Nutrition Assessment and Education for the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa

Year: 2003

Research Center: American Indian Studies Program, The University of Arizona

Investigator: Parrish, Debra

Institution: Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College

Project Contact:
Debra Parrish
Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College
409 Superior Avenue
Baraga, MI
Phone: 906-353-8161


Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College established the Nutrition Assessment and Education project to assess the nutritional needs of the Ojibwa people and to examine ways to address these nutritional needs while maintaining traditional tribal nutrition practices. The author initiated the project, in collaboration with other tribal organizations and businesses, in response to the high risk and prevalence of diabetes, heart disease, and other nutrition-related health problems among the Ojibwa people.

The author focused on the members of the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa community living on or near the L'Anse reservation in northern Michigan on Keweenaw Bay of Lake Superior. About 860 of the 3,550 members of the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa tribal community live on the reservation. This study provided information on the second year of the nutrition project, in which the project team continued their survey of local food establishment operators and tribal elders living on or adjacent to the L'Anse reservation.

Interviews with elders provided information about their eating habits and their views on eating traditional Ojibwa foods such as wild rice, fish, wild game, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Many elders reported that they had to stop eating traditional food when they were sent as children to residential boarding schools or orphanages that did not serve these foods. Others who grew up on the reservation reported that they felt they were forced to eat many of the staple traditional foods (venison, bear, and muskrat) too frequently because they could not afford other foods. Therefore, they associated traditional foods with the conditions of poverty in which they grew up. However, over half the elders reported that they would like to eat traditional Ojibwa food at least once per week and over one-fourth reported that they would like to eat it at least once per day.

The nutrition project team gathered information from elders with knowledge of the preparation of traditional foods and of the cultural practices associated with their preparation and consumption. To encourage the Ojibwa people to eat traditional food, the nutrition project produced a cookbook of traditional Ojibwa foods and has encouraged local restaurants and feeding programs to incorporate these foods in their menus.