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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Diabetes in Gitxaała : colonization, assimilation, and economic change Anderson, Robin


Diabetes is used as a lens through which to examine colonial processes of dispossession, assimilation, and economic change in the coastal First Nations community of Gitxaala, in BC, Canada. Diabetes is a worldwide epidemic disproportionately affecting indigenous peoples. Social determinants of diabetes in Gitxaala are explored ethnographically, focusing on diet change and food security. Diet is framed as a 'choice' by government agencies, but economic factors, food availability, and food preferences all delimit the foods consumed in Gitxaala. The importance of traditional foods for subsistence and cultural identity is explored. A history of integrating and then relying upon colonial foods is traced through a history of economic change. Current economic hardship limits both access to nutritious store-bought foods and the harvesting of traditional foods; although many community members prefer traditional foods, starchy processed foods are the most readily available and affordable. Colonial attempts to assimilate taste preferences, including relief rations and residential schools, have had lasting effects. Childhood exposure to traditional foods, or to sugary foods, impacts adult diet and health. Intergenerational attitudes to foods are changing, and Gitxaala youth are consuming an increasing amount of sugary foods. Access to traditional food resources is impacted by colonial policy, community avenues of food distribution, and traditional ecological knowedge. Expropriation and commercialization of resources, particularly the fishery, have severely impacted access to important resources, contributing to community-level food insecurity. While the practice of selling harvested foods for cash within the community is growing, food distribution along family lines remains critical for house-hold level food security and community health. The transmission of traditional ecological knowledge about food ensures healthy eating in the future. Although this process was interrupted by the residential school experience, the community is initiating new ways to maintain this aspect of Gitxaala identity. In Gitxaala, health is understood as holistic. Biomedical understandings of and treatments of diabetes are insufficient for true healing, which must also occur on the community and ecological levels. While colonial practices have been detrimental to food security and risk for diabetes in Gitxaala, certain traditional practices maintain healthy eating and contribute to community health.

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