Saturday, October 4, 2014

Thunder, Lightning and Indian Fry Bread


Thunder, Lightning and Indian Fry Bread
How attending the Morongo Thunder and Lightening Pow-Wow scared me into giving up fried foods for the rest of my life.

My goal in attending the Morongo Thunder and Lightening Intertribal Pow-Wow was simple. I planned to take my curious three year old daughter in an attempt to help her explore cultural celebration and ritual. I’ve always been intrigued by different cultures and that curiosity is something I’d hoped would be passed down to my children. What I observed was not just the majestic beauty of the culture but instead, the dire need for a complete health makeover for these amazing people.

When we arrived at Morongo, parking was free and easily accessible. Morongo had four of its very large reservation police men directing traffic. It was my first glance at the promising experience and observations that lay ahead.

Upon entering the event, which meant walking into a headwind of about 40 mph, we were greeted with the not so glorious smell of reused cooking oil and the melodic sounds of small costume bells as some of the dancers gated by in full dress. The costumes themes ranged from basic and bright to remarkable and ornate. Booths were still setting up as it was 11am and very windy. I assumed that the late start was because the crowds weren’t expected until afternoon into evening when the dance contests were planned. People were barely floating around when we passed the makeshift eating and that is where I got my first glimpse of a young native man indulging on Indian fry bread. He was no more than 15 years old and he had to have weighed somewhere between 270-300 lbs. I was stricken first with shock and then concern. As I looked around I began to notice that there were more, many, many more, just like him; young and old, very unhealthy, tossing back coca cola, eating the Indian fry bread like a taco as the sweet and savory fillings oozed out onto their ribbed paper plates. My stomach began to turn and my heart literally began to sink.

How can such beautiful people become so unhealthy? Why are these amazing people suffering so? What’s influencing them? Are they dying young? I had so many questions.

These questions flooded my mind and as we filtered into the bleachers to watch the entrance of the Coat of Arms I had a hard time refocusing onto the beauty of the ceremony itself. Over the next hour as I watched large, larger and extra larger people enter into the dance event area, my mind grew painfully distraught. My thoughts only subsided as we sat, in awe, enjoying the entrance of all the dancers at the opening ceremonies. The exquisite feather bustles grabbed our eyes like archery targets and the deep thud of the ceremony drums lulled us into vibrating trances.

Around 2:30pm, we ventured out to explore the vendor booths in an attempt to find a keepsake for my daughter. As we walked around the event grounds my mind drifted again to the health and diet influences of this self governing nation. Unhealthy people were everywhere. Overweight children were suffering to walk around in full costume dress. Sweat was dripping down their innocent little chubby faces and they had coca colas in their hands to ease the discomfort. All around us were Indian fry bread stands toting their Indian fry bread tacos, Indian fry bread deserts, fried tacos, greasy ground beef and extra large, sugar filled, fruit punch ice cooler drinks. I was flabbergasted once again.

In an effort to refocus, I took my daughter to a booth where there were a lot of small feathered toys, trinkets and the standard “Navajo” jewelry I’d seen many times on roadside stands along Arizona highways. The woman running the booth told me she made the goods by hand cutting the tanned dear skin. I’m a consumer of handmade goods so I bought into her sales pitch. I bought my daughter and I two natural colored friendship feather clips for our hair and a small flute with purple feathers tied onto the end. Buying these small enjoyable keepsakes was much needed after the morning experiences.

It’s no surprise that this culture has become so Americanized; so overweight. Native peoples had everything, including their lifestyles and eating habits taken from them hundreds of years ago when they were forced to restructure themselves to survive in the New World. Genes mutate, people grow larger and processed, fried foods help them stay that way. The Native history of waning health is nothing new but it seems that it’s only getting worse in this case.

According to the CDC statistics of overweight and obese Native Americans, 78.1 percent of men and 65.1 percent of women in this minority were considered obese in 2012. (Health Behaviors of Adults: United states, 2008-2010. Table 6.1.) Is this because these people don’t have the educational resources readily available or is it that they don’t have access to healthy foods? I don’t know, but I sure hope someone is working for change so that these people can continue to flourish and share their cultures abundant beauty with more three year olds.

By the way, that flute I bought; it only played one note but my kid sure didn’t mind. She played that one note the entire 45 minute ride home while complaining about having something (the feather clip) stuck in her hair.