Nutrition Assessment and Education for Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa

Year: 2002

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 49908
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 the traditional nutrition practices of the Ojibwa people. 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 provides information on the initial year of the nutrition project, in which the author conducted a primary data collection by analyzing the nutrition content of the food available on the L’Anse Reservation and surveying 40 elders living on or adjacent to the reservation about their health status and food consumption practices.

The author collected information on the food available at the three restaurants on the L’Anse Reservation and assessed the nutrient content of the food. While the restaurants offer some low-calorie meals, many of the meals are high in fat and calories and lack fruits and vegetables. None of the restaurants serve traditional Ojibwa foods, such as wild rice, fish, wild game, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. The author also collected information on the food served at the Elderly Nutrition Program and the Head Start program. These programs do not serve traditional Ojibwa food regularly, but do serve it when they receive donations from local fishermen, hunters, or gardeners. Even then, the food is often fried rather than prepared with traditional low-fat cooking methods.

Preliminary results of the survey of elders indicate that health problems are much more prevalent among this population than among the elderly U.S. population overall. Almost half of the Ojibwa elders who responded to the survey are obese, 35 percent have diabetes, and almost 40 percent have high blood pressure.

Most of the elders who responded to the survey (85 percent) reported getting some exercise each week. About two-thirds walk as their primary exercise. Over half of the respondents eat fast food only once per month, but almost one-fourth eat fast food at least three times per week. The Elderly Nutrition Program, which provides light breakfasts and lunches Monday through Friday to adults age 55 and over, is an important source of food for elders on the reservation. About 80 percent of the survey respondents participate in the program, and 25 percent eat at least three meals per week through the program.

Less than one-third of the respondents eat traditional Ojibwa food once per week or less. However, over one-half 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 most frequently reported barrier to eating Ojibwa food is that it is difficult to get.

In the second year of the nutrition project, the author will continue the primary data collection from Ojibwa elders and begin a similar survey of children on the reservation. The analysis of these data could provide important insights into the factors related to healthy food consumption practices and activity levels by Ojibwa elders and children. To encourage the Ojibwa people to eat traditional food, the nutrition project plans to produce a cookbook of traditional Ojibwa food and to encourage the local restaurants and feeding programs to incorporate this food in their menus.