OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – There is a push in the Native American community to get members’ food sovereignty back to the way it was before Indigenous people met settlers.

However, experts say there are challenges to overcome to achieve the diet in a modern world.

“The Native community is reclaiming our power and one of those ways is through food,” said Amy Warne, a registered and licensed dietician and also a member of the Muscogee and Seminole tribes.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, Native American adults are almost three times more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes.

Warne said diabetes, cancer, and heart disease rates started sky rocketing after the introduction of Indian Boarding Schools.

“Our children were taken from their customary homes with the traditional foods, with their families, and placed into institutions and introduced us, for the first time, to commodity foods and institutionalized nutrition,” said Warne. “They have tried to assimilate us through various forms, and food is definitely one of them.”

Warne said Native Americans need to get back to the pre-contact diet, with traditional lean game that’s low in fat and high in protein.

“Buffalo, bison, deer, [and] fish if that’s part of your tradition,” said Warne. “I think of fresh fruits and vegetables that are growing seasonally. I’m thinking of our three sisters – the corn, beans, and squash that we have relied so heavily on.”

Warne points out that portions are vital. Meals should look like this Native Plate, found on the Indian Health Services website.

However, Warne said there is a hurdle in the way. Not every Native American has access to these nutritious foods. 

MoveForHunger.org said about one in four Native Americans experience food insecurity, compared to 1 in 9 Americans overall.

“But then, you add that no public transportation and it makes it a super food desert,” said Warne.

Warne said the Food Distribution Program in Indian Reservations provides USDA foods for those that meet income eligibility. This program is for those that live in or near reservations and is typically administered locally by the Indian Tribal Organization.