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March 13, 2003

New study examines the history of diet and its impact on diabetes in Native communities

Seattle - In many Native communities nationwide, diabetes has become a crisis. Statistics show that Native Americans are two-and-a-half times more likely to develop Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes (Type II) compared to white populations. Researchers have linked high rates of obesity and diabetes in Native American communities to drastic changes in lifestyle after European settlement, particularly after the introduction of the reservation system.

In the Northwest, there is a pressing need to address diabetes education in Native communities based on the disproportionately high occurrence of the disease, the generally late diagnosis, and the high incidence of related complications.

The Archaeology Department at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, along with an interdisciplinary team of health care providers, ethno-historians, health scientists, educators, and Native American community members, is embarking upon a significant research project which will evaluate the changing diets of Northwest Coast Native peoples.

The study, Traditional Food Resources and Diabetes in Puget Sound Native Communities, will reconstruct, using archaeological data, a "baseline" prehistoric diet and the transformations that have occurred in traditional diet since European colonization.

"The diabetes rate is on a stratospheric climb in Indian country and this study gives us a chance to look back and see what the diets were three thousand years ago; to see if there can be anything learned from the diets we used to have and the diets we have today. It's a unique opportunity to have the archaeological community and the tribal community involved together in researching something from the past that can be applied to the current day and to the future." ?GI James, Tribal Liaison, Office of the King County Executive

Studies similar to the Burke's Traditional Food Resources and Diabetes in Puget Sound Native Communities have been conducted in the Southwest and in California, and have been based primarily on historical and ethnographic literature. Archaeological data, on the other hand, can extend thousands of years into the past and provide information about long-term dietary changes, as well as the impact of these changes on Native cultures and ecosystems. The Burke study has particular relevance in this community, as it looks specifically at changing diets and lifestyle among Puget Sound cultures.

"Since the Burke cares for the majority of collections from Puget Sound area excavations, we have the ability to use plant and animal remains, including fish, mammal, and bird bones, as well as shellfish and preserved seeds, to determine the long-term history of diet in the region and how it has changed over the last 4,000 years." ?Megon Noble, Burke Museum Archaeology Collections Manager

This study represents the first time that archaeological data has been utilized to develop a comprehensive, long-term picture of Native American diet in the Puget Sound region. The information generated promises to be an invaluable resource addressing the potentially therapeutic value of traditional foods, with the aim of improving overall community health.

The ultimate product of the research will be an educational/outreach program including education kits with curricula and archaeological replicas designed to be incorporated in classrooms, after-school programs, museum tours, and at tribal gatherings such as potlatches, pow-wows, and salmon homecomings.

Traditional Food Resources and Diabetes in Puget Sound Native Communities will be conducted in concert with consultants from the University of Washington, nationally recognized experts, and Puget Sound Native American community members, with guidance provided by a Tribal Oversight Committee.

For further information about this project, the following participants are available for interview:

Hank Gobin, Cultural Resources Manager, Tulalip Tribes, 360-651-3310
GI James, Tribal Liaison, Office of the King County Executive, 206-296-8734
Peter Lape, Curator of Archaeology, Burke Museum, 206-685-2282
Megon Noble, Collections Manager, Burke Museum, 206-685-3849

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The Burke is located at the corner of NE 45th St and 17th Ave NE on the UW campus. Hours are 10 am - 5 pm daily, and until 8 pm Thursday. The Museum Store and Museum Caf?are also open during these hours. Admission to the permanent exhibits is $6.50 general, $5 senior, $3 student/youth, FREE to Burke members, children 5 and under, UW faculty, students, and staff. Admission to the special exhibition Out of the Silence is $8 general, $6.50 senior, $5 student/youth.. Out of the Silence is FREE to Burke members, children 5 and under, UW faculty, students, and staff. For 24-hour information, please call 206-543-5590, or visit www.burkemuseum.org

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