Homeless and Hungry

Last Buffalo Killed in N. Dakota (Jan 1907) courtesy Library of Congress Fred Hulstrand and F.A. Pazandak Photograph Collections

Last Buffalo Killed in N. Dakota (Jan 1907) courtesy Library of Congress Fred Hulstrand and F.A. Pazandak Photograph Collections

Patients at Canton Asylum certainly didn’t thrive, but most Native Americans were not doing well anywhere else, either. Even the most basic underpinnings of life, like food, had been taken from them and distorted. This led to nutritional deficiencies and diseases that had never affected them before encountering the white man’s culture.

Native American diets were varied, nutritious, and plentiful until they lost control over their food. Depending upon the part of the country they inhabited, tribes ate liberally of the “Three Sisters” (beans, corn, and squash), wild rice, nuts, berries, fish, and game of all sorts. Besides hunting and gathering food from the surrounding area, many tribes cultivated crops, as well.

When Indians were forced to live on reservations, they lost their homes, their cultures, and their independence. Along with that, the quality of their food immediately deteriorated. Often, tribes became dependent on government rations, which were a far cry from the unrefined foods they had previously eaten. Sugar, flour, and poor quality meat were the new staples, and  Native American health immediately suffered.

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