Date of this Version
The mid- to late nineteenth century was the beginning of the reservation era for most Native Americans, ushering in a series of unprecedented changes that affected the cultural traditions and physical health of groups across the United States. For the Pawnee, Omaha and Winnebago in Nebraska, changes in subsistence patterns not only destroyed traditions but influenced the spread of disease and malnutrition. Government rations, consisting largely of wheat flour, beef, bacon, pork, sugar and coffee, were a drastic departure from the traditional diet of lean bison meat, corn, beans, squash and wild food and those who depended on these rations experienced high numbers of dysentery, diarrhea, scurvy and tuberculosis. Diet is an often-overlooked component of tuberculosis, but can seriously affect an individual’s ability to fight off infection or recover from an illness. Along with the living conditions native people faced on reservations, the new diet introduced by the government contributed to epidemic rates of tuberculosis and other dietary-based diseases that plagued the tribes. This new diet of Western food set the stage for the common nutritional components of Native American diets today and is largely responsible for the epidemic rates of obesity, type II diabetes and depression among indigenous people.