food related illnesses due to the changes in diet from tribal hunter-gather to processed American foods. “Native people every where are suffering from food related diseases because their bodies are designed to receive culturally and environmentally appropriate foods. These foods include the plants and roots found in their tribal homelands. Since not all Natives still gather foods and plants from the wild or have gardens, we now hunt and gather from the store. Native people must educate themselves on the food available to them and what is appropriate for their tribal diet. The processed grains, sugar, canned vegetables, processed cheese and milk are literally making the Native American person ill. Rather, we should be choosing from the market fresh vegetables, fruits, meats and healthy oils such as pure virgin olive oil. The good fats from the oil help to replace the healthy fats that Blackfeet in the past use to consume from buffalo tallow. Then we need to learn ‘how to eat’ the foods in order to avoid high cholesterol. This is more like food combining. Our ancestors did not have the food choices that we have now and their lives were physically more rigorous and foods organically clean, therefore, they did not have to deal with the illnesses brought on by foods like today.” (“Native Plants and Nutrition” pp.26-27)

The history of the Blackfeet, one of several Native American tribes of the Great Plains culture area, demonstrates the course of changes from a hunter-gatherer diet towards the assimilation of modern foods. At this time, one-hundred and fifty-one (151) years after the Lame Bull Treaty, and territorial boundaries established, the Blackfeet are still knowledgeable on tribal foods and plants. Although access to tribal foods is limited, efforts towards resurrecting traditional wild plant crafting, and further plant food identification is in process. This is evidenced mainly by the few education systems that instruct on wild plant foods identification, health benefits, nutrition, and use in plant medicines, that serve the Blackfeet population. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” pp.28)

Preservation of this knowledge is important in that it further perpetuates cultural lifestyle, perceptions, and make possible a return to increased health… It is suggested that a more intense study on the native wild plant foods be further researched with Native American name associations, and nutritional value identified. A field study with Natives knowledgeable on their tribal plants is also suggested. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” pp.28)

“Be skeptical of government guidelines. The Indians learned not to trust our government and neither should you.” (Morrell, Sally Fallon & Enig, Mary “Guts and Grease: The Diet of Native Americans” December 31 1999 Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation 2001)


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