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Part Three: A welcome bit of relief

Fellowship Story Showcase

Part Three: A welcome bit of relief

Picture of Samuel White Swan-Perkins

This article was produced as a project for the USC Center for Health Journalism’s California Fellowship.

Other stories in the series include:

Part Two: Doing it Ourselves

WIC education programs on California Rancherias and Indian Communities

Photo via Flickr
News from native California
Monday, December 19, 2016

This series has highlighted the background of the WIC program, its history with the FDPIR system on Indian Reservations, as well as the successes (and subsequent shortcomings) of its effect on Native American communities in California.

Historically, California Natives were starved out of their traditional villages with the advent of the Gold Rush. Nearly overnight, outsiders began to stream into interior valleys, forever changing the very nature of the California countryside. With the genocide came targeted attacks on food stores. Along with the wildlife went literally thousands upon thousands of bushels of acorn, buckeye, chia hundreds of other long forgotten edible grasses and groundnuts were destroyed by the invading vigilante forces. All burned down in an attempt to starve Native Californians from their lands. In keeping with treaty law, a commodity foods system was established across Indian Country and was largely consider a fiasco until the modern era.

As has been illustrated, the FDPIR system was instituted in Native communities in order to address the shortcomings of the Food Stamp Program, as managed by the USDA. As their website states, “The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) program is administered at the Federal level by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. FDPIR is administered locally by either Indian Tribal Organizations (ITOs) or an agency of a State government. Currently, there are approximately 276 tribes receiving benefits under the FDPIR through 100 ITOs and 5 State agencies.” 1 Many California Native American communities are located over 30 miles from full service grocery stores. The US Government recognized this need, and that the dietary needs of the people they serve will vary. New updates are being implemented as this paper is being written; while I cannot speculate as to any real numbers, there is reason to believe that the upcoming salmon, distribution days (beginning October, 2016) will be a very happy one on Rancherias across the State. It is worth mentioning that WIC has taken steps to ensure that the food is provided in its most traditional form (meaning the buffalo and salmon have been properly harvested, and the wild rice parched with the proper wood); one cannot properly conduct ceremony or the requisite feasts with a can of sardines. These concessions may seem small to the uninitiated, but try and convince a Maidu that farmed salmon is the same as the Coho; one likely won’t get very far!

Overall, the research conducted indicates that WIC is having a positive effect on the clients it reaches through its varied education programs. The most successful seems to be the distribution of culturally appropriate educational materials, in lieu of cookbooks. 2 The youth reflected the most open and responsive, as figures indicate that Native American youth who participate in FDPIR programs on Rancherias and in Native communities consume more fruits and vegetables than their white counterparts. And although it is not a program, per se, the encouragement to get physical activities in as part of the normal daily schedule is not hurting. Although there is no research to back it up, many Native communities have begun organizing prayer runs for various causes; many Elders share that these runs were not as popular during the 1960-80s when the quality of services received by WIC and FDPIR clients was not as appealing and commodities lacking in substantive nutrition values.

Services have improved over the decades, and with them, the health of the people. In 1997, Indian Health Services (IHS) published research that indicated that 41.2% of Native American individuals reported having, or to have had, one form of Diabetes in their lifetime. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and after adjusting for population age differences, a reported 16.1 percent of the total adult population served by IHS had diagnosed diabetes, with rates varying by region from 5.5 percent among Alaska Native adults to 33.5 percent among American Indian adults in some Western States. 3 This reflects a nearly 8% decrease in the incidence of Diabetes Mellitus across Indian Country; 200,000 individuals were impacted positively by WIC educational programs. Although there are some glaring problems with how some of the information is being dispersed, these are easily remedied through education of staff.

In closing, WIC educational programs have a positive impact on the rural California Native American communities they serve. Advances in policy, practice and delivery have improved the educational programs that are offered, in turn, encouraging more clients to seek access to WIC services. With the final leg of the policies that were designed in the early 2000s being implemented this year, insofar as traditional food distribution is concerned, it is likely that WIC will see an increase in eligible clients in their lactation and other education classes.

[This story was originally published by News from native California.]

[Photo via Flickr.]