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Native Roots

By Kibbe Conti, Registered Dietician
Tribal Connections Photo of Dietician, Kibbe Conti

The Four Winds Model for Healthy Eating

My motto as a Native Nutritionist is, "Best Nutrition Practices in Indian Country are a Good Reflection of Earlier Food Patterns". The challenge is always how do we teach our people how to live in a modern time and attempt to eat in a way that honors some aspects of our traditional food patterns.

One way we have pursued this effort is by developing Native Nutrition Models, and I would like to share one such model with you, The Four Winds Model for Native Nutrition. The Four Winds Model is designed with Northern Plains Nations in mind. Many times different tribal people living in a similar geographic area shared a similar diet based on the available foods in that region. My hope is that someday nutrition will be taught in Indian Country using these regional nutrition models, representing every major region where Native Americans lived.

The Four Winds Model was developed out of the belief that tribal people would benefit from using a dietary model that reflects to a greater degree their traditional diet composition and practices using both traditional and modern foods. Existing nutrition models typically do not reflect ancestral food patterns or incorporate cultural symbols and messages. The Four Winds Model promotes the four healthful aspects of a Plains Hunter/Gatherer diet. It also reflects to a better degree the macronutrient mix (ratio of Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fat) of our Northern Plains diet than do conventional models.

The Medicine Wheel is a sacred symbol used by Plains tribes and others. It is a symbol with numerous symbolic teachings related to balance in all natural systems. Its universal knowledge is looked to by many who seek healing, wisdom and direction. In a time when unbalanced eating has lead to so many chronic health conditions such as diabetes and obesity it seemed appropriate to look to the medicine wheel for direction in the area of nutrition. In working in partnership with knowledgeable elders, nutrition educators can facilitate the development of culturally based nutrition models. Bob Chasing Hawk of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe was an especially knowledgeable elder whom I consulted with in the development of the Four Winds Model.

The model begins with the West Wind. The western sky brings the thunderclouds and the life giving rains. Traditionally all our drinks were water based. Today the West Wind is represented on the model by sugar-free, alcohol-free drinks.

The North Wind is represented by the strength and endurance of the Buffalo. Buffalo and large game were plentiful and always lean. Today the North Power incorporates the important protein contributions of all lean animal food products.

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