Cal Thunder Hawk
Nutrition Summit held on the Pine Ridge reservation
Story and photos by Cal Thunder Hawk Lakota Journal Staff Writer
PINE RIDGE— Self-sufficiency in reservation food programs has improved the benefits for program recipients, many who have special health needs.
“You know, because diabetes is so rampant on the reservation, and a lot of it can be attributed back to the old commodity food packages of the early fifties and sixties and seventies,” said Lyle Jack. Jack is an Oglala Sioux Tribe council representative from Pine Ridge.
He continued, “Within the last five years or so things have really improved. The food program used to be administered under the state of South Dakota and then we became an Indian Tribal Organization. This means that we bypass the state and work directly under the USDA—with the regional office in Denver. This has improved our situation because the office has provided us with money that goes back to the tribe and not to the state of South Dakota.”
USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture Eric Bost will co-chair a Native American nutrition and health summit—with Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Steele—August 27 at the Suanne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club, 10 a.m. at Pine Ridge.
Bost oversees USDA’s15 food and nutrition programs, about $39 billion in annual food assistance. USDA food assistance comes in the form of food stamps and funds for school breakfast and lunch, the WIC Program, meals at child care centers and homes, elderly feeding sites and the commodity program on Indian reservations—among others. Hundreds of Indian tribes are served through this program. Federal, State and local officials, as well as representatives of several Dakota tribes will focus on nutrition and health problems confronting tribes, according to a USDA press release.
John Blue Horse is the director of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Food Distribution Program on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He has worked there 20 years.
He said that his program currently serves more than 5,500 local recipients a month and that Bost’s visit will provide an opportunity for the USDA to see it in action.
Blue Horse said that his program is recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an ITO—a status that permits the program to work directly with the federal government, the USDA in Denver, CO—rather than through the state of South Dakota.
Blue Horse is also president of the Mountain Plains Region of the of the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations—a position he’s held for the last four years. The FDPIR is composed of four regions and represents the collective interests of commodity food distribution programs nationwide.
The FDPIR is instrumental in helping similar programs acquire ITO status.
Among the staff of other food distribution programs from area reservations, Dallas Walking Eagle, Director of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Commodity Food Program and Bernard Herman, his assistant, will attend. Herman also serves on the MPR board.
Walking Eagle said that his program serves more than 2,200 clients on the Rosebud Reservation. He said that he believes programs such as his can come away from the meeting with a better sense of how to develop effective input and acquire local control into nutritional needs of his community.
According to Herman, a major concern of the MPR is meeting the nutritional needs of a population with a high incidence of diabetes. He hopes that the 10K/5-A-Day campaign—a program to encourage program participants to walk 10,000 steps, or one half-hour of exercise a day—will also go a long way to promoting their health needs.
The campaign will be launched at the summit and a few attendees will receive pedometers as an incentive to incorporate exercise into their plans for controlling diabetes.
Herman provided several brochures produced and distributed by MPR at their member facilities. The brochures include information about the nutritional needs of diabetics and those on low-sodium diets. Herman said that these populations receive special attention from the food programs because of their health requirements.
Blue Horse said that he hopes one of the outcomes of Bost’s meeting here will be an improvement of the food package for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program—another program at the facility.
Although both programs are housed in the same facility, their eligibility guidelines are not the same because they meet different needs and provide a variety of quantities.
Bonnie Ghost Dog runs the CSFP program. It servers primarily women, infants and the elderly. “I want to see the CSFP get more fresh fruit because we have quite a bit of elderly in the program,” she said.
Blue Horse said that one of the key local organizers of the event is Jack.
“I have to give Lyle Jack a lot of credit. He’s on the OST Health and Human Services committee and he worked for the commodities program before he was elected to the tribal council. He took care of the computers for us and was an issue-clerk. He worked here 12 years,” said Blue Horse.
Blue Horse said, “He (Jack) knows what’s happening with the program. He also knows who Bost is and what he is to our program.”
According to Jack, a couple of weeks ago—after representatives of the USDA program from Denver came to Porcupine and met with Steele—Steele appointed Jack to work with Blue Horse on Bost’s visit.
Jack said, “I used to work for the food distribution program before I became an elected council member. I met with people from out of the Denver regional office. I became real good friends with them and through them we made some contacts to national meetings.”
“We’re hoping to maybe improve our food packages. The last time—I think her name was Shirley Watkins, she was the former Under Secretary under Clinton—anyway, she came out and looked at the price of food. This resulted in the commodity food program getting the fresh vegetables and the fresh fruit and also meat,” said Jack.
“I’m hoping that the Under Secretary can come out and take a look at how hard life is here and how the cost of living is so high. I’m hoping that I can get him into a couple of grocery stores just so he can see the high prices that the people have to pay for food. And so he can see how vital the food distribution program on the reservation is because of things like these,” said Jack.
He continued, “He (Bost) is also in charge of the food stamp program on the reservations, too. The tribe is trying to work on legislation to run the food stamp program. But we need congress to okay that and I’m hoping that we can get a word in his ear so that he can go back to congress and hopefully get the wheel going on this one.”