Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Alaska Native perceptions of food, health, and community well-being: Challenging nutritional colonialism
by Lindholm, Melanie, M.A., University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2014, 156; 1572582
Abstract (Summary)

Alaska Native populations have undergone relatively rapid changes in nearly every aspect of life over the past half century. Overall lifestyles have shifted from subsistence-based to wage-based, from traditional to Western, and from self-sustainability to reliance on Outside sources. My research investigates the effects of these changes on health and well-being. The literature appears to lack concern for and documentation of Native peoples' perceptions of the changes in food systems and effects on their communities. Additionally, there is a lack of studies specific to Alaska Native individual perceptions of health and well-being. Therefore, my research aims to help identify social patterns regarding changes in the food that individuals and communities eat and possible effects the changes have on all aspects of health; it aims to help document how Alaska Native individuals and communities are adaptive and resilient; and it aims to honor, acknowledge, and highlight the personal perspectives and lived experiences of respondents and their views regarding food, health, and community well-being.

I conducted interviews with 20 Alaska Native participants in an effort to document their perspectives regarding these changes. Many themes emerged from the data related to subsistence, dependency, and adaptation. Alaska Natives have witnessed what Western researchers call a "nutritional transition." However, Alaska Native participants in my research describe this transition as akin to cultural genocide. Cut off from traditional hunting and fishing (both geographically and economically), Alaska Natives recognize the damage to individual and community health. Studies attribute rising rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and mental illness to the loss of culture attached to subsistence lifestyles and subsistence foods themselves. Alaska Natives report a decrease in cultural knowledge and traditional hunting skills being passed to the younger generations. Concern for the future of upcoming generations is a reoccurring theme, especially in regard to dependence on market foods. When asked what changes should be made, nearly all respondents emphasized education as the key to cultural sustainability and self-sufficiency. The changes sought include means and access to hunting and fishing. This is seen as the remedy for dependence on Outside resources. From a traditional Alaska Native perspective, food security cannot be satisfied with Western industrial products.

When considering Arctic community health and cultural sustainability, food security must be considered in both Western and Indigenous Ways. Control over local availability, accessibility, quality, and cultural appropriateness is imperative to Native well-being. Many participants point to differences in Western and Native definitions of what is acceptable nourishment. Imported processed products simply cannot fully meet the needs of Native people. Reasons cited for this claim include risky reliance on a corporate food system designed for profit with its inherent lack of culturally-appropriate, nutrient-dense, locally controlled options. Respondents are concerned that junk food offers dependable, affordable, available, and accessible calories, whereas traditional foods often are not as reliably accessible. Based on these findings, I named the concept of "nutritional colonialism."

Respondents expressed a desire to return to sustainable and self-sufficient subsistence diets with their cultural, emotional, social, spiritual, and physical benefits. Although they expressed concern regarding climate change and environmental pollutants, this did not diminish the significance of traditional foods for respondents.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Anahita, Sine
Commitee: Demientieff, LaVerne, Richey, Jean
School: University of Alaska Fairbanks
Department: Northern Studies
School Location: United States -- Alaska
Source: MAI 54/02M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Nutrition, Ethnic studies, Native American studies
Keywords: Alaska Natives, Colonialism, Corporate capitalism, Food security, Indigenous peoples, Social justice
Publication Number: 1572582
ISBN: 978-1-321-47065-9
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