Six months ago, Minnesota’s Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community garnered well-deserved praise when it announced a $5 million “Seeds of Native Health” initiative to tackle a daunting public health challenge: improving Native American nutrition.
With the first round of grant recipients just announced, this influential southern-metro tribal nation laudably isn’t pausing to take a rest. Instead, it’s poised to take an ambitious step to broaden the initiative’s reach. In mid-October, it will host a gathering of some of the nation’s most respected national philanthropic organizations to “specifically focus on this nutritional crisis in Indian Country,’’ said Lori Watso, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Community’s secretary/treasurer.
The goal of the gathering, believed to be the first of its kind, is not only to raise awareness but to enlist these organizations’ support to improve nutrition in Native American communities. The other philanthropies shouldn’t hesitate to join the campaign. This is an overdue public health need, one long neglected by the federal government, and a worthy use of these organizations’ resources.
Grim is the only word to describe Native American health statistics. Life expectancy is 4.2 years lower than the national average. Obesity is a common risk factor for many of the diseases this group is at high risk for, including Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Focusing on prevention through better nutrition is eminently sensible.
The Seeds of Native Health’s first 15 grants, which totaled $523,000, were made through project partner First Nations Development Institute. Two of the grant recipients are the Red Lake and Leech Lake tribal nations within Minnesota borders. Recipients of the other grants are 13 tribes or organizations in 10 other states, with another round of grants through a different project partner expected soon.
The initiative also has announced a landmark partnership with the University of Arkansas School of Law and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. That effort will yield model regulations and policies for tribal nations growing and distributing food.
Seeds of Native Health is clearly off to a strong start, but broader support is needed to sustain this important public health campaign’s momentum.