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"Western Diets and the Inuit of the Eastern Arctic, 1935-1959: A History of Change"
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"Western Diets and the Inuit of the Eastern Arctic, 1935-1959: A History of Change"

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Presented at the 15th International Congress on Circumpolar Health in Fairbanks, Alaska, August 5-10th 2012, the following outlines the intersection of history with the transition from Inuit …

Presented at the 15th International Congress on Circumpolar Health in Fairbanks, Alaska, August 5-10th 2012, the following outlines the intersection of history with the transition from Inuit traditional to Western nutritional practices.

Abstract:

Since transitioning to western dietary practices, rates of
chronic illness such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes
have been steadily increasing in Inuit populations. Some
studies have shown that when Inuit consumed a traditional
diet, instances of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type
2 diabetes were practically negligible. The purpose of this
paper is to examine the historical events and attitudes of
corporations, colonial officials and health care professionals
who contributed to rapid changes in Inuit diet, and
subsequently, Inuit health. I will delineate how changes
to traditional diets were motivated by concepts such as
capitalism, control and convenience, instead of informed
by nutritional concerns. To outline the history of health
and nutrition so, I will utilize historical primary documents
from doctors, nutrition specialists, traders, religious leaders
and national and territorial government personnel who
worked in the eastern Arctic from the 1930s-1960s.
Given that Health Canada’s “four food group” approach
has undergone little change since originating in a time
period that disregarded culture, health and the colonial
impacts of applying western diets to Inuit populations,
I will use contemporary examples to also make a
case for reformulation of Health Canada’s approach.
april.diamond.dutheil@hotmail.com

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  • -The conceptualization of nutritional solely within a biomedical framework is problematic because it excludes the socio-historical events which help to shape current dietary guidelines -Using historical accounts from doctors, researchers, government and the private sector, this presentation will outline the process of Inuit dietary transition in the Eastern Arctic during 1935-1959
  • -Historically, Inuit ate a very low carbohydrate diet, consuming minimal amounts of carbohydrates from the glycogen of blood and raw meat, and in the summers, from plants and berries -Historical estimates from Dr. Rabinowitch in the 1930s suggest that less than 10% of Inuit diet comprised of carbohydrates
  • -Health Canada ’ s nutritional guideline for aboriginal people mandates that consuming a balanced diet from four main food groups -The “ four food group ” approach to Inuit nutrition is incongruent with traditional Inuit dietary practices, as Inuit traditionally ate a diet comprising mainly of protein and fat -the current version of Canada ’ s Aboriginal food guide suggests that Inuit should consume between 45-65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates
  • -So how did this happen? What’s responsible for this change? -I will examine four main themes: profit motive, control, fear of dependency & climate
  • -The role of the Hudson ’ s Bay Company, a company operating in northern Canada to profit from the fur trade, played a large role in reshaping Inuit dietary practices -The high price of Arctic fox furs in the 1930s and 1940s made recruitment of Inuit hunters paramount to the economic success of the Hudson ’ s Bay Company -Inuit would receive credit from the HBC to trade fox for goods, creating a social environment where Inuit became increasingly economically dependent for articles of trade -Among the most popular items traded included wool clothing, rifles, ammunition, steel, fishing nets, and western food -However, the recruitment of Inuit hunters disrupted Inuit way of life, people were hunting commodities and for the first time, participating in a market-based system- leaving less time to hunt for food
  • -From Dr. Pett -Read quote -When the top hunters of Inuit groups were recruited to participate in the fox trade industry this left little time for them to hunt for traditional foods and contributed to Inuit reliance on western foods
  • -Dr. Rabinowitch reports that Inuit health was shaped by forces motivated by profit, giving little regard to Inuit health and well-being -Read quote -Dr. Rabinowitch ’ s comments suggest that the HBC only considered Inuit health when it interfered with the profits of the fur trade
  • -The Hudson ’ s Bay Company was primarily concerned with the short term health of Inuit, only addressing sickness or death when an Inuk would no longer be able to traps furs -Read quote
  • -However, in 1949 the role of Inuit in the fur trade changed drastically -The price of fox pelts plummeted from $25/pelt to $3.50/pelt -the fall of the fur trade placed the HBC in a precarious position, as the fur trade was the HBC’s main source of income -Now with no longer a means to earn HBC credits, Inuit became reliant on government aid for food and ultimately survival
  • -In 1944 the Canadian government introduced the Family Allowances system to administer monetary support to all Canadian families - The Arctic was a difficult & costly place for the Canadian government to establish, so the government partnered with the Company to manage Inuit family allowances
  • -Family allowances were supposed to be allocated at regular intervals in the form of cheques -Inuit were not issued cheques, but instead given credits to the Hudson ’ s Bay Company, restricting Inuit choice of how or when to spend their credits -The HBC stores were profit-making entities, driven by economic incentives. It wasn’t their responsibility to ensure that “healthy and nutritious” food was available to Inuit -The Canadian government had a list of specific foods that could be covered by family allowances, however, it was up to the discretion of the HBC regarding what should be stocked -Flour-based and carbohydrate-heavy goods provided the largest economic return for the HBC
  • -The role of the HBC in administering food gave the HBC post keepers control over Inuit, coercing Inuit to purchase certain items advised by the Company traders
  • -family allowances were used as collateral -Read quote -Historical government documents from the late 1940s illustrate that only $1000 of $200,0000 in family allowances were paid out to Inuit -documents also show their were three price lists at the HBC- one for southerners, one for Inuit and one for Inuit collecting family allowances- allowing the HBC to profit considerably from this system
  • -Read quote -Government saw results of the Indian act and were fearful that welfare would impact Inuit in similar way -Supporting Inuit independence was in the best interest of the government, as this would ensure cost-savings and decreased legal responsibilities -Discussions over the provision of food focused on AID, basic caloric consumption vs. nutrition -Food AID was never meant to be a sourceof primary consumption- irrelevant of the fact that corporate interest & government policies had facilitated the need for food aid & dependency in the eastern Arctic
  • -It is important to note that environmental factors also shaped availability and access to quality western foods -Read Quote -For these reasons, foods such as “ Canada-approved ” flour, pilot biscuits, sugar, tea, dried milk, baking powder and lard were more readily available in the arctic compared to fresh and canned food
  • -the control of food is more than a nutritional conversation, but one embedded in a deep and complex social, historical and cultural context- one that has implications for how we do health today

Transcript

  • 1. Western Diets and the Inuit of the Eastern Arctic, 1935-1959: A History of ChangeApril Dutheil, BA (Hons.), Department of SociologyUniversity of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada15th International Congress on Circumpolar Health, Fairbanks Alaska, August 7, 2012
  • 2. Theory
  • 3. Benefits of Traditional Inuit Diet 1935: “No traces of cancer or diabetes were found in any of the examinations carried out among the Eskimos...” Dr. I.M. Rabinowitch’s medical survey of 389 Inuit (over 4,000 biological samples) from Eastern Arctic 1940s: “Nearly all reports agree that while on native foods the Indians and Eskimos are healthier.” Dr. L.B. Pett, Chief of the Nutrition Division at the Department of National Health and Welfare
  • 4. Inuit Nutrition:Low Carbohydrate
  • 5. Western Nutrition:Four Food Group Approach
  • 6. How did this happen?Profit motiveControlFear of dependencyClimate
  • 7. Profit Motive
  • 8. Profit Motive 1940s: “Increased contact with whites and increased time taken to trap instead of getting food, had increased the use of, and even dependance on white man’s foods by both Indians and Eskimos...In short, under some circumstances some Indians are so busy getting money (by trapping chiefly) to buy their food at the trading post that they have no time to obtain some of their native foods, which would supplement the foods they buy.” Dr. L.B. Pett, Chief of the Nutrition Division at the Department of National Health and Welfare
  • 9. Profit Motive 1936: “Finally, a word about keeping the Eskimo alive...There is no doubt that the Eskimo is essential to the fur trader...With millions invested in the Arctic...this Company has another reason to keep the Eskimo alive and healthy.” Dr. I.M. Rabinowitch, “Clinical and Other Observations on Canadian Eskimos in the Eastern Arctic”
  • 10. Profit Motive 1936: “A sick trapper, therefore, means not only a smaller supply of furs but also that the trader must support the family as well as the trapper. A dead trapper means support of the family for an indefinite period, with no prospects whatever of any comparison.” Dr. I.M. Rabinowitch, “Clinical and Other Observations on Canadian Eskimos in the Eastern Arctic”
  • 11. Profit Motive
  • 12. Control
  • 13. Control
  • 14. Control
  • 15. Control1947: “The traders are working with the Police to help you and yourfamily, and the King has instructed them to issue goods when it isnecessary. He does not wish you to become lazy and expect to receivegoods at any time. You are to continue to work hard at hunting andtrapping...When the foxes are scarce and you are unable to obtainfood, clothing and other things for your children, the King will paythe trader to give you these things...” Bureau of Northwest Territories and Yukon Affairs. The Book of Wisdom for Eskimo.
  • 16. Fear of Dependancy1948: “Recognized as one of the most difficult tasks facing localadministration in the field is the handling of relief rations. To allowtoo much assistance to any one individual has a tendency toencourage indigency, whereas allowing too little may result inimpairment of health.” R.A. Gibson, Deputy Commissioner to Traders, “Issue of Relief Rations to Eskimos.”
  • 17. Climate1947: “You will understand that any foods used by Eskimo must berelatively inexpensive, easily prepared with a minimum expenditureof fuel, must not be subject to damage by freezing and must, as far aspossible, be compact and portable on sleds in winter and by boat insummer. A long list of articles to comprise a balanced diet would notbe practical for Eskimo.... Flour of course, is very convenient from thispoint of view.” R.A. Gibson, Deputy Commissioner to Dr. G.D. Cameron, Deputy Minister of National Health and Welfare, Administration of the Northwest Territories
  • 18. Why does history matter?Inuit psycho-social & cultural relation to foodPolicy & programmingRole of social, economic & natural environments alongside “goodnutrition”
  • 19. AcknowledgementsDr. Frank James Tester, School of Social Work, University of BritishColumbia
  • 20. ReferencesBureau of Northwest Territories and Yukon Affairs. The Book of Wisdom for Eskimo . (Ottawa, Ontario: Department of Mines andResources, Lands, Parks and Forest Branch, 1947).Grace Egeland et al., “Back to the Future - Using Traditional Food and Knowledge to Promote a Healthy Future among Inuit,” inIndigenous Peoples’ Food Systems: the Many Dimensions of Culture, Diversity, Environment and Health , ed. Harriet Kuhnlein,Bill Erasmus and Dina Spigelski (New York: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2009),http://www.mcgill.ca/files/dietetics/INUIT_E1_inuit_dtp3.pdf.Frank Tester and Peter Kulchyski, Tammarniit (Mistakes): Inuit Relocation in the Eastern Arctic 1939-63 , (Vancouver: UBC Press,1994).R.A. Gibson, Deputy Commissioner to Traders, R.C.M. Police, Missionaries and Doctors, “Issue of Relief Rations to Eskimos,”Territories Administration, Department of Mines and Resources. 22 March 1948, box 15, N 92-023, Alex Stevenson Collection,Government of the Northwest Territories Archives.R.A. Gibson, Deputy Commissioner to Dr. G.D. Cameron, Deputy Minister of National Health and Welfare, Administration of theNorthwest Territories, 16 Jan. 1947, pt. 1, file: 851-X6-X600, vol. 2997, RG 29, LAC. Health Canada. Canadas Food Guide for First Nations, Inuit and Métis . (Ottawa, Ontario: Health Canada, 2007).Dr. Israel M. Rabinowitch, “Cancer or Diabetes Symptoms Not Found in Canadian Eskimo,” Montreal Gazette , 30 Sept.1935, in pt.2, file 8258, vol. 862, RG 85-C-1-9, LAC.Dr. Israel M. Rabinowitch, “Clinical and Other Observations on Canadian Eskimos in the Eastern Arctic,” Canadian MedicalAssociation Journal 34, no.5 (1936).L.B. Pett, Ph.D., M.D., “Nutrition in Northern Canada,” n.d., pt. 1, file 851-X6-X600, vol.2997, RG 29, Library and Archives Canada(LAC). Although this document has no date, it is likely from the late 1940s.
  • 21. Questions April Dutheil, BA (Hons.), Department of Sociology University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, CanadaEmail: aprildutheil@gmail.com - Blog: aprildutheil@tumblr.com - Twitter: Duuutaay