Life long benefits of preserving and maintaing the understanding of a healthy and productive lifestyle is crucial in leading the Tohono O'odham future generations into understanding on how to "relive". This needed cultural guidance towards the maintenance of treasured, and soon to be lost lifestyle of farming and the very existence of the “Desert People.” By maintaing this success of good relationships within family, in community, but also with the government, understanding the programs and other non-profit resources they have avaible to reduce the diabetes and obesity rate within their tribe. Tohono O'odham occupy one of the driest stretches of the Sonoran Desert, which receives and annual rainfall of less than five inches a year (Sheridan and Parezo 1996 : 120). They have passed down thorough numerous generations the ways to conserve water, while implementing dry farming and irrigation farming, to an arid agriculture proficiency that baffles historians. “Place the same number of whites on a barren, sandy, desert such as they live on, and tell them to subsist there; the probability is that in two years they would become extinct,” sand the BIA Agent E. A. Howard (Sheridan and Parezo 1996 : 122).
Since the 1940’s the Tohono O’odham had to deal with the diversion and the loss of their water for agricultural purposes, which in turn gave this culture the loss of their way and means, growing the traditional food their people which, ironically enough, was genetically perfect for their metabolism rates (Scientific American Frontiers : Fat and Happy?). With the Tohono O’odham more than half of the tribe has diabetes, through these lifestyle shifts that do not cater to the traditional lifestyle or agricultural practices. T.V.s, the highway infrastructure, loss of crop fields to water access to maintain their traditional crops, including the essential tepary-beans in which the Tohono O'odham were previously named after, the “Papago” (Scientific American Frontiers : Fat and Happy?). The ironic part about their diet is that it caters to them genetically, as if made for it, or they have genetically adapted to this particular diet. The simple, drought and heat resistant traditional crop of Tohono O'odham, the tepary-bean has been proven to help aid in the prevention of diabetes, while highly nutritious (Scientific American Frontiers : Fat and Happy?).
While hanging on by a thread, the traditional diet is dying out despite the negative threats within the culture through ceremonial conventions, that if they do not change their eating habits and materialize essential farming habits that a giant flood will create havoc in the livelihoods of the Tohono O'odham for generations (Scientific American Frontiers : Fat and Happy?). The Tohono O’odham believes that traditional foods and farming reconnects the culture, and that is the number one practice that is soon to be lost (Scientific American Frontiers : Fat and Happy?), and one they must hold on too. Project Oidak is community action program provided by the Tohono O’odham Community Action to help provide space and education for the youth form their elders in traditional farming methods, to stimulate concrete skills for establishing a positive change in their food system (TOCA : Project Oidag). “Foods have meaning”, said Terrol Dew Johnson who founded the Tohono O’odham Community Action, TOCA. “These foods are medicine to our bodies. Those foods will keep us healthy” (Bazell and Carroll : Indian tribe..).
Having a gene called the Thirfy Gene is not helping with their diabetes and obesity rate. As the lifestyles of the Tohono O’odham change with poverty and convenience, the availability of food and food choices have become very modernized to the “American” lifestyle of fast food combined with a plethora of processed foods (Bazell and Carroll : Indian tribe..). Their genetic trait that slows down their metabolism during the time of plenty and uses the reserves when the times plenty runs out (Scientific American Frontiers : Fat and Happy?).“It’s going to take time for some people to re-acquire a taste for traditional foods,” says Ned Norris, chairman of the Tohono O’odham (Bazell and Carroll : Indian tribe..). Which is very true, to try and establish the traditional foods back in the diet there will have to a big strong community effort, which is why the TOCA was created and implemented to do, to re-establish cultural revitalization (TOCA : Project Oidag).
The Tohono O’odham is not the only tribe in the desert southwest that are facing increasing numbers in the diabetes and obesity rates. The Navajo Nation, being one of the largest tribes in the United States also understands and currently faces changing times in the traditions that is affecting their lifestyles on their reservation. The Special Diabetes Program established and maintained by the Navajo Nation is a program targeting on diabetes prevention and early detection (Special Diabetes Project). Their effort has also been put towards Wellness Centers, establishing work out routines, and improvement on nutrition and diet. Again, the Navajos traditional agriculture practices also slowed when their agricultural staple and commerce, the raising of sheep came to an end. As their lifestyle also became threatened, they too went towards the way of convenience and economical purposes, also being some of the poorest Americans, the staple items became fast food and processed foods.
Scientific American Frontiers, PBS Distribution
Fat and Happy? http://digital.films.com.libproxy.nau.edu/PortalViewVideo.aspx?xtid=40892
Tohono O’odham Community Action
Project Oidag, http://www.tocaonline.org/project-oidag.html
Bazell, Robert and Linda Carroll
Indian tribe turns to tradition to fight diabetes, NBC News
Special Diabetes Project
Navajo Nation, http://www.nnsdp.org